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Welcome to the Arena
Windows, Macs, and Linux have always had a precarious working relationship. When you look at it closely, the Mac and Linux file systems aren’t so fundamentally different, as deep in the core of a Mac, there’s quite a bit of Linux architecture... which is the same architecture found in different aspects of Windows. However, the skew isn’t in the depths of the OS, it’s on the surface. Mac has long been deemed as “user-friendly” (or more derisively as “stupid-proof”) and has always had a great reputation for video and audio processing. Windows has always been the “buggy” system which millions use daily for everything from web surfing to games, and Linux has always been off in a corner doing its own thing, something that hardcore PC enthusiasts have supported for the better part of three decades.
So what happens when we pit Linux against the latest and greatest offering from Microsoft?
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Throwdown: Win 7 vs. Ubuntu 9.04
Of course, I can’t just start off talking about Linux as this odd, build-less system. The easiest way to do this is to pit Windows 7 against the most popular Linux build, Ubuntu. Ubuntu is used in thousands of computers inside everything from multi-national corporations to your home, so the comparison seems fair. That being said, let’s go by category and analyze both systems.
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As a friend of mine would say, Windows 7 is “light years ahead” of Ubuntu (which of course, makes no sense, since light years are a measure of distance, not time, but you get the point). More to the point, Windows 7’s superbar is the single greatest leap forward for Windows users since the invention of the OS. Simply put, Windows 7 has been optimized to work with you more times than against you, and that makes all the difference in the world to the casual user of the OS.
Ubuntu on the other hand provides a VERY simple user interface that can lead to problems when the user tries to do something more “sophisticated.” While for basics, you can’t beat Ubuntu’s interface speed and minimalistic design, the main problem is that the interface just isn’t very eye-catching or even practical in the case of multi-tasking, something that Windows 7 has down perfectly. Try half-sizing a window by pulling it to the side of the screen – it just can’t be done in Ubuntu, you could always do it manually, but then why even bother? The point is to multitask efficiently, not take time out of your workflow to half-size a window manually. And Ubuntu loses this category for not even trying to upgrade its docking system to something more practical with Window previews.
Winner: Windows 7
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Speed and Reliability
Windows 7 may have improved significantly upon its predecessors, but it still doesn’t hold its own when compared to the speed and reliability of Ubuntu. Launch a program in Ubuntu and it opens every time. Windows, on the other hand, can have quirks that from time to time crash the system if you don’t tune it properly. And while Mac commercials would like you to believe otherwise, as long as you’re proactive about your PC, it won’t crash continuously or get viruses every second of every day.
As far as speed is concerned, Ubuntu wins, but only when both are compared equally. The real fact of the matter is that it’s criminal for me to compare a 7 Gb OS to one that barely breaks 2-3 Gb. Windows is a mammoth, sure, but Windows 7 is the speediest Windows build that has ever come out. (Yes, XP fans can be sure that feature for feature, Windows 7 out-speeds the nearly decade-old OS.) However, all things equal, if I install Ubuntu on a computer, and later install Windows 7 on there, Ubuntu will be speedier by sheer fact that it’s smaller.
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We’ll make it quick on security because I’m tired of receiving grief from Mac fanboys about Windows being the slow OS that only gets viruses. Across platforms, countries, and firewalls, everything on the planet is capable of getting a virus if a hacker so felt inclined. Anything with a processor, hard drive and RAM can get a virus, just because less of them exist for Mac than PC doesn’t mean that Macs don’t get viruses. And the same principle applies to you, Linux fanboys. While the Linux kernel is more secure than Windows (again, smaller), the fact remains that Linux PCs can be turned into bots, and can receive spyware and viruses.
My vote goes to Windows this time because of the great array of software that you can get to protect yourself, whereas on Ubuntu, the programs are harder to find and of lesser quality. Try pitting ESET’s NOD32 against something equivalent on Ubuntu. There’s just no software like it on the Linux box.
Winner: Windows 7
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Now we get to crux of the argument. Features-wise, Linux loses the race to Windows significantly.
When you boot up a Windows 7 PC, you have options – stream movies, listen to music, play games, surf the internet. On Ubuntu, the features of the software feel cheap and third-party-inspired. The media player doesn’t have the versatility of something like VLC or a codec-enhanced WMP. Browser wise, the same products exist on both Ubuntu and Windows 7, so here, there’s no contest.
Moving on to games though, Linux is a game-less system. All great games come out for Windows, not Mac or Linux. If you’re a PC gamer (we’re a dying breed these days), nothing can beat the sound of your rig running a game at the highest settings possible. Pixel-by-pixel, with rare exceptions, a high-end PC can output much better graphics than an Xbox 360 or Wii, although the jury’s still out on the PS3 (I don’t think my PC could handle something like Killzone 2 or Infamous). So, for you to get that experience, you’re going to have to run Windows. This round goes to Windows.
Winner: Windows 7
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Linux fanboys, my decision here today won’t affect how you view your favorite system, and as such, I never intended it to. My point in doing this is to highlight that all three OSes have their great points and their low points. While I am a dedicated Windows man, other people may prefer the Mac OS, and others still the Ubuntu or Linux OS. Overall, it comes down to personal preference. As much as I can argue hardware and build quality with you, the software is engineered with specific people in mind, and for the Windows crowd, Windows 7 looks to be a promising return to form for a company that had such a huge fall from grace.