The Underlying System
Windows is a single product (albeit one with several editions) produced by a single firm, namely Microsoft.
Linux is a ‘family’ of operating systems which use the same kernel (the ‘brain’ of the system), but is available in hundreds of different forms, each known as a distribution. A distribution consists of the kernel, the operating system itself, some method of displaying information (usually a graphical user interface that is similar to the on-screen look of Windows or the Mac operating system); it will usually contain some programs as well.
(Note that the term ‘Linux’ is commonly used to refer to any and all operating systems based on the Linux kernel.)
Having so many different versions of Linux offers much more flexibility, but can be extremely confusing for new users.
The open source copyright rules of Linux mean that the producers of any Linux-based system must make the code behind it publicly available. That means anyone can look at a system, see how it works, and modify it to suit their own needs (though they then have to share those modifications).
Microsoft’s code is largely secret and the licensing bans anyone from disassembling the code – that is, translating it back from computer language into something humans can read and understand.
Windows is largely developed by Microsoft’s own staff, though they take account of feedback and testing from outside parties. Linux is developed by a community of users and experts finding and sharing ways to improve the system. Microsoft has more money to spend on fixing problems, but critics say the firm’s market dominance means it may be more concerned with getting customers to buy a new edition of Windows than improving existing ones. There’s also commercial pressure to release a new edition on a particular date even if it’s not as ‘finished’ as it could be.
This post is part of the series: The differences between Linux and Windows
A two part series looking at both the underlying fundamental differences between Linux and Windows, and the practical differences users may notice.