Linux is free to get hold of and to use. The cheapest edition of Windows currently on sale (Vista Basic) has a list price of $220. You can also run a copy of Linux on any number of machines, while Windows is restricted to a fixed number of computers depending on the particular license of the edition concerned.
When new editions of Linux-based systems are produced, they are free to everyone. Microsoft charges an upgrade fee for existing customers that usually runs into three figures.
Microsoft offers its own support for Windows, and there are also plenty of free and paid support services from third parties. Linux users can often get free support from other users and experts or the producers of their particular Linux-based system. However, some commercial firms produce free Linux systems but make their money by charging for support.
Linux is more likely to have patchier support of hardware, while Windows is generally designed to be compatible with as many devices as possible. However, after early problems with Vista, and with Linux systems constantly evolving, some would argue the gap is closing.
Windows is available pretty much anywhere computer equipment is sold, and almost all new PCs come with it pre-installed (the cost is built into the package price). Linux is primarily available through online downloads, though more and more hardware manufacturers are making it available on their computers, particularly with cheaper laptops. The Ubuntu version of Linux is now available to purchase at BestBuy.
Installing Windows is usually a simple (if not particularly quick or painless) process, with straightforward options depending on whether you are upgrading, adding to a new machine, or replacing a damaged edition of Windows. Exactly how you install Linux varies depending on which system you get and whether you already have Windows on your computer. However, many versions are getting more user-friendly and some can even be installed directly from a CD. Unlike Windows, there are some versions of Linux which run directly from a CD without even being installed. And because Linux is so versatile, there are even some ultra-slimmed down versions which will run from a USB memory stick.
Because Windows is much more widely used, there are far more programs available. However, you may find suitable Linux software to perform many or most of the tasks you need from a computer. The downside is that installation may not always be as simple as it usually is in Windows.
Viruses, spyware and other malicious attacks are much more common on Windows than Linux. Some people believe this is because Windows fundamentally has more loopholes and bugs which hackers can exploit. Others argue that the larger user base means hackers can simply attack more computers through Windows.
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.