Could Desktop Linux really be so slow?

Summary:Desktop Linux with Linspire is excruciatingly slow compared to Windows. If this is true of all other Linux Desktop distributions, how can anyone take Desktop Linux seriously?

I recently helped pick up a second computer for a friend on the morning of Black Friday because it was the $100 PC with no rebates attached and no expensive Internet subscriptions to buy.  The only catch was that you had to be up really early the morning after Thanksgiving and no monitor was included.  What was notable was the fact that this really was a fairly powerful PC that was probably much faster than a 3 year old corporate PC but with a true price tag of $100, there was absolutely no way that a $60 OEM copy of Windows home edition could have been included.  What came with the computer was Linspire (renamed from Lindows after Microsoft lawsuit) which is a fully featured version of Linux with the KDE desktop along with the Microsoft Office alternative OpenOffice.org.

Since I had to help my friend set up this new $100 PC, I decided to give Linspire 5 a spin in the process.  What I got was shock and disbelief when the computer spent more than 2 minutes booting up and an additional minute to start the OpenOffice.org Word Processing application.  When I wrote my series of blogs about OpenOffice.org being extremely bloated, I had a flood of responses either complaining that my data was flawed or that it wasn't fair to look at OpenOffice.org on the Windows platform and that it would have done much better on Linux.  Now that I've seen OpenOffice.org on the Linux platform, I'm nearly convinced OO.o is even worse on the Linux platform but I'll need to run more detailed tests to confirm.

Since this wasn't done on my standardized test bed shown here and I only have 128 MBs of RAM for this $100 PC, I can't run direct comparisons to the OpenOffice.org results.  What I can do is run some basic boot and application launch time tests because I know that this type of hardware is capable of 30-40 second boot times when running Windows XP and Microsoft Office.  By running Linspire and OpenOffice.org, the performance degradation was significant and here are the results.

Boot times:

TaskTime
System post9 seconds
Boot to logon93 seconds
Type password2 seconds to type "123" and hit "Enter"
Initialization phase41 seconds
Total boot time145 seconds or 2:25 second just to boot

OpenOffice.org application load times:

TaskFirst loadSecond cached load
Load OO.o Writer5639 sec
Load OO.o Calc4135 seconds
Load OO.o Impress3028 sec
Load OO.o Draw4436
  • Note that which ever OO.o application that gets loaded first always takes the longest amount of time.  Other applications seem to benefit a little in load times because some of the OpenOffice.org code is already loaded from the first application.
  • I also shut off each individual application before loading the next application in fear of running in to a memory shortage.
  • Just to make sure no other junk on the system was slowing the computer down; I reloaded Linspire from scratch using the default options to take over the entire hard drive.

I still need to load Windows and Office on this system to get some exact performance numbers with Microsoft software.  I know it will probably run just fine because my friend has a nearly identical system running Windows XP and Office 2003.  I'm also curious if there are less bloated full featured desktop Linux distributions out there that will perform better some I'm open to suggestions for testing.  I will probably test Red Hat or SUSE Desktop Linux configurations.

Update: Results for Linux versus Windows posted.

Topics: Linux

About

George Ou, a former ZDNet blogger, is an IT consultant specializing in Servers, Microsoft, Cisco, Switches, Routers, Firewalls, IDS, VPN, Wireless LAN, Security, and IT infrastructure and architecture.

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