10 Linux features Windows should have by default

10 Linux features Windows should have by default

Summary: The Linux and Windows camps may be polarized, but Jack Wallen believes each OS could be improved by borrowing from the other. This week, he looks at how certain Linux features could benefit Windows.


This is a guest post from TechRepublic's Jack Wallen. For more posts like this see TechRepublic's 10 Things blog.

The battle between Linux and Windows will most likely rage on for years to come. I can foresee that even when all things migrate to the cloud, users in both camps will still be screaming the virtues of their favorite operating system. And, of course, I will be one of those campers (and I can bet you know just which camp I’ll be in). But being in that camp does not preclude me from seeing the benefits and strengths of the Windows operating system.

In my next two 10 Things articles, I am going to take pieces of each operating system and place them in the other. In this first article, I am going to share 10 features from the Linux operating system that should be in the Windows operating system. In the next article, I will go the other way.

Now you should know, features will encompass literal features as well as systems and even philosophies. I don’t want to leave anything out of the picture. In the end, my hope is that theoretically, at least, we’ll have a much more ideal operating system. Of course, you can (and will) be the judge of that. Let’s get going and start adding Linux features to Windows.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Compiz

No matter how clean Aero gets, I am not a fan of the flat, single-workspace desktop of Windows 7. Yes, it has come a long way, but it’s not nearly the modern desktop that Compiz offers. Of course, many would argue that Compiz is nothing more than eye candy. I, on the other hand, would argue that many of the features Compiz offers are just as much about usability as they are eye candy. Having a 3D desktop that offers you quick access (via key combinations) to multiple workspaces is handy. Window switchers can’t be beaten for ease of use. And the eye candy is just a bonus. Having Compiz on top of Windows would certainly take the experience to a level few Windows users have experienced.

2: Multi-user

Yes I know you can have multiple accounts on a Windows 7 box, but that doesn’t make it truly multi-user. Can you log on more than one user at a time in Windows 7? Not by default. To have concurrent user sessions for Windows 7, you have to download a third-party tool. In Linux, you can do this by default. This is a feature that should be enabled by default in Windows 7, too.

3: Log files

Windows operating systems have plenty of tools that enable the administrator to read log files. But for system, administration, and security issues, the administrator must fire up the tools to see those log files. But Linux places all system log files in /var/log and allows the user (with the right permissions) to read these log files from a simple text editor. And the Linux log files are flexible in many ways. For instance, if I want to follow a system log, I can open that log in a terminal window with the tail -f command and watch as events occur.

4: Centralized application installation

The new paradigm for Linux is a centralized location for installation. The Ubuntu Software Center is turning out to be the culmination of much of this work. From one source, you can search from hundreds of thousands of applications and install any one you need. And with upcoming releases of the Ubuntu Software Center (version 3 to be exact), commercial software will be available.

5: Cron

I am a big fan of Cron. Cron jobs enable you to easily automate tasks. Yes, you can add third-party software on a Windows operating system to help automate tasks, but none will have the flexibility of the cron job. Cron allows you to schedule as many tasks as you like, at any time you like, from a simple command-line tool (or a GUI tool, if you so desire). And cron is available system wide — for both administrative tasks and standard user tasks. Having an automated system built in would certainly be handy.

6: Regular release cycle

This is one of those areas where Microsoft could learn a serious lesson from the Linux camp. Most Linux distributions release their updated distributions on a regular basis. And even better, they stick to these schedules to the best of their ability. Take Ubuntu, for example. For each release there is a .04 and a .10 version. The .04 version is released on the fourth month of the year. The .10 version is released on the 10th month of the year. This happens like clockwork. So Ubuntu 10.04 will release April 2010 and Ubuntu 10.10 will release October 2010. Granted sometimes those releases don’t start populating the mirrors until the last second of that month, but they are as regular as they can be.

7: Root user

Let’s face it — by default, the average user can do too much in Windows. So much so, it becomes simple for someone to write a nasty little virus that can be spread simply by opening up an attachment in an email. With the way Linux is set up, this doesn’t occur. For damage to be done to a system, generally speaking the root password must be known. For example, if a user clicked on an attachment from an email, and that attachment demanded the root (or sudoers) password, that would be a quick indication that the attachment was malicious. Windows should separate the administrative user and the standard user by default. The first thing Windows users should have to do, upon starting up their new computer for the first time, is create an administrative password and a user password.

8: Pricing

Okay, I’m not going to say Windows should be free. What I am going to say is that it should have one version and one price (with a nod to bulk pricing). Why do I say this? Simple. Which version should you buy? Do you need Premium or Ultimate? Which sounds better? Is “premium” better than “ultimate”? Here’s an idea — just have one version for the desktop and one for the server. It works for Linux. Less confusion and frustration for the consumer, less advertising waste for Microsoft. And all those features that cause the most expensive version of Windows 7 to be thus — the average user wouldn’t know how to use them anyway.

9: Installed applications

I know that Microsoft doesn’t include any useful applications (minus a browser) by default for a reason — to make money. But when I install Linux for the average user, I’m done. I don’t have to install an office suite, an email client, or audio/visual tools. Outside of installing financial applications and the odd power-user tool (which is all handled in a single, centralized location — see #4), there’s nothing more to do once the OS installation is done. Microsoft could at least include Word.

10: Hardware detection

Before anyone gets bent out of shape, this is not what you’re thinking. Let me set this up for you. What happens when you install a Windows operating system and something doesn’t work? Say, for example, video. You thought for sure the OS would support your video card, but when the installation is complete you’re stuck with good old 800×600 resolution. So you go to the device manager to see if you can find out what the card is, and you get nothing. How are you supposed to find out what drivers to download when Windows gives you no information? Oh sure, you can open up the case and check out the chipset. Or you might get lucky and find that device driver CD lying around. But what if you can’t? Or what if that video is on board?

If you were using Linux you could at least issue the dmesg command and get some information right away. And if dmesg didn’t help out, you could always fire up the Hardware Drivers tool, which will might discover a proprietary driver you could use. In Windows, if you don’t know the card, you’re going to have fun finding the drivers. Although Windows hardware support is better, Linux hardware detection is better.

Your take

Those are 10 features I would like to see make the jump from Linux to Windows. Do you agree? Is there a feature listed you think might hinder the Windows operating system? Is there a Linux feature not listed that you would like to see jump the fence? If so, let us know. Next time: 10 Windows features I’d like to see in Linux. No, really.

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  • Well done!

    The distinction between hardware support and hardware detection is neat, I think. You hit the nail right on the head there. I hadn't thought of it like that myself. :-)

    I wouldn't have put Compiz as number 1 on the list, though.... I always turn this 3-D feature off completely, because now and then it tends to cause hiccups in video rendering. The good old 2-D Metacity provides a robustly stable graphical environment. And I prefer "mean and lean" anyway.
    • There are some interesting assumptions in this article

      The first being that everyone will move everything to the "Cloud".

      There are several competing reasons why people might not.

      1) Trust. Trust that the Cloud providers are not simply going to data mine all our data, as they currently do.

      2) Trust that some government won't simply create lawss that negate our privacy

      3) Trust that the owners won't simply decide they want to move on to the next shiny thing.

      4) The hardware manufacturers, giving up on making maoney out of selling you the next most powerful computer, with what was once supercomputer ability.

      Hard disks get bigger, so do SSDs, so local storage is less of a problem, there are ample manufacturers already selling some pretty grunty home storage.

      what's next, your own cloud, now to me that rings bells, it's already available on Ubuntu, set up your own Ubuntu server, you have to option of setting up your own cloud. From a privacy/Trust viewpoint that gets my attention.

      I could go on, but I dn't have any more time.
      tracy anne
      • Put down the hooka

        There is NO assumption in this article WRT cloud computing. "Centralized application installation" doesn't mean you're using apps in the cloud: it means that you don't have to track down an app to install it. The iPhone app store works on this principle, without Linux's flexibility.

        One or more application repositories are set up for you by default. If you want an app you just ask for it. If you want, you can edit the list of online locations to check.

        For instance, a utility I often use is midnight commander... "mc" for short. When I set up a new Ubuntu box I simply type "apt get mc" and the program called apt will go find out where mc is among the repositories, download it, install it, and configure it, all in the background, with [i]zero additional user interaction.[/i] In practice, I simply type "apt get mc" and a few seconds later (minutes for larger apps) I'm using the program. The program is installed on my local drive and is available to me with or without an Internet connection.

        There are graphical interfaces to this, such as "Synaptic". These will display ALL the programs available in the repositories, including descriptions. You simply check all the programs you want and sit back while Linux takes care of the installation. If one program depends on the existence of another, or of a library, Linux will take care of that, too, resolve the dependencies, and download and install what you need. Programs you've already got are displayed in the list as "installed", and you can easily select those that have updates available.

        IOW, it's simply an "Add or Remove Programs" feature that ACTUALLY DOES WHAT IT SAYS. 99.99% of the time the analogous Windows function is used simply to remove programs.
        • dave_leigh

          I quote:

          "I can foresee that even when all things migrate to the cloud, users in both camps will still be screaming the virtues of their favorite operating system."

          That looks suspiciously like an assumption, to me. An assumption that we will all sheeplike hand over control of our data to some anonymous corporation.
          tracy anne
          • Your selected quote

            You are correct in that what you quoted is an assumption by the author that users will eventually move to the cloud. But it doesn't matter, as it has no bearing on the rest of the article. In fact, if the author is incorrect in this assumption, then the article become even more relevant, because everything it deals with is for the desktop environment.
    • Somethis this bloke seems to forget

      If it's a genuine feature, not just something that some hardware or software manufacturer refuses to support Linux with, or makes impossible for a Free Software Hacker to create, because of patents. The feature will eventually get written for Linux, necause it's useful for the the end user, not because someone thinks thay can make money by making it an add on extra.
      tracy anne
      • Nope

        Some linux coder will write it to scratch a personal itch or for bragging
        rights, or to not look so amazingly primitive compared to other OSes.

        Linux started as a "me, too" operating system and has remained there
        ever since.
        • Re: "me, too"

          WRONG!! Please read the following link. Thanks!!

          Arm A. Geddon
        • Linux started as a "me, too" operating system

          quote::Linux started as a "me, too" operating system and has remained there
          ever since. ::quote

          What it started as, you are free to speculate about. I always thought it started as a hobby project, that was never intended to run on anything other than 386 AT clones.

          What it is now is the operating system that powers the majority of the top 500 (and all of the most powerful) supercomputers - http://www.top500.org/stats/list/34/osfam

          Powers mobile phiones, a significant percentage of the Internet, is used by the biggest Internet companies, Google, yahoo, facebook, flikr, myspace etc.

          Powers everything from netbooks to the most powerful laptops, and desktops, run on x86, x86-64, AMD, Power, and almost any other device that qualifies as a cpu.

          not bad for a "me too" operating system, that started as a hobby.

          One thing it is safe to say is, it has not remained what it started as.

          As I said, if it's a genuine feature, that is g enuinely useful to the user, and the hardware , software manufacturers have not done anything to make it impossible, then some Linux Hacker will write it.
          tracy anne
          • Linux started as a "me, too" operating system: CPU

            There are even CPUs that many might not qualify as complete, the MMU-less CPUs (Memory Management Unit) (http://www.uclinux.org/). Linux has been ported to these and even runs well (think embedded devices like PDAs and possibly SmartPhones). Although it takes more effort, it's still been done. At least some newer PDAs and SmartPhones come with full-fledged CPUs rather than the microcontrollers.
        • That's the most ignorant comment you've made... today. (nt)

          none none
    • Seriously????

      Compiz...hate it in X11, don't want it anywhere

      Multi-user...try fastswitching

      Log files...Unix, yeah they are easy to get to but they usually tell you nothing.

      Centralized application installation...agree

      Cron...where have you been? Ever try task scheduler? Works well, been around for a long time.

      Regular release cycle...two years sound ok to me (MS standard release)

      Root user...its called administrator


      Installed applications...can you say lawsuit, hell they can't even bundle a browser

      Hardware detection...ahahahahhaha

      They paid you for this article?
      • re:seriously

        Compiz...been using it for 11 out of the 11 months I've used Linux. still not tired of it and it still does more than Aero

        Multi-user...nothing in Windows has ever been fast, except failing. The fastest thing my brothers computer has ever done is get destroyed by a nasty virus.

        Log files...I've gone through many forums where one person asked for a log file only to diagnose a problem the moment it was produced.

        Centralized application installation...I agree too

        Cron...sorry but task scheduler is crap. At least, it has been every time I've tried using it.

        Regular release cycles...MS has a regular patch cycle. Their full release cycles aren't exactly regular (8 year old XP to Vista for example)

        Root user...he meant, protected root user. the Administrator account in Windows is far from protected by default. Even with Vista and 7, it's still not as secured as the root user is in Linux.

        Pricing...sure it's an old argument but it's still valid.

        installed applications...MS only gets sued when they bundle applications they created themselves rather than other apps. If MS used Firefox, for example, rather than IE or, better yet, if MS used a different browser per region and allowed it to be completely uninstalled and replaced by a different browser (as happens with Linux distros) then there would be no case for using it's monopoly in one area to create a monopoly in another.

        hardware detection...laugh all you want, every piece of hardware on every machine I've tried Linux on has been detected, including proprietary components.

        That's not to say Linux doesn't have it's faults, you just didn't find any of them.
      • RE: 10 Linux features Windows should have by default


        > Hardware detection...ahahahahhaha

        Yes. Hardware DETECTION. If something doesn't have an installed driver on Windows, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS. That can be a considerable drag if you are trying to sort out drivers for it.

        At least on Linux, I can see the USB or PCI codes for something if there isn't a driver for it.

        On the rare occasion, I can even use those codes to tweak the device driver and get it running.
  • RE: 10 Linux features Windows should have by default

    The reason there is less and less usable software added into a Windows release is because every time Microsoft thinks of something and it slips out all the rest of the world goes running off to the anti-trust police. Suspect eventually Windows will be released with nothing more than an download engine and a single button on the screen before long. There's a whole list of stuff (starting with native antivirus and antispyware) that should be a standard part of ALL OS products but you know what...fat chance! And besides, what would the Europeans allow in there?
    • Anti-Tust issues is only part of it

      You are absolutely right about the people screaming "anti-trust" any time MS includes something in Windows.

      On top of that, any time MS adds anything extra to Windows, there are also a ton of people who will say "Oh, that's just more software bloat!" "That feature takes up an extra 2 MB on my hard drive for something I don't need!"

      There were many extras that came with Vista, which have been removed from 7, specifically because of all the bitching and moaning these extra features taking up too much disk space, or taking up extra RAM.

      Yeah, I know a 1 TB hard drive is like $80 these days, but there seem to be an awful lot of people who act like they are still running on floppy disks, and it's a big deal to them to see a few MB being wasted.

      • What I would like to know is their secret

        How do they manage to provide only the bare bones of an operating system Windos 7 included, that takes up at least twice as much space as my Ubuntu install, which already has a dozen applications that were not part of the standard install.

        If I could find a way to do that with Linux, I think we might have a winner, seems to work for Microsoft.
        tracy anne
        • They do it just to piss you off

          It is called the "tracy anne" factor. If that is set too low, Windows wouldn't take up enough space on the hard drive and you wouldn't complain about it. If set too high, normal people would complain about it. Sounds like they got it just right. :)
          • @NonZealot

            I thought it was called the "NonZealot" factor, since that applies to you
            regarding anything Apple.
        • I can actually answer that!

          Hey Tracy,

          For Windows 7 what they do is make sure that *EVERY* component exists on the Windows drive, in a special folder, regardless of which version you install (starter through ultimate).

          This way, should you decide to do an inplace upgrade from Home Basic to Home Premium, you purchase the new version key, enter it and voila, the Home Premium features are available almost immediately without you having to find the install DVD and make sure it's in the drive.

          That's how Microsoft does it.