Ubuntu 12.04 vs. Windows 8: Five points of comparison

Ubuntu 12.04 vs. Windows 8: Five points of comparison

Summary: The leading Linux desktop and the number one desktop of all, Windows, are both undergoing radical transformations, but which will be the better for it?

Windows 8 Metro vs. Ubuntu 12.04 Unity

Windows 8 Metro vs. Ubuntu 12.04 Unity

2012 has already seen a major update of what's arguably the most important Linux desktop: Ubuntu 12.04 and we're also seeing the most radical update of Windows with Windows 8 Metro coming since Windows 95 replaced Windows 3.1. So, which will end up the better for its change?

1. Desktop interface

Ubuntu replaced the popular GNOME 2.x interface with Unity when their developers decided the GNOME 3.x shell wasn't for them. Some people, like the developers behind Linux Mint, decided to recreate the GNOME 2.x desktop with Cinnamon, but Ubuntu took its own path with Unity.

In Unity's desktop geography, your most used applications are kept in the left Unity Launcher bar on the left. If you need a particular application or file, you use Unity's built-in Dash application. Dash is a dual purpose desktop search engine and file and program manager that lives on the top of the Unity menu Launcher.

Its drawback, for Ubuntu power-users, is that it makes it harder to adjust Ubuntu's settings manually. On the other hand, most users, especially ones who are new to Ubuntu, find it very easy to use. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has made it clear that regardless of whether you use Ubuntu on a desktop, tablet or smartphone the Unity interface is going to be there and it's going to look the same.

A first look at Ubuntu 12.04 (Gallery)

Windows 8 Metro is, if anything, even more of a departure from its predecessor than Unity. At least with Unity, you're still working with a windows, icons, menus, and pointers (WIMP). Metro has replaced icons with tiles. In addition, by default, you can only work with applications in tiles or in full-screen format. Even such familiar friends as the Start button are missing.

I've been working with Metro for months now. After all that time, I still think Windows 8 with Metro will be dead on arrival. Even people who really like Metro say things like "the default presentation is ugly and impersonal." You can make Metro a lot more usable, but that's a lot of work to make an interface that's already ugly prettier and, when you're done, you're still left with an interface that doesn't look or work the way you've been using Windows for years.

True, there's also the Windows 8 Desktop, which still doesn't have a Start button, but otherwise looks and works like the Windows 7 Aero interface, but it's a sop to users who don't want Metro. Sooner rather than later, Microsoft wants everyone on Metro. Of course on some platforms, such as Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 for ARM tablets, Metro is the only choice.

2. Applications

For ages one of the bogus raps against desktop Linux has been that there hasn't been enough applications for it. That was never true. What Linux didn't have was the same applications as Windows. To an extent, that's still true. You can't still get say Quicken, Outlook, or Photoshop natively on Linux. Of course, with the use of WINE and its commercial big brother Codeweaver's Crossover, you can run these, and other Windows programs, on top of Linux.

On the other hand, I find some Linux programs, such as Evolution for e-mail, an optional program in Ubuntu, to be far better than their Windows equivalents. In addition, if like more and more people these days the program you really use all the time is a Web browser for everything then Windows has no advantage what-so-ever. Chrome, as my testing has shown time and again, is the best Web browser around runs equally well on Ubuntu and Windows. On both, however, you'll need to download it. Ubuntu defaults to using Firefox and Windows 8, of course, uses Internet Explorer.

What I find really interesting though is that Microsoft is actually removing functionality from Windows 8. If you want to play DVDs on Windows 8 or use it as a media center, you'll need to pay extra. DVD-players and the power to stream media remain free options in Ubuntu and most other Linux distributions.

3. Security

There has been a lot of talk lately about malware on Macs and it's true. Macs are vulnerable to security breeches. So, for that matter, are Linux systems. But never, ever forget that for every single Mac virus or worm, there have been thousands of Windows attackers. And, that while Linux can be attacked as well, in practice, it' more secure than either Mac OS X or Windows and there has never been a significant Linux desktop security worm.

Could it happen? Sure. But, get real, I do run Linux with virus protection, ClamAV, but I'm paranoid, and even so I've never seen a single attacker, much less suffered a successful attack, in almost twenty years of using Linux desktops. I wish I could say the same of my Windows systems.

4. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Thanks for Active Directory (AD), it's long been easy to manage Windows desktops, but then thanks to Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and tools like Landscape, it's no problem in Ubuntu Linux either. Indeed, since you won't be able to use AD to manage Windows RT systems, Ubuntu Linux actually provides a more unified management system.

Also, remember what I said about security? You can't forget anti-virus software or patching Windows for a minute. Linux? Yes, you should use anti-virus programs and patch regularly, but relax, you're not asking for zero-day doom all the time the way you are with Windows. Besides, the upfront cost of Linux? Zero. Windows 8? We don't know yet, but we do know that Windows 8 PCs will be more expensive than their Windows 7 brothers.

If you're really serious about cutting your desktop costs, Linux is the way to go.

5. Ease of use

One of the perpetual myths about Linux is how hard it is to use. Oh really? Don't tell my 80-year old Ubuntu-using mother-in-law or Jason Perlow's Linux user mom-in-law. They're both using Ubuntu 12.04 and loving it. Why? Because it's so easy to use.

Metro, on the other hand... well you know I don't like it, but I think it's telling that a Bing search-not Google, Bing-showed 3.32-million results for "Windows 8 Metro sucks." Many users, including our own Scott Raymond, would like it if Microsoft gave users the option to turn Metro off. That's not going to happen.

Another plus for Ubuntu is, say you really can't stand Unity. No problem, you can switch to GNOME 3.x, Cinnamon, KDE, whatever. With Ubuntu while they want you to use Unity, you can choose to use another Linux desktop interface. With Windows 8, you're stuck with half-Metro and half-desktop.

Put it all together and what do you get? Well, I don't see Ubuntu overcoming Windows on the desktop. There are just too many Windows users out there. The Linux desktop will never catch up with it.

My question though wasn't who was going to end up the most popular desktop. It was "which will end up the better for its change?" To that question, there's only one answer: Ubuntu is the winner. I foresee Windows XP and 7 users sticking to their operating systems and giving Windows 8 the same cold shoulder they gave Vista and Millennium Edition.

That will end up being a real problem for Windows. Back in the day, their iron-grip on the desktop meant they could have flops and still not lose much. Today, though, we're moving away from the desktop to a world where we do much of our work on the cloud and for that we can use tablets and smartphones as well. And, on tablets and smartphones, Microsoft has yet to show that Windows can play a role. Thanks to Android, we already know Linux is a major player on those, and Ubuntu is already making a desktop/Android smartphone partnership play.

All-in-all, Ubuntu is going to be far more successful for its changes than Microsoft will be with its operating system transformations.

Related Stories:

Ubuntu 12.04 arrives and it's great

If my mother-in-law can use Ubuntu Linux, anyone can

20-million new Ubuntu Linux PCs in 2012?

Windows 8 tablets: Not open for business

A Linux desktop and tablet user and Windows 8

Topics: Software, Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Ubuntu, PCs, Windows

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  • You get dumber every day....

  • Evolution

    is superior to Outlook? Can I have some of what you're smoking?

    The desktop likely won't go away. Some apps are better as highly immersive and full screen. Others are better on a desktop. That's not going to change and therefor the Windows desktop will be here to stay. If you prefer to think of Metro as the Windows 8 start screen it's a better description. And my wife [b]loves[/b] to complain. My home laptop, that she uses all the time, has had the CP on it since it launched and I've never heard one complaint about it. That's pretty amazing.
    • Agreed...

      In my opinion - the only thing that sucks more than Outlook is Evolution - trust me: i use both all day long.

      PS: here is "enumerating the flaws, missing features, etc" techboy_z asked for (just one to safe space):
      - at least once a week i have to delete Evolution local cache (inbox stops updating)
      - Outlook feature missing: i can't see message source, only headers - even Outlook Express/Windows mail can do it.
      • Wow

        "Trust me"...what a convincing argument! How about enumerating the flaws, missing features, etc.?
      • Can't see message source in Outlook?

        At least on Outlook 2007, you can open the message, then click Other Actions -> View Source (or View in Browser).
      • evolution

        Your right it was better in the past. But I find it does this more with microsoft Mail servers.
      • outlook can view full source

        Right click email and select View Source, works for me in Outlook 2010.

        For headers open email File->Properties
      • Evolution

        To see message source in Evolution, highlight e-mail then go to View/Message Source.
        Couldn't be simpler :)
        • Evoluton vs Outlook

          IMO Evolution and Outlook both suck. I prefer Thunderbird. Simple, right to the point.
          Jonah Sabean
          • Thunderbird

            I do like Thunderbird. Like you said, it's straightforward. No fuss, no muss. In fact, I might go with Thunderbird, rather than the Mail app that came with Windows 8. Apparently, Mail does not give you the option to review email header info. That's a bad, bad thing. For that reason, alone, I am considering going back to the good ol' standby, Thunderbird.
      • I have to wonder how many people have the weekly cache problems

        you are having... seems like a serious flaw that, if reported by a significant number of users would get some attention from the developers.

        Your two stated reasons for disliking Evolution could certainly give one cause to dislike a product but you must understand that those two reasons only affect you and a rather small number of other users. Most users have never thought to look at the message source for their emails and probably don't know what that means and the weekly problem of the inbox no longer updating is probably not a wide spread problem and could be a problem with your environment, not Evolution.

        Outlook, on the other hand, has a pretty serious flaw in design that affects most anybody who's email is important to them. First, the .pst file is much larger than other mail storage formats. If I export the data to Thunderbird or Eudora it is typically less than half the size of the .pst file. This is a problem for backups. the other issue is that Outlook doesn't fully shutdown and makes it impossible to back up the .pst file. Exporting the .pst from within Outlook must be done manually and unnecessarily large file makes for an unnecessarily long wait and unnecessarily large storage capacity, especially if you are backing up incrementally.

        I provide tech support, I have found work arounds and solutions and there are some commercial solutions that are perhaps more elegant than what I was able to come up with but Outlook is the problem. I've never had these issues with other email clients.

        BTW - How the heck did you edit your post to provide the P.S. reply to Techboy_z? Edit is an option that disappeared for most of us long ago.
    • I use Alpine myself...

      ...even on Windows.

      But Evolution appears to me to work almost exactly like Outlook. I just don't like wading through menus (I don't like Mozilla Thunderbird for the same reason).
      John L. Ries
      • I use Outlook 2010

        So no menus really. I really like it. Instant view of past messages from contacts in the email you're looking at is a wonderful feature. Task management and calendar I rely heavily on as well. Especially since my tasks and contacts sync to SalesForce, which makes it doubly handy.
      • I use gmail.

        Forget a desktop client, I have a web browser for that. It's leaps and bounds beyond Outlook, Thundebird, Evolution, etc. Plus I have Firefox set up to route e-mail links to gmail.
        • Gnome Gmail + GM-Notifier + Chrome = best gmail experience

          With all three of those or even just the first two, you can have complete gmail integration in Ubuntu. I just put that on my system.

          To enhance the look of Ubuntu I added MyUnity (which lets you customize unity) and I then I went to gnome-look.org and searched for GTK 3.x themes. My favorites where Zukini and MediterraneanNight.

          Regardless, Gnome Gmail, GM-Notifier, and MyUnity are all in the software center, and you can get Chrome (I don't use Chromium) from Google's website.

          Having complete gmail integration in Ubuntu is really nice, I get e-mail updates in the system tray, and all of my apps send e-mail through the online Gmail, and they can send attachments too.

          I'm loving Ubuntu right now. :-)
          • Gmail is cool

            I haven't tried Gnome Gmail yet, but after reading that I'll be sure to give it a whirl on my desktop. Most of my emailing is done using the web client with Chromium or on Android's included mail client.
    • Yeah yeah yeah windows forever

      Nothing lasts forever, and they won't either.
      • Not sure I see how you derived that

        I just said Outlook is superior to Evolution and that Windows 8 hasn't generated complaints from my wife, someone who loves to complain to me every time I make any change. She complained with Windows 7.
      • same can be said about Linux ;-)

    • Outlook?

      Take Outlook ??? please. In a 30-year career in IT, Outlook was, hands-down, the absolute worst e-mail client I was ever forced to use. In fact a switch to Outlook by my employer was a factor in my decision to take early retirement. Even PROFS was better than Outlook.