Could Desktop Linux really be so slow?

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?

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TOPICS: Linux
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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.

Topic: Linux

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  • As I said before....

    Linux is no where near ready for desktop. :P

    What I do find funny is you will get a flood of people in here saying it's because of Linspire. (Although I probably would agree).

    It is interesting indeed, but again.. Apples and Oranges as I said before.

    Linux is like Windows 95 back in he day.. Slow because it was a front-end to DOS. One of the reason I don't think Linux will make the mainstream desktop.
    ju1ce
    • Prophecy and Prediction

      Obviously you don't remember anything from the past, because that might help your accuracy in predicting the future. Do you remember "Made in Hong-Kong" do you remember "Made in Japan" and now "Made in China". Originally did this not mentally conjure up inferior product. Then first the USA lost the TV manufacture market, then other electronic goods manufacture moved to Asia. Then the protectionism against the Computer goods market moving outside the US, as a strategic defense technology. But now most motherboards and PC hardware are made in Taiwan.

      Did GM, Ford and Chrysler not once have at least 90% of the world automobile market, and were there not monopoly issues with this in the past? Do they have 90% of the market now? Do they have 50%? With Linux as with everything else, it's only a matter of time.
      bigpicture
      • Maybe in the future it will stand a chance...

        But as of right now, Linux isn't ready for it at all... OS-X to me would be the better alternative if you are looking for a Desktop alternative.
        ju1ce
        • Strictly from a usability stand-point (NT)

          (NT)
          ju1ce
    • Linux is no where near ready for desktop.

      Only if you listen to the MS Zealots.

      Don't tell the programmers in a certain Canadian Gov't Agency that their desktops don't work OK? We'll just let them keep working in ignorance. As long as no one tells them their desktops don't work, they won't realise that the applications that 12 million people use also can't work as the OS they run just isn't ready...

      For $100.00, what would you expect to get for speed? And George, the PC no longer costs $100.00 if you add Windows (you are also violating your EULA with MS if you didn't purchase that copy of Windows your going to put on your pal's PC).

      If we want to level the "financial" playing field, make sure that the Linux PC you buy gets upgraded with hardware for the cost of adding Windows and MS Office. The purchase price of the two computers will never be the same price, unless you are buying from a MS channel partner. Then chances are, they will charge more for an empty PC vs then a Windows preloaded (like Dell do).

      But for less than the cost of a Dell PC, I can go to any of the clone makers, Global Mart or OEM Express in Ottawa as examples, and get way more hardware for far less money. They're service is fantastic (any problems and you are fixed up, on site, same day while you wait, at no extra charge). As an example, I paid ~$500,00 CA for an AMD64 3000 with 1GB of RAM (traded out Windows for an additional 500MB stick) a 120GB drive, NVidia FX5500, DVD RW and 19inch Monitor.

      I wonder if, when George re-installed the OS, he chose a "minimum" install and then added the packages he needed afterwards. If not, there are probably loads of daemons running that are not needed, along with a load of Software that is not needed...
      douglasids
      • douglasids debunks the "Linux is free" argurment

        > ...the PC no longer costs $100.00 if
        > you add Windows (you are also violating your
        > EULA with MS if you didn't purchase that copy
        > of Windows your going to put on your pal's PC).

        That's true, but one of the biggest arguments put forward by Linux evangelists is that "you don't have to pay for the OS...it's free, so you save money".

        > If we want to level the "financial" playing
        > field, make sure that the Linux PC you buy
        > gets upgraded with hardware for the cost of
        > adding Windows and MS Office.

        Ah, so you're admitting that Linux/OO is a dog when run on comparable hardware. You argue that he should take the money he would have spent on Windows, and spend it on more hardware just to make Linux run at the same speed. You argue that this is "leveling the playing field", when in fact you're asking him to give Linux a favorable handicap. Thus, the "cheap" argument can be seen for the farce it truly is.

        > The purchase price of the two computers will
        > never be the same

        Absolutely. But neither will the total cost of ownership. The Linux zealots conveniently ignore the "hidden costs", like the complexity of configuration, compatibility, etc.

        Doesn't matter anyway. Linux will make minimal inroads as long as there's no single overseer. The number of incompatible and semicompatible factions (e.g. KDE/Gnome/Xfce/etc, or OSS/ALSA/etc) is growing every day, particularly in areas that modern GUI apps are expected to "just work". "Runs on Linux" is often completely meaningless, and the typical home user/newbie doesn't have the patience or knowledge to deal with making that new app he just bought run on his new PC just because it depends on a set of libs he doesn't have. Oh, and don't try that "I could care less about the newbie user, as long as *I* can make it work" argument. Linux has to appeal to the casual user or it's doomed as a mainstream desktop. End of story.

        I'm no Microsoft zealot. I've played with several Linux distros, as well as FreeBSD, OSX, and other MS-alternatives. Linux has a lot of excellent technology. I'll grant it that. But to put it simply, one reason Linux hasn't taken off on the desktop is that the very openness that makes it appealing to the geek audience causes issues (and factions) that keep the masses away.
        ejsawyer@...
        • Mac OS X is really Darwin BSD Unix and predictions for the future

          http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/unix/

          I would say that a lot of people think that the Mac desktop is much more usable than Windows. Now that Mac is based on BSD, Apple is able to move to the Intel x86 architecture. Here's a link to a ZDNet article that compares OS X to Win XP performance on x86:

          http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/software/os/0,39024180,39235916-3,00.htm

          Mac OS X appears to be faster. So if you want to pay for a fancy GUI shell on top of a *nix kernel, you'll get better performance and stability than Windows XP.

          Now for my comments on Linux:

          Some people in this thread are complaining that Linux is too hard to use. Its really not all that difficult to install new software, even from source code. You just need to be comfortable with the command line. How long did it take you to learn Windows? If you spend a day or two to learn some basic Linux command line commands and stick with it through your learning curve, you'll have no problem with this.

          $ ./configure
          $ make
          $ make install

          How hard is that to type?

          I'd say that the main reason Linux has taken off in the Desktop arena is that people don't want to spend a couple of days learning something new or go through the hassle of installing a new OS. Windows comes preinstalled on almost all computers from the major retailers, without the option and the subsequent cost savings to have Linux preinstalled on purchase. Most people don't want to reinstall Windows, but it seems inevitably they do because system performance on Windows seems to degrade significantly over time. My Fedora boxes have yet to crash.

          I think there will eventually be a Linux distro with a super slick GUI that is free. This is pure conjecture, but I think Google might be doing just that. I think Google has enough financial clout to get the Linux distro pre-installed by the major retailers. Google could probably suck up the cost of including Xine and XMMS for media, too, just to have the default home page be Google Personalized Home page and Google Talk instead of MSN and Messenger.

          I agree that MS Office is currently more feature rich and faster than OOo, but OOo 2.0 is pretty usable now, especially for home use. I think most people will put up with some slightly poorer performance for home use, if its free. Even more conjecture: Google is probably working on an office suite to compete directly with MS Office, too. Perhaps they will build off of the OOo source code since it has an OSD license.

          In fact, now that I?ve Googled for it, I appear to be correct: http://news.com.com/Google+throws+bodies+at+OpenOffice/2100-7344_3-5920762.html .
          I don?t agree with that article that Google will use Red Hat eventually, however. Google has enough capital to make Linux a core competency. They already seem to be luring all the top talent away from MS and other major companies. Rolling your own Linux distribution isn?t all that difficult, either. Just check out http://www.linuxfromscratch.org/ .

          My prediction for the future is that the OS will become a loss leader as the traditional software distribution business model goes away, much like IM and Internet browsers are already today. This is because broadband Internet connections are becoming more and more prevalent. Bit Torrent makes software distribution cost next to nothing. Consumers buying boxed software will become a thing of the past. It already has for me. Try downloading the Knoppix DVD with a Bit Torrent client. You?ll get a super fast download speed.

          Because of these technologies, MS will have to change its business model or face extinction. Microsoft has already begun restructuring itself for the "Web 2.0" business model with Windows and Office Live. Read about ?Web 2.0? here:
          http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html

          Personally, I'm looking forward to a Google Linux. MS will eventually have to respond by giving away Windows and Office for free, but by that time Google Linux will have gained a lot of market share. Then it will be just be a matter of quality, usability, and speed to market, and I contend that the business that leverages and contributes the most open source software will be quicker to market and have smaller operating expenses. Apple has shown that *nix can be very user friendly. Google has already proven itself at making intuitive and clean UIs on the web and that same core competency will be transferable to their Google Linux distribution. Will MS and Apple be flexible enough to respond to Google? Time will tell. In the meantime, you can get ahead of the learning curve by trying out any of the Debian Live DVD/CD distros such as Ubuntu or Knoppix if you want a Windows Desktop alternative. If you are a developer, I recommend Fedora.
          brodie.hodges
    • checkout www.iplayer.co.uk

      This is a internet/dvb set top box. As it happens, apparently this runs on embedded linux. There are many things like Tivo that run on embedded linux.
      In my work we manufacture equipment that has embedded linux in it. You turn it on, and use it, you don't need to know about Linux to use the equipment.
      I don't know what you mean by "Linux is no-where near ready for the desktop". I guess you mean it won't supplant Windows XP any time soon. I think you're on safe ground saying that, but who can tell.
      Certainly the MIT laptop will increase the use of linux a lot.
      It won't require a lot of linux knowledge to use (see above about embedded linux systems).
      How much knowledge does it take to use Knoppix by the way? Put the CD in, boot, and surf the web etc. You don't need any knowledge to use it.
      hipparchus2001
      • You've missed part of the point!!!!

        Nobody is talking about embedded anything as that implies it's button operated. The problem is 'dynamic' configuration such as a PC... mine is different than yours, is different than the message originators. I've worked on CPM, DOS, MSDOS, UNIX and still bear the mental scars.

        Linux will need to get more user friendly to the masses (nobody is talking about the technically able) OR MS will need to start killing the illegal copies that everybody is using, before there's any sea of change.

        Incidentally I don't immediately see anything at iplayer to suggest embedded Linux, machine code, etc... maybe you've more info, or more patience at trawling the site. Either way there are new MS products (and many others too) appearing which will achieve the same thing (I believe), in terms of convergence between PCs, PCs, and general home entertainment. Looks like the next big thing, and I just hope I can manage to grab a piece of it and get away from general IT support.

        The future seems to be working back to a degree of fixed apps... at least that'll get rid of a lot of the worm/virus concerns. Off/On and you're safe again!
        johnmckay
    • As I said before....

      it might help if you read the article carefully. Just how fast do you
      think Windows XP would run on a system with 128 MB of memory? I
      bet his XP system has more than that. I would not suggest less
      than 256 MB for XP despite what they say on the box. Same goes
      for Linux.

      And while I have a system with windows and Linux installed my
      main OS is OS X.
      Protagonistic
    • RE: As I said before....

      >>>...Linux is no where near ready for desktop. :P...<<<

      I run a three year old AMD XP2400 on an MSI MB w/1gig DDR2600 ram. Probably a little more muscle than the author's $100.00 pc but probably not a whole lot more. Slowest time to open was Open Office Writer at 5 seconds. I just have to question the authors data!!!
      richdave
      • RE: As I said before....

        I use open office with XP and a 3200 AMD Athlon
        And 1 gig.
        This is much more than the machine in Question but
        it does load in 15 seconds or less after I open it for the first time and no more than 5 seconds on later start ups if the machine is left running.
        I can see both sides of this arguement as I am trying linux with Suse(Duel Boot) and that asks for 250 megs of ram so I believe the 100 dollor machine to be lacking in ram.
        But! open office is taking double the time to start under linux compared to xp on my machine.
        My results are not clinical and only reflect my machine but even with the slow startup I am more than happy with Open Office for my personnel use.
        as it is Free and therefore a bargain.
        The same can be said for a 100 dollor machine .
        If it does all that a person needs,all be it a little slower, then it is a bargain and should not be dismissed by a journalist who thinks his SUV is the type of car your average Joe drives.
        We should be praising this machine Linspire and Open Office for their obvious good points especially the computer access it will give to the poorer segments of our society.
        This machine is designed to fill a need.
        Open office and is free Microsoft office is not.
        The people who buy this machine will be able to do what they were unable to afford to do before.

        As an aside
        I was looking around at prices for dell computers
        and in France they are selling a P4 2800, 40gig HD,256meg ram.Monitor included for around 250 US.
        This price includes all Taxes and free delivery.
        try and get a P4 and a monitor for that price in North America.
        if you compare the cost of living in Europe.
        That would be comparable to buying the same machine in the States for 125 dollars US.
        now that is a bargain is it not.
        clockmendergb@...
    • Facts are facts

      As a long time user of Linux and Windows (from 3.0 to XP pro and everything in between). Windows XP does boot faster than Linux init 5 boots. There are a few reasons for that but one of which is that every time you boot you do the equivalent of a scan disk on every partition. In a professional setting where uptime matters waiting a few more seconds or even a few more minutes isn't a big deal. The nice thing about Linux is that it is stable and once it's up it just keeps on running. I have systems up that have been running without a shut down for over a year. Windows just isn't designed for that kind of thing. Windows is nice for routine end user type tasks like Office (though we're switching to Open Office primarily because of MicroSofts new licensing policies makes MS Office no longer cost effective).

      As for Linux not making the jump to the mainstream that depends on the distro you're using. Quite frankly Linspire was intended to be a Windows transition distro. Making one OS imitate another makes it bog down due to all the extra junk running.

      We use Mandriva at work and it's great for what we use it for which is our application infrastructure. The majority of our user base uses thin clients to access the main linux box which is a P4 of varying degrees of speed with 512 mb of memory and 40gb disk. No fancy graphics cards and no sound cards. It runs great we support up to about 30 high usage users on a box. In some places we've boosted the memory up to a gig and are supporting as many as 80 users, though most are hitting the system from text mode RF terminals so the foot print required isn't nearly as large.

      We do have a few Linux desktops for selected users who want to keep the systems up and running for months at a time.

      The advantages to Windows is it's a common interface and has device drivers for most hardware (not all there's an old zebra printer that's giving us fits atm).

      The advantages to Linux is that it's stable and runs very well and truely supports multiple users. It does run a lot of similar software to what's available to Windows. Also, the initial buy in is much lower and once your people know what they are doing the operational costs are low as well.

      The disadvantages to Windows is that it runs everything as administrator and you have to go out of your way to lock a system down to a limited user and an admin user this makes the system inheritantly vunerable to malicious attack and non-malicious stupidity.

      The disadvantage to Linux are that it's a server that can do double duty as a desktop system but it's not nearly as good at desktop stuff as it is as a server. Also, your people have to get a feel for the OS which most people have used Windows so you don't have to train them on how to use the interface. There are significant differences between Windows and Linux and their window interfaces it's easy to forget that the x to close a window in Windows also terminates the program but on Linux that x doesn't mean terminate the program only close the window. The difference there is that Linux is truly multitasking and doesn't require a connection to a terminal to run it's applications.
      maldain
    • Facts are facts

      As a long time user of Linux and Windows (from 3.0 to XP pro and everything in between). Windows XP does boot faster than Linux init 5 boots. There are a few reasons for that but one of which is that every time you boot you do the equivalent of a scan disk on every partition. In a professional setting where uptime matters waiting a few more seconds or even a few more minutes isn't a big deal. The nice thing about Linux is that it is stable and once it's up it just keeps on running. I have systems up that have been running without a shut down for over a year. Windows just isn't designed for that kind of thing. Windows is nice for routine end user type tasks like Office (though we're switching to Open Office primarily because of MicroSofts new licensing policies makes MS Office no longer cost effective).

      As for Linux not making the jump to the mainstream that depends on the distro you're using. Quite frankly Linspire was intended to be a Windows transition distro. Making one OS imitate another makes it bog down due to all the extra junk running.

      We use Mandriva at work and it's great for what we use it for which is our application infrastructure. The majority of our user base uses thin clients to access the main linux box which is a P4 of varying degrees of speed with 512 mb of memory and 40gb disk. No fancy graphics cards and no sound cards. It runs great we support up to about 30 high usage users on a box. In some places we've boosted the memory up to a gig and are supporting as many as 80 users, though most are hitting the system from text mode RF terminals so the foot print required isn't nearly as large.

      We do have a few Linux desktops for selected users who want to keep the systems up and running for months at a time.

      The advantages to Windows is it's a common interface and has device drivers for most hardware (not all there's an old zebra printer that's giving us fits atm).

      The advantages to Linux is that it's stable and runs very well and truely supports multiple users. It does run a lot of similar software to what's available to Windows. Also, the initial buy in is much lower and once your people know what they are doing the operational costs are low as well.

      The disadvantages to Windows is that it runs everything as administrator and you have to go out of your way to lock a system down to a limited user and an admin user this makes the system inheritantly vunerable to malicious attack and non-malicious stupidity.

      The disadvantage to Linux are that it's a server that can do double duty as a desktop system but it's not nearly as good at desktop stuff as it is as a server. Also, your people have to get a feel for the OS which most people have used Windows so you don't have to train them on how to use the interface. There are significant differences between Windows and Linux and their window interfaces it's easy to forget that the x to close a window in Windows also terminates the program but on Linux that x doesn't mean terminate the program only close the window. The difference there is that Linux is truly multitasking and doesn't require a connection to a terminal to run it's applications.
      maldain
      • Question about the Thin Client setup you mentioned

        Hi...

        I was reading the Talkback replies and saw your post concerning the use of Linux and thin clients.

        I've been thinking about trying something like this, as I think Thin Clients will gain popularity in corporate and educational settings, but have no experience with Linux.

        What distro of Linux do you use as the server?
        What are the server's other software (server) and what hardware do you use for the thin clients?

        Thanks for the info...

        Rick
        RFaircloth
        • nxserver

          This link is a good guide for NX: http://www.linux-tip.net/cms/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=158&Itemid=
          brodie.hodges
  • Earth to "expert"

    Hello? Have you ever tried to run Windows XP with 128MB of RAM?
    wkulecz
    • Yes, and it's fine

      I'll follow up with the Windows/Office numbers on this identical hardware. I've done it before and it's fast so long as you don't open any really large files in Office that exceed the free physical memory.

      Boot times for this type of hardware is between 30-40 seconds with Windows XP SP2. I did mention this in the blog.
      george_ou
      • Windows XP + Office on 128 megs

        It's going to hit the swap file George. 128 megs is the bare minimum listed requirement for Windows XP and that does not include Office, only Windows. You know as well as I do that you are going to be hitting that swap file pretty heavy and I doubt that the bargin $100 PC came with the fastest SATA drive available.

        If you are going to cut down on what gets loaded on Windows XP at startup then you are also going to need to consider cutting down on what you load on Linux and that means that perhaps KDE is not the way to go. KDE is more like Windows XP Pro than like Windows XP home. There are other GUI front ends for Linux that don't load the kitchen sink like KDE or Gnome do.
        balsover
        • Will not hit swap with 128 RAM

          ...so long as you don't load any really large files in Office.

          I've done Windows in 64 MBs of RAM and it isn't that bad.

          I will be testing this thing with WinXP Pro. If it did hit the swap file, it will severely penalize performance and show up in the load times so what's the complaint here?

          I'm trying to compare fully featured Linux Desktops with Windows XP Pro so what else would I use besides KDE or Gnome? Are you seriously trying to tell me that I can't compare KDE or Gnome to Windows? I think Linus himself recommends KDE.

          As for hard drive speed, why does it run fine with Windows? I don?t care if it?s the fastest PATA 3.5? hard drive; it?s a lot faster than 2.5? notebook drives for sure. The bottom line is, I?m going to be comparing Windows/Office usability on IDENTICAL hardware. You can?t complain about hardware.
          george_ou