Linux started out as a passion project to create an operating system that anyone could use or tinker with at will. That's how computers were before companies like Apple and Microsoft locked them down. But you had to be a dedicated and technical user to use Linux back then.
Today, millions of people are finding Linux to be an easy-to-use and powerful alternative to Windows. It's different, but different doesn't mean bad.
A tie between Linux and Windows? Let's look at the differences between them and help you determine if you are ready for the learning curve.
Photo credit: Ashkan Forouzani / Unsplash
There is a current version of Windows available in different editions. The differences between these editions mainly concern additional features for use in corporate or educational environments. Each of these expenses costs different amounts of money.
There is no set version of Linux. Instead, there are many different versions known as Linux "distributions" (distributions for short). There are hundreds of different options, although you can narrow the list of well-known distributions that most people use to fewer than a dozen. What is the cost of the Linux operating system? Almost all Linux distributions are free to use. A support contract is required for some company options.
What is a Linux Distribution?
Photo credit: Flatpak.org
Linux is not a full-fledged operating system. The name really only refers to the kernel, a relatively invisible part of how your operating system works. The user interface you see on your screen, the display server, sound system, and apps all come from different sources. A distribution is a way of bringing all of this software together to give you a working computer.
Because there are any number of ways these components can be put together to suit a person's wants or needs, there are any number of distributions.
2. Source code
Windows is a proprietary operating system. The source code is closed. This means that you must work for Microsoft or get permission from Microsoft to see the code that powers your operating system. If you try to access or redistribute this code without permission, you may encounter legal problems.
Linux is a free, open source operating system. You can view the code, learn from it, make the changes you want, and share it with others. You still need to adhere to an open source license, but that usually means you can't freely take the code and repackage it into proprietary software.
3. Desktop interfaces
Until Windows 8, the Windows interface hadn't seen much innovation for a long time. The Start menu, the taskbar, the taskbar, Windows Explorer – everything was basically the same and was restored with Windows 10.
In Linux, the interface is not part of the core system. You can switch your user interface without having to worry about reinstallations. There are giants like GNOME and KDE that come with a full suite of built-in apps. Then there are any number of lesser-known strains, all of which focus on different aspects. Here is an overview of the best desktop environments for Linux.
Not only are there more interfaces to choose from, but you also have more freedom to customize them. You can make your desktop any way you want and when you're done it probably won't slow down.
To install software on Windows, visit a website, go to the download section, and click the link that will send you an .exe file. You run it, the program does its thing, and then you consider it "installed". If you want to remove programs, you'll have to grapple with the Control Panel. Sure, Microsoft introduced an app store with Windows 8, but a lot of what you want just isn't there.
Most Linux systems do not require you to search for executable files. Instead, you have what is known as a package manager. Traditional package managers provide fine-grained control over how to browse, install, and remove program packages. Newer options are more like mobile app stores.
It gets more complicated if the desired app is not in the package manager. Since there is no single version of Linux, there is no single package format that is suitable for all different distributions. Fortunately, thanks to newer universal package formats, this situation is starting to change.
Which one has more apps?
Linux has thousands of programs, but most of them are free, open source programs that newbies have never heard of. Popular commercial software usually targets Windows. While more of these apps are making their way to Linux than before, Windows just has a larger library of desktop software.
However, if you can't find a suitable open source replacement, you can run most Windows programs on Linux using Wine or virtual machines.
5. File structure
The basic structure of Linux is fundamentally different from Windows – as it should be considering it was developed through a separate code base with separate developers. You won't find My Documents on Ubuntu or Programs on Fedora. There are no C: or D: drives.
Instead, there is a single file tree, and your drives are included in that tree. Your home and desktop directories are both part of this single file tree. Technically, you have to learn a whole new file system and its architecture. It's not very difficult, but the difference is still there.
Windows uses the NTFS file system. In contrast, Linux supports many different options. If you install Linux on your laptop, you are likely using EXT4. If you want to run Linux on a server, you can try BTRFS or ZFS instead. These file systems have features that don't necessarily benefit desktop users, but are great for businesses that provide cloud services or maintain their own servers.
The Windows registry is a main database of all settings on your computer. It contains application information, user passwords, device information, and the like. If information is not saved as a file, it is likely to be saved in the Windows registry.
Linux doesn't have a single monolithic registry. In general, applications programmatically store their settings in hidden folders in a user's home directory. There are some exceptions, such as B. the GNOME desktop environment with GSettings and the configuration tool dconf.
Because Windows is so widespread in the PC market, device manufacturers tend to focus on this one operating system. This means that companies are prioritizing Windows over Linux. Sometimes they don't provide Linux drivers associated with their devices. In other cases, they may provide drivers but leave out some of the functionality. This means that you need to be more careful about purchasing various peripherals or smart devices.
That doesn't mean that the driver situation on Linux is more difficult. On Linux, most drivers are part of the kernel. If you plug in a printer, there's a good chance it will just work. There is no need to use an installation CD or download a driver from the Internet. Problems only arise when the drivers are not there.
What about graphics cards?
This is the most common driver-related problem. While there are open source drivers for Nvidia and AMD cards, if you want maximum performance you want proprietary drivers. They are available but sometimes cause problems with other aspects of the Linux desktop because developers do not have access to the source code.
Both Windows and Linux have the ability to open a small black window and enter commands. The Windows version is known as Windows PowerShell and is primarily aimed at developers. This is not the primary way you are supposed to interact with a Windows PC.
This is not the case with Linux. Here, this window is commonly referred to as Terminal, although you may also use it as the Linux shell. If you want to enter commands, you can completely remove the graphical interface. This is how most system administrators manage servers (most of which run Linux).
Linux is known to be a developer friendly environment. The terminal is a big part of it. This also applies to the open source nature of the operating system. You can just do whatever you want with your machine provided you have the knowledge or are willing to get it.
But it is also easier to set up development environments on Linux. Whether you are a system administrator or a web developer, you will often work with Linux-based computers. With a Linux desktop, you can install the same tools, use the same skills, and have computers that already understand each other.
Plus, there are so many tools to choose from. You have a choice between full IDEs and text editors. You have virtual machines. And here is one area where the ability to swap out your desktop environment comes in really handy. With a tile window manager, coders can get into the zone without having to deal with windows. And a lot of what you need is waiting in the repositories. Enter a single command into your terminal to download and install a program and be on the go.
Is it difficult to switch to Linux?
This question depends on how good you are with computers. If you've learned how to use Windows by following a manual, reading articles, or getting first hand experience, you probably won't find learning Linux that important.
If you enjoy following instructions without anyone to help you in person, everything you need to know is freely available online. This is where you can start moving to Linux.
25 Insanely Useful Websites That Will Be Useful One Day
It is difficult to find useful websites. There are literally billions of them. Some are useful, some less. Some of the useful sites are very popular, and rightly so – a tool like Canva is a …
About the author
(324 articles published)
Bertel is a digital minimalist who writes from a laptop with physical privacy switches and an operating system recommended by the Free Software Foundation. He values ethics over functions and helps others take control of their digital lives.
More from Bertel King
Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up for our newsletter to receive tech tips, reviews, free e-books, and exclusive offers!
One more step …!
Please confirm your email address in the email we just sent you.