An operating system it is a defined software which intermediate between the human being and the machine. Early operating systems were very diverse, and they were specific to their particular hardware, however with the evolution of the machines over the years this changed and now, we have the possibility to choose which OS to install with our hardware. We can even run more than one operating system within the same machine. The Two well know operating systems that run in a PC are Microsoft Windows and Linux. Other OS exist, however for this particular research I will focus exclusively on Windows versus Linux.
So which operating system should we choose to install on our PC? Although it seems an easy task it can became quite difficult, especially if we take into consideration some key factors like hardware specifications, purpose of use, environments, costs, etc.
In order to help you make the right choice I will provide some information and opinions from different sources on both systems, what are their characteristics, their similarity and their advantages/disadvantages. References, recommendations and a biased conclusion will also be integrated into the document which can be considered a general introduction to the Operating Systems of Windows and Linux.
A BIT OF HYSTORY
In the beginning (1960s) computers didn't need an operating system but then due to the complexity of the hardware parts, it became an essential software component (1970s).
The development of microprocessors made inexpensive computing available for the small business and hobbyist, which in turn led to the widespread use of interchangeable hardware components using a common interconnection (such as the S-100, Apple II, ISA, and PCI buses), and an increasing need for 'standard' operating systems to control them.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_operating_systems, Retrieved March 14, 2010)
It was the 1969 when Kenneth Thompson and Dennis Ritchie developed the UNIX operating system. UNIX was developed from another project called Multics (from here the name UNIX). This OS combined many of the timesharing and file management features offered by Multics. After that UNIX became popular among engineers and scientists (this is key information because Linux can be considered a UNIX-like system).
In 1975 Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen but we will have to wait until 1981 to see their first OS, it was called MS-DOS.
The MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System) was a basic software designed for microprocessor PCs and was included by the manufacturing IBM in their machines, however Microsoft still retained the right to sell it themselves as a separate product).
It was stored in form of a small boot program in a ROM chip within the HW which loaded the OS itself. There was no graphics interface but just a command line. The time passed and Microsoft started to develop and improve its OS and in 1985 developed the first version of a well knows and used OS, Windows. The main innovation was the use of a graphics user interface (however windows was not the first GUI interface for computers. The first PC to use a GUI, was the Alto designed by Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in 1970s).
So at what stages do Linux OS comes in? It was 1991 when the Linux operating system was introduced; it was created as a hobby by Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
Linus had an interest in Minix, a small UNIX system, and decided to develop a system that exceeded the Minix (he basically added a terminal emulation program). The kernel, at the heart of all Linux systems, is developed and released under the GNU General Public License and its source code is freely available to everyone (can not be said the same for Windows which its code is still confidential). Linux is now one of several open source Unix-like operating systems and like windows it have grow and it can avail of a graphic interface as well although is most used because of it bash shell functionality .
Now that we now a bit about the past of the two systems let's see what are their differences in term of key elements of an OS.
Windows come only from Microsoft and after the 1990 Windows systems become quite popular, were and still are shipped with most new PCs. Widows is provided for both client and servers. Windows can run only from the primary partition of one Hard-drive. The latest version for clients is called Windows 7 and was introduced at the end of 2009. Some Older versions like Windows Vista and Windows XP are still available in the marked and are supported while others did became obsolete and are not provided/supported anymore (Windows 3.x, Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me).
On the Server side Microsoft offer and support few editions. Currently available on the market are: Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. On regard older edition Windows NT is completely gone and Windows 2000 is going to end it support this year.
A note as the follow appears on http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/
On July 13th, 2010, support for Windows 2000 Server ends. The Windows 2000 End-of-Support Solution Center is the starting point for planning your migration strategy today.
In contrast with most of the Linux distributions, all the Microsoft flavors must be purchased and comes with a license that should be activated within a certain time. Free support and updates are available after the purchase and in order to promote their latest product Microsoft offer some discount if you upgrade your system.
It is the kernel that forms the base around which a Linux operating system
At first Linux consisted only of his kernel and some GNU tools but with time, individuals, students and companies began distributing Linux with their own choice of packages build around that original kernel. This is where we can start talk about the concept of the "distribution".
Linux distributions can differ from each other for the services provided within it and some other factors like technical consulence given, costs, applications and user interface offered, type of security implemented, integration of networking - file sharing - web server and so on.
After a small research on line at http://www.linux.org/dist/ it is clear that:
1) The majority of the distributions are free of charge and can be downloaded from a lot of trusted website and after can be burned into a cd/dvd. In case you have no broadband or a slow connection it is better purchase the distribution from retailers, they usually sell it in one or more CDs at very low cost.
2) You can run Linux either permanently on your Hard-drive or boot it directly from the CD (if your system is capable of doing this). A feature not present in Windows.
3) Extensive information and help on how to use Linux are always available on-line.
4) Most well know distributions are from SUSE, Mandriva, Red Hat, Fedora and Ubuntu. Many more are available but as previously stated it all depends on the use that will be made. Also in the recent year many manufacturing companies such IBM, Dell and HP are supporting the development of Linux for their budget devices (atom laptops).
5) Both Desktop and Servers edition are available in the market; however for some server distribution an annually fee is required in order to get a proper support.
Having too many distributions on the market can have a negative influence among the general users and because there are a lot of "big names" it can be difficult for the people decide which flavor use and install. It may be a good idea if some companies decide to unify together their effort by creating a unique distribution.
GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE (GUI)
A software interface designed to standardize and simplify the use of computer programs, as by using a mouse to manipulate text and images on a display screen featuring icons, windows, and menus.
(http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/GUI , 14 March 2010)
A major advantage of GUIs is that they make computer operation more intuitive, and easier to learn and use.
With the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990, Microsoft added GUI to their system. 3D effects were introduced as well as Program Manager and File Manager. Program Manager is was the "desktop" of the PC. File Manager was the ability to work with the files on the computer, and also allows the user to run programs (this now became Windows Explorer). Since than The GUI evolved and improved and will keep changing again with the next version of Windows with themes feature that offers some customization of the look and feel of the GUI.
Linux also can avail of a GUI even if not at the same level and intensity as windows. In Linux the GUI is there for make the system look nice, basically a cover for the command line programs. The GUI (X-window) is integrated into the distribution but not into the kernel. Users can choose among many free GUI X-Window interfaces, such as Gnome, KDE just to mention the most used, each of which provides a different look and feel.
The multi choice of GUI shows how Linux can be different from Windows.
Windows infact adopt and integrate one unique graphic interface (no multiple choice here) that has been developed and improved thanks to the many people that uses it and run trough it different applications.
Many of the Linux supporters believe that having a choice is better and the main point is to find the right GUI that suit your need better.
I personally have used both Windows and Linux GUI and you can see and feel immediately a difference in between the two graphic systems. Windows give a more familiar feels when used (it is more user friendly). With Linux it is nice to be able choice different GUI however it may take more time than expected for familiarized and notice all the differences. When you are a home user time may be not that important but when you are in a business environment, time and speed are essential and having a standard GUI like the one in windows can help you a lot, it make things easy, specially if you are a new user.
TEXT MODE INTERFACE (TMI)
The text mode interface also called command line interpreter (CLI), exists to provide direct communication between the users and the operating system.
Both Linux and Windows use command line interpreters.
Windows has adopted for many years what is called Prompt DOS or CMD while Linux integrate different TMI but mainly use one called BASH.
Linux is very well integrated with the console and in case of a failure with the X-Window; the command line can be used to recover the system. Also developers maintained their CLI capabilities while continuing to improve their GUIs. On the other side, Window has reduced the CMD to marginal roles and gives priority to the GUI.
Despite the convenience of the GUI some system administrators still prefer the CLI for many operations because it is frequently faster and more powerful when performing complex operation like scripting or piping.
THE OS INSTALLATION
USERS AND PASSWORDS
For this analysis we need to separate OS costs for Desktop PC-Notebook and OS costs for server machines.
On regard Client/Desktop PC and Notebook, most of Linux distributions are free of charge and most of them come with a good bit of free applications that can be used at your convenience. If you wish to buy a boxed distribution on Linux (with manuals and cd included) the price can be between £ 23 and £50. Windows is expensive and even if it provides some essential applications very often you will have to purchase 3rd party application like antivirus in order protects better your system. Depending on the edition that you wish to purchase, one copy of windows 7 with license (yes, every pc need one license of use) will cost you between £99.99 and £199.99 for the upgrade, and from £149.99 to £229.99 for the full OS from the Microsoft online shop (http://emea.microsoftstore.com/UK/).
On regard the Server machines we can consider the following article of costs comparison from one university library in Oregon USA:
Windows Licenses: Windows $2,500 (est.); Symantec Ghost $1,700 (+ $525/annum); Symantec Antivirus $1,544.25 (+ $525/annum)
Linux: per server annual subscription is $50 beginning in 2003.
Excluding administrative costs, the 15-year cost of 25 Linux systems in a lab environment is estimated to be $41,359 versus a 15-year cost of $100,000 to $155,000 for Windows PCs serving the same function. Although these estimates are based on rough cost estimates, the overall cost of hardware and software deployment, coupled with the shorter overall time spent on administrative tasks, yields significant cost savings over long-term deployment cycles in our work environment.
(By Salvador Peralta, systems administrator at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon)
(From http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/7788?page=0,1 , reported Sep 30, 2004)
Even if this is a long term comparison (15 years) we can see that the cost of having a Linux system are cheaper, however this is mainly due to fact that Windows Server systems requires more 3rd party software and more hours of work and maintenance from the administrator of the network patching Windows systems from bugs and removing ad-ware, spyware and viruses.
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW
Comparisons between the Microsoft Windows and Linux computer operating systems are a common topic of discussion among their users. Currently, Windows is the dominant proprietary operating system for personal desktop use (in terms of desktop installations), while Linux is the most prominent free software operating system. Both operating systems not only compete for user base in the personal computer market but are also rivals in the server and embedded systems markets.
Linux has been adopted worldwide primarily as a server platform, Linux is customizable in a way that Windows is not however â€¦â€¦.