Windows optimize

User friendly showdown: Ubuntu 10.04 versus Windows 7

Jack Wallen runs a very simple test to try to see which operating system is more user friendly: Linux or Windows. Decide for yourself if this test has any bearing in the real world.

So, recently I have written a lot about how user-friendly Linux has become. Naturally the nay-sayers have spoken loudly and insisted that Linux is far, far behind Windows in the user-friendliness category. So, I decided I wanted to figure out a way to test this argument to see which operating system was, in fact, more user friendly.

The idea of this test, in theory, was quite difficult. In practice...quite simple. The challenge was to come up with a way to illustrate a task, side by side, to see how the two operating systems compare. The problem is - fundamentally both are so disparate. But...eventually an idea bubbled up to the top.

Both operating systems can use a similar browser: Firefox. And both browsers very often rely on the Flash plugin. As both Firefox and the Flash Plugin are created (for both operating systems) by the same companies...it seemed the perfect solution to testing user-friendliness between Windows and Linux.

To further simplify the process I chose the most recent versions of the operating systems: Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.04. The test will be installing the Flash plugin in two different ways: Using the browser and manually. Once complete with both processes (on both OSs) we can compare the results.

Below are the steps for the processes.

Installing in Firefox in Windows 7:

  1. Open up Firefox.
  2. Go to the download link to download Adobe Flash plugin.
  3. Click the Install Now button in the Download Manager.
  4. Restart Firefox when prompted.

NOTE: The above ONLY works if you have admin privileges in Windows. If you do not have admin privileges you will have to do the following:

  1. Download the XPI of the Flash Player Plugin.
  2. Rename the download extension to .zip and extract the file in the XPI.
  3. Click Start > Run, enter "%APPDATA%" , and click OK.
  4. Navigate to Mozilla\Plugins\. If this directory doesn't exist, create it.
  5. Copy flashplayer.xpt and NSPWF32.dll from the extracted files to %APPDATA%\Mozilla\Plugins.
  6. Restart Firefox and flash should now be installed.
Manual installation of Flash in Windows 7:

  1. Download the Flash Player from the Flash Player Download Center.
  2. Select Save when prompted.
  3. Open the folder the file was saved in.
  4. Double click the file you downloaded.
  5. Agree to the license.
  6. Walk through the installation wizard.
  7. Open up Firefox and type about:plugins. If you see flash listed, it was successful.
Installing in Firefox in Ubuntu 10.04:

  1. Open up Firefox.
  2. Go to any site that requires flash.
  3. Click the Install Missing Plugins button.
  4. When prompted, select the official Adobe Flash Plugin.
  5. Enter your user password.
  6. Restart Firefox when prompted.
Manual installation in Ubuntu 10.04:

  1. Open up a terminal window.
  2. Enter the command sudo apt-get install flashplugin-installer and hit Enter.
  3. Type your user password when prompted.
  4. Open up Firefox and type about:plugins. If you see flash listed, it was successful.
The results

Obviously this is not a perfect test. It's not scientific, it was not administered in a environmentally controlled room with any double blind testing methods. But what it tells us is this. If you want to just look at this in terms of number of steps, here's the breakdown:

Installation using browser:

  • Windows 7: 4 steps
  • Ubuntu 10.04: 6 steps
  • Winner: Windows 7

Manual Installation:

  • Windows 7: 7 steps
  • Ubuntu 10.04: 4 steps
  • Winner: Ubuntu 10.04

Total steps:

  • Windows 7: 11
  • Ubuntu 10.04: 10
  • Winner: Ubuntu 10.04

But how truly easy were each of the tasks? Honestly, they were pretty much equally as easy. With the exception of the manual installation on Ubuntu 10.04, everything was GUI-based point and click. And, with the exception of the manual installation on both operating systems, the installation was very intuitive.

What this test shows

This test isn't about IT administration or enterprise-level, Fortune 500, high-availability, fail-over, clustering goodness. This test was about real-world use...about the type of hurdle end users face on a daily basis. We so often forget that what is second nature to us is practically a foreign language to others.

We sit about and banter back and forth about which operating system is more user-friendly, more stable, more reliable, holds more market share, is less fattening, and better looking. But ultimately it doesn't really matter to the end user, so long as they can:

do...their...job.

Really, what we should be thinking, as administrators, consultants, managers, etc...is if the people we work for and with can do their jobs and do them without interruption from needless operating system errors, problems, or weaknesses. I can tell you, from my own experiences, that given Windows 7 and a Ubuntu 10.04 machines at the same time, I will have far less interruptions with the Ubuntu machine than the Windows 7 machine. That's just the facts based on my experience.

I use both Linux and Windows at work. I support both Linux and Windows at work. And based on everything I have seen and experienced to this point, Linux is far more user-friendly than Windows. How can I possibly say that?

  • Installation of applications is practically equal in simplicity.
  • Use of desktops is practically equal in simplicity and intuitiveness.
  • Frequency of interruption of job or duty is exponentially less in Linux than it is in Windows.
Sure you can go on and on about Market share (which I now see as no more than FUD used by MS as a way to try to convince people Windows is the only OS on the planet), proprietary applications, and games, and so on...but we KNOW the VAST majority of computers users use:
  • Browser
  • Email
  • Office suite

To do their jobs. All of which ALL operating systems have and are ALL user friendly. Of course there are niche markets and companies that have proprietary software. But they are NOT the majority.

To conclude or not to conclude? That is, most certainly, the question. It's hard to draw any sort of conclusion on such a topic because it's a very subjective issue. If you have not used any of the more recent releases of a Linux distribution you really have no business making a comparison. So...if you really want to draw a conclusion for yourself you need to break down and install a recently released distribution on a machine, use it for a week or so, and THEN compare it to what you normally use. Once you have done that, you can draw as many conclusions as you want. Until then, don't try to say you know FOR SURE that Windows is more user-friendly than Linux.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

185 comments
kc6ymp
kc6ymp

this guy needs rehab ? i just did an install, ubuntu 11.10 64bit and flash it was a lesson in pain and just about the time i was going to give up ? i found a little piece of code named flash aid ? after all that trouble i had the audio was out of sync. with the video ? the ubuntu project got scraped and we loaded a nice copy of windows 7 the money was well worth the pain ?

chirag149
chirag149

I am dual booting windows and ubutnu 10.04 and in my personal opinion, ubuntu DOES a much better job compared to windows. However; I do miss a few applications on my ubuntu: MS Office - major companies are using it and document formatting changes drastically if you have used open office and pdf is not always feasible, specially for document editing. Being a nokia user, pc suite is something i need apart from internet explorer for certain sites. If getting these, would just LOVE to be full time ubuntu user.

dougogd
dougogd

installed. That is an extra step you added to windows which is not needed. If needed on win7 it is needed on ubuntu.

zclayton2
zclayton2

Ubuntu 10.04 free Windows 7 $??? Not free. now all things being equal, which would you get?

javatyger
javatyger

I'm sorry, but unless you're a super geek, who's going to know terminal/command codes for installing or having to configure anything in Ubuntu. I had Ubuntu installed on a separate partition on my Windows 7 laptop, and frankly Ubuntu was a PITA to configure, finding and installing apps because I had to use the command line to install them. And don't get me started on trying to find compatible drivers. LMAO. Sorry, but Ubuntu, from a consumer point of view, is not user friendly as a windows PC. Windows is easy to use, installing things is a snap, and drivers and programs are compatible. Oh and if you're a gamer, then you definitely want a Windows PC. All you ubertechies that read TechRepublic will probably say the different, but I'd rather buy a user friendly OS, then to own a free OS that is a PITA just to install drivers. I'm a PC and proud to be one.

cquirke
cquirke

By 2010, there aren't many folks buying PCs for the very first time, and the largest potential for market share growth is from folks switching from Windows. For someone who is trying Linux via a dual-boot setup (as opposed to live CDs, running in virtual machine, etc.) the first thing they want to do, is to set up the boot menu so that both OSs are accessible, and usually defaulting to what they use most of the time. How easy is that? Not very - the Ubuntu install process has NEVER provided a wizard UI to this step, and one has to scratch around in Terminal to manually edit the relevant settings files. Then everything got different (and harder) when Ubuntu adopted grub2. It's easy to go wrong even when you appear to get this right. Let's assume you manage to display the boot menu so the PC doesn't boot straight into Ubuntu, and you've selected Windows as the default OS to boot... but you did so via its order in the menu entry sequence. If Ubuntu updates the kernel in six months' time, additional Ubuntu entries are added to the top of the boot menu, pushing everything else down by two entries - so what used to be "other operating system" is now the oldest of your Linux kernels. What I'd want, is an UI to edit the menu exactly as I want it; "Windows 7" rather than "other OS", put that entry first in the list, set it as default, etc. and that UI (or at least a "which of these entries should be the default to boot?") should be a step in the installation wizard. Alas, I find software vendors always "push", even the open source ones. For another example of that, consider the Firefox installation in Windows which defaults to "make Firefox my default browser" (without showing you what the default used to be, so you can preserve this when upgrading Firefox").

cquirke
cquirke

The "safety gap" is the difference in skills needed to use something, vs. to use it safely. Right now, you can count on minority platforms such as Linux or Mac to be safe, for the same reason you can leave your door unlocked if you live in a log cabin in the woods. But looking long-term, you have to plan for safety when the city reaches your woods (or your minority platform becomes mainstream-popular). Here's an example; knowing what a file can do, before you "open" it. In DOS, the safety gap was small, because substantial skills were needed to "open" a file at all, and the extra skills to predict safety were trivial - "don't run .bat, .com or .exe files". In Windows, the gap is wider than it need be, because the UI hides info you need to assess file type safety (the file name extension), and there are far more .ext to worry about. Also, the safety of "data" file types has been subverted by poor design (autorunning scripts in "documents" and HTML "rich text"), and finally, bad coding undermines design intentions so that the "safest" types can exploit surfaces to attain raw code power. But at least there is something of a visible .ext standard in Windows; if you unhide .ext and prevent the system from "opening" files based on hidden content, you should be sort-of OK. In contrast, UNIX (and by implication, Linux and BSD-based MacOS) treat file name extensions as "optional". It's not considered malicious to have the wrong (or no) .ext on a code file; instead, you're to be guided by the "execute" permission bits for the file... if the UI used to ?open the file shows these of course, and if you understand them. Some Windows folks may claim .ext to be made obsolete by file icons, but this is an epic safety failure, because the most dangerous types of files (.exe) can set whatever icon they life for that file. So, if you're serious about comparing ease-of-use across different OSs, please look beyond "ease of use", to "ease of safe use". What you don't want, is "ease of getting into unexpected trouble" :-)

Ziyan-Junaideen
Ziyan-Junaideen

Oh! Installing Firefox becomes rocket science right? I doubt you would even be able to impress your kids with it. Try it and you will see.

glejbol
glejbol

I use a dual boot computer with both Win7 and Ubuntu and is thus able to compare the systems directly. On both systems I have installed firefox, chrome, open office, inkscape, gimp and a few more programs. I only boot Win7 when I need to because I want to launch a win-only program. For normal office jobs Ubuntu is more stable and way faster. I have (literally) never experienced BSOD when running Ubuntu. Besides - Ubuntu is free. If you add the time you need to earn the money to buy the win7 to the installation time there is no comparison what so ever.

arjuna.scagnetto
arjuna.scagnetto

sorry but how many step a newbie must go through to learn this: sudo apt-get install flashplugin-installer bye

jlwallen
jlwallen

Take Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.04 (using GNOME) and share the Documents folder in your "home" directory to a Windows XP client. Let's see which is easiest. However, you MUST try it both on Windows 7 and Ubuntu. Only having done it on one is no comparison.

prof.ebral
prof.ebral

IRL... it comes down to a user having to 'remember' and 'type' a command. CLI is the most archaic interface still being used. I am not saying remove CLI from Linux. That should never, ever, happen. For Linux to actually be as user friendly as Windows it needs a GUI for every CLI.

trevormaryka
trevormaryka

Well this article was a load of sh!t. What a waste of time. This provides zero insight into anything at all. Should we talk about how many different ways windows and ubuntu can open a text editor too? If you are too stupid to figure out how to install flash then go get a mac. A click here or there difference is irrelevant for a one time task.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Comparing steps between installing software? That's how Mr. Wallen compares the two for user friendliness. And this coming from a guy who writes primarily about Linux topics and this blog is in the "Linux and Open Source" area? Place is this in a more neutral area of the site and you will get a more honest opinion on which is more friendly. I like this line: "Until then, don?t try to say you know FOR SURE that Windows is more user-friendly than Linux." "Frequency of interruption of job or duty is exponentially less in Linux than it is in Windows." HUH? "Frequency of interruption? A new/useless category? Pleassssssse. Biased blog.

Nsaf
Nsaf

Very intelligently written!!!!

munxkin
munxkin

My 3 year old uses both our Linux Ubuntu and Windows XP PCs at home. IJS :)

swdswan
swdswan

I was asked to setup a Windows Home Network recently. There were two flavours of Windows involved, Windows XP and Vista. The 'home network' was inside a firewall, essentially a peer-to-peer network sharing printers. It should have been simple stuff. Once a common workgroup was established Vista found the shared resources but could not find drivers for HP printers (that were apparently already in its driver database). The XP boxes were easy. I found the process of setting up Vista frustrating. Networking is easy. The 'Microsoft' processes were not. When I compare that installation to my mixed Windows / Linux environment, and the networking setup I am used to, Linux wins. The setup process is more obvious, but I retain better control. David Swan

Darksun45
Darksun45

If an average user has to open a command prompt, it isn't user friendly. period.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

People who buy a new PC tend to think Windows is free because it's loaded when they buy it. They don't even find the CD-ROMs in the box anymore. Nothing to do but turn it on and fill in your personal stuff. It assumes you're going online right away (and you'd better hope you can) and loads whatever MS wants to load. Most buyers don't really see much of a choice.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Unless he is so foolish as to be logged in as root or sudo with the root password, the worst that can happen is /home/userid gets wiped or corrupted. The system is still intact because of Linux' default 'least privilege' configuration. This I know from experience.

tomkarlsborn
tomkarlsborn

I am using Linux Mint 9 (built from Ubuntu 10.04) and I extremely rarely need to use Terminal. For the example in JW's article I would just do this: 1. Click on Menu 2. Click on Software Manager 3. Type in "Flash" in the search window 4. Select the appropriate Flash loader 5. Click on it AND it installs !!! All by itself!!! Isn't that marvelous?! Wow ! That was complicated.....?

john3347
john3347

The answer to this question, in most cases, is MANY steps. Perhaps this is one simple step for a seasoned veteran, but you specified "newbie". A newbie has to learn the command and learn how to enter it (without making a typographical error), etc. Even the seasoned veteran has to type 42 characters in the CLI to perform the same operation that the newbie SHOULD be able to perform with a single mouse click. Which of these is simpler? Which is quicker? Which is more user friendly? I frequently hear the word "powerful" associated with CLI. This would indicate usefulness for a "Power" user, not a struggling newbie trying to become a Windows convert. IF the Linux community wishes to gain a significantly larger OS market share, they must continue with much more user friendly procedures and interfaces, etc. than currently available. They certainly have made big strides in the last 2 years or so, but have a long way to go yet to become the OS of choice for millions and millions of users. Having to type a 42 character, almost cryptic, code to install a simple browser add-on does not add to user friendliness. It shouldn't even be discussed in a "user friendliness" discussion.

Duggeek
Duggeek

The inclusion of command-line functionality is both skewed and impractical for the fabled "first-time user". Why *any* CLI functionality is part of *any* test of "user friendliness" whatsoever is beyond me. Anyone who disagrees has to answer this: What's so "intuitive" about running xterm/konsole/terminal in the first place? Among the failures of this article, this one has to be the greatest of all. Where's the *science*, man?

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

As that is subject to the person testing in this case (is it not?) Then we can say - easiest to.... Share? Access the share there after? Administer? And so on... A third and damning fail...

Jaqui
Jaqui

get shuttleworth to tell you which subliminal messaging app they have running on their distros. with how upset many users of Cannonical's distros get when you question a statement about it, they have to be using subliminal messaging to make their users think Ubuntu advertising is the gospel truth. ;) We all know that 100% of advertising is false information, but for some reason the Ubuntu fanbois can't accept that for the distro. :D

Duggeek
Duggeek

"a GUI for every CLI"... really? Even with your horribly mixed metaphor and butchered acronyms, I get your point. There should be an equal number of tasks that can be accomplished with mousing and clicks as can be accomplished with typed commands. One word: Impossible. That's why CLI will never go away from Linux; it's at once the most powerful and flexible interface that the Linux platform has to offer. You can't point-and-click your way to set up a compile, install it and debug it with a single action... nor *should* there be. The point of GUI equivalence is to offer the most common- and the most useful tasks through a simple click of the mouse. This won't change all that much with any future distro. (at least not until multi-touch pads and screens) So, the aforementioned ideal is simply out of reach... but you have to admit that Linux GUI has come a long, long, long way in a mere 5 years!

jlwallen
jlwallen

you are being a bit ego-centric assuming that every user is as smart as you. if you are a consultant or an administrator that deals with end users, you should know better than to say "a click here or there difference is irrelevant". to some users, those one-time task are things best left to "rocket scientists" (words that have been said to me by clients).

prof.ebral
prof.ebral

And it doesn't even take into account how difficult the GUI is to interact with. How difficult the CLI is to interact with, either. It just counts steps.

Duggeek
Duggeek

"Gis" has a point, just a bit over-the-top way of putting it. I'll have to agree that the artificial gauge of counting "steps" to accomplish one-time tasks (Who installs FF/Flash more than once?) is pretty flaky. I mean, I wouldn't even count entering a search term as a "step"... it's just the natural use of the Install Software tool. User-friendliness is about intuitive accessibility. Whether this intersects with user familiarity is a whole 'nother story; that debate can rage for years. The background of a user will skew their perception of new interfaces, and it's pretty likely that everyone's first experience with a PC is going to be Windows or OSX. (IJS) @TFA: If there's going to be a gauge for user-friendliness, at least make it a common task... just frame it as a first-time use. Just avoid the out-of-the-box model for user friendliness, since it's pretty damn likely your geek friends are going to be there to help you. (because you pay them in beers, right?)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

One of the biggest complaints about Linux has always been that it's not user-friendly. Now that somebody actually tries to compare them, even using an admittedly subjective method, you want to complain that it's biased? What's your method, then?

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Young children learn much faster and retain better than adults, especially us 65 year-olds. But I'll bet command lines aren't on his list.

john3347
john3347

Does your 3 year old install printers and edit, organize, and print family photographs?

Duggeek
Duggeek

Welcome to Vista. Vista (often) plays nice with Vista... and just about nothing else.

Scanjo
Scanjo

================== If an average user has to open a command prompt, it isn't user friendly. period. ================== I would disagree with that statement. User friendly isn't always just about "easy". It's also about having choices. Case in point: I want to open SERVICES to enable or disable something. - If I'm a noob, I can point and click and be lead there through menus (start-control panel-admin tools-services). - If I'm more advanced I can type it in the run box (start-run-services.msc) and if I've ever done this before it will be in the drop menu. - If I do this quite often, I can make a shortcut and put it on the desktop. A simple double click puts me there. User friendly is being able to do something in the way that's easiest and works best for ME, not the one way some programmer thinks it should be done.

swdswan
swdswan

The days of an 'average user' having to use a Command Prompt in Linux have been over for quite some time - several years. All the mainstream options have pretty robust GUI setup scripts. They are pretty easy to use and the defaults work quite well.

cquirke
cquirke

I don't know if it's "user failure" on my part, but I find quite often there's no GUI to do what I need to do. For example, to edit the grub startup file (as I have to do in the absence of a grub GUI) I first need to do a chmod so the file is editable, and the expected GUI "right-click, Properties" approach doesn't work (as I recall). There's no right-click "run as admin" equivalent to sudo, either. Now the upside of the command line is that whatever you learn to do there, should be easy enough to write and save in a text file to run as a script, which can then be the target of a GUI shortcut. But I don't know how to create and run the equivalent of a "batch file" in Linux. alas! Even in GUI-happy Windows, there are times (e.g. when following some Microsoft /kb instructions) when one has to Enter Commands.

Ziyan-Junaideen
Ziyan-Junaideen

Try installing it in a different directory that way! They you would know the truth.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

We are regaled with references to what the "Newbie" should know and what the seasoned professional should know. Doesn't it all boil down to what each wants to DO? A "newbie" won't spend most of his time installing programs or hardware, he wants that done ONCE-with or without help. Then he wants to USE his machine. A seasoned pro spends much of his time installing stuff for OTHERS who just want to USE their machine. Make sense?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Yet you provide no alternative. "And with the birth of the first artist, came the inevitable afterbirth...the critic." -Mel Brooks

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Please! Use English when you post a reply, along with proper capitalization and punctuation! It would be so much easier to read and understand what you are trying to say!

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

a test for all of you to try ... Let's see which is easiest !!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If the child is 3 now, ask again by age 5. The real value is that when the child does get to doing more with the system, they won't freak out and claim they can't make it work just because it's not Windows. Exposure to multiple OS is far more valuable than exposure to only one; same as spoken langauge.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

'cause "7" doesn't like anybody. Even the networks aren't compatible.

john3347
john3347

You misspelled the word "seldom" (in parenthesis) in your statement above. Can we assume that it was just a typo???

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

should I want to put it in a different directory?

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

as they were just ignored despite being legitimate within the Gauntlet throwing conversation.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Had to tell router and Win7 to stop using IPv6, my XP systems weren't liking it too much. I see no reason an internal network needs to be IPv6

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You must by using IPv6 on an IPv4 network or something. My Win7 joined into the XP hosted network with no issues and interacts fully with the XP machines on it. Been fine at home without the active directory also.