Open Source

5 fundamental differences between Windows 10 and Linux

Microsoft has tried to forge a closer relationship with all things open source these days, but the Windows 10 and Linux OSes are still very different. Here are five fundamental differences between these two platforms.

I've been using Linux since the late 90s. To me, it's second nature. Although in the early years, hardware support was a serious issue and the command line was a requirement, the last five years have seen very rare occasions that I've come into a problem that couldn't be overcome.

I cannot say the same thing about Windows. No matter the iteration, I've always managed to find troubling issues with the Microsoft platform. Generally speaking, those issues can be managed (sometimes with little to no effort). The latest iteration of Windows is no exception. Coming from Windows 7 (a platform that was, in my opinion, Microsoft's best), I skipped 8 and headed directly to 10. I've found going from Windows 7 to 10 akin to making the leap from GNOME 2.x to 3.x. The metaphor was quite different and took a bit of acclimation. Even though they go about it very differently, in the end, both platforms have the same goal—helping users get their work done.

Let's take a look at some of the fundamental differences between Windows 10 and Linux.

SEE: Securing Linux policy (Tech Pro Research)

1. Open vs. closed sources

I will preface this by saying, considering from whence they came, Microsoft is doing an outstanding job of supporting open source. Just take a look at Azure and you'll find an overwhelming number of deployments are of Linux. Microsoft even runs their own Open Source site that promotes OpenDev for Azure. Thing is, however, Windows 10 does not benefit from that embracing of open source. The Microsoft operating system is still very much proprietary. The source for the Windows platform is simply not available for viewing. On the contrary, the source for Linux is widely available. In fact, if you want to view the Linus Torvalds source tree for the kernel, here it is.

2. Privacy

First off, I want it to be clear, I'm not talking about security here. This is about privacy. It has been well documented that Windows 10 is a privacy advocate's worst enemy.

SEE: Windows 10 violates your privacy by default, here's how you can protect yourself

Windows includes some pretty serious invasions of your privacy. In fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has said Windows 10 blatantly disregards user choice and privacy and that

Microsoft makes users "choose between having privacy and security" in how the OS handles data collection. Microsoft even went so far as to say they knew there was a problem with data collection and launched a web-based privacy dashboard, to help users reign in control of data collection.

Linux, on the other hand, takes user privacy very seriously. One only need look back to how Canonical handled user complaints about Ubuntu Unity and online privacy. After widespread complaints, Canonical switched the default behavior of Unity's online search feature from enabled to disabled. The Linux platform does not collect user data. Period.

3. Security

I'm going to preface this by saying no operating system is 100% secure. If your computer is attached to a network, it's vulnerable. That being said, Windows' Achilles has been, for a very long time, security. With every iteration, the spectre of security looms large over the operating system. Windows 10 is no different. Microsoft has made a few advances with Windows 10, but not enough. Even with Windows 10, users still must take advantage of anti-virus, anti-malware—and even then they cannot be certain. Consider how recently CCleaner was found to contain malicious code, and it's pretty easy to draw the conclusion that the software meant to protect Windows cannot be trusted.

Linux, on the other hand, doesn't suffer from those same rampant insecurities. Is it perfect? By no means. Although many would argue that market share is the reason Linux doesn't suffer from the same deluge of malicious code that cripples Windows 10, I would point to the very design of Linux security making it harder for hackers to write the actual code to inject into Linux machines. It can still be done, it just takes a bit more effort than it does on Windows.

4. Updates

Mention updates to any Window 10 user and they'll cringe. I remember the first time I rebooted a Windows 10 machine, the update took two hours. That's no exaggeration. I can install 12 LAMP servers on bare metal in that time. I've heard horror stories of Windows 10 users losing precious work because the operating system automatically shuts down to run updates. From my experiences, it isn't always a given that the Windows 10 updates will be successful. In fact, every time I get that "Do not shut down your machine..." screen, I hold my breath, wondering if this will be the update to take down the machine.

Updating Linux rarely has any issue. Not only is updating with the various Linux package managers reliable, it's fast. You can do a full apt-get dist-upgrade in the same time it takes a Windows machine to reboot (give or take a minute or so). On top of which, users are in total control of when updates happen. The operating system will not insist an update on a user. When the update message appears, users can either run the update or be reminded about it later. After an update runs, users only have to reboot if the kernel is updated (even then, they can keep working with the current running kernel and reboot at a later time).

SEE: 20 quick tips to make Linux networking easier (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

5. Older or lesser-powered hardware

You want to see a massive difference between Windows 10 and Linux, load both up on older hardware and see how they perform. This can be made especially so by using a distribution like Peppermint OS or Lubuntu.

According to Microsoft, the minimum system requirements for Windows 10 are:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor
  • RAM: 1 GB for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver

Any IT pro will look at that list and laugh. 1 or 2 GB of RAM will give you a Windows 10 system so slow, you'll find yourself pulling out your hair in frustration. An average user (one who does word processing, checks email, and browses the internet) should have at least 4 GB of RAM on a Windows 10 machine. If you play games, 8 GB will barely get you by.

Ubuntu, on the other hand, requires the following minimums:

  • 700 MHz processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 5 GB of hard-drive space
  • VGA capable of 1024x768 screen resolution

The above requirements will have the same effect as running the minimum requirements for Windows 10. However, running Ubuntu on a machine that meets the minimum requirements for Windows 10, will give a user a solid experience.

In other words, there is no comparison to how these two handle slower/older hardware.

You decide

This comparison really only scratches the surface. And don't get me wrong, there are areas where Windows 10 bests Linux (few, but they do exist). In the end, however, the choice is yours. Chances are you'll be making the choice based on which platform will allow you get more work done and do so with a certain level of efficiency and reliability. I would highly recommend, to anyone, if Linux can enable you to get your work done...give it a go and see if you don't find it more dependable and predictable.

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Image: Jack Wallen

About Jack Wallen

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 jackwallen.com.

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