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 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:


Really, what we should be thinking, as administrators, consultants, managers, 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.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....