Ubuntu Linux Vs. Windows Vista: The Battle For Your Desktop
Is Linux finally ready to take on Windows as a desktop OS? We tried out both Vista and Ubuntu on individual PCs to see which works better. Here's who won.
Hardware And PnP Support
Ubuntu makes it far easier to deal with hardware than previous, less user-friendly versions of Linux did, but only up to a point. The most common types of hardware and usage scenarios are handled the best, but the further you drift from that, the more complicated it gets. At its worst, Ubuntu's way of dealing with hardware often involves manual hacking to accomplish things that ought to be trivial (and in Windows usually are).
Vista's way of dealing with hardware is pretty centralized -- the Device Manager lets you browse all the installed hardware in a system, manage each device's driver and configuration, and so on. Ubuntu has a device manager, but it's just a static list, and can't be used for configuring devices per se. To do that, you often need to edit a configuration file, and the exact file to edit may depend on the type of device.
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Many of the actions for PnP devices in Ubuntu are controlled through the Removable Drives and Media Preferences window.
The way printers are handled in Ubuntu can also be tricky, but I think this part says at least as much about hardware makers as anything else. In my case, I was using the HP LaserJet 1000, which uses a non-standard protocol that had to be reverse-engineered by Linux users to make it useable in that OS. Ubuntu had drivers for it, but they didn't work -- I had to dig around in the Ubuntu wiki for information, then download and compile a properly-updated set of drivers before I could print. Vista, by contrast, simply used the existing XP drivers provided by Hewlett-Packard (since no Vista drivers are available).
I give the Ubuntu (and Linux) people points for completeness, but I have to retract them for the sheer aggravation required to get it working. To be scrupulously fair, a generic PostScript printer will typically work as-is, but those of us whose devices aren't that universally supported may have to go through a similar ordeal.
Generic Plug-and-Play (PnP) devices in Ubuntu fare a lot better, but there are still some shortcomings. Most devices like cameras, external hard drives, or storage cards are recognized as-is when you plug them in. Ubuntu also has a central interface for handling PnP device events: the Removable Drives and Media Preferences console. Here you can set behavior preferences for removable storage and CD/DVD discs, as well as many other classes of removable devices: cameras, PDAs, printers, scanners, and input devices.
However, it's not like Windows where you can pick a device type and then assign one of a number of predefined actions from a menu; each device action is just a reference to an executable. And the default action didn't always run: when I plugged in my scanner (a Canon CanoScan N1240U), the default scanning application, XSane, didn't launch. That said, I launched XSane manually and it identified the scanner immediately and worked fine with it. A Dell A920 multifunction printer (made by Lexmark), however, wasn't recognized by XSane at all -- so a lot of what is and isn't supported often comes down to how much information about the device is available or has been provided by the manufacturer.
Power management, in both Vista and Ubuntu, is another topic about which there's been plenty of controversy. I could name about as many people in both camps who have had power-management issues, and I could name about as many more who haven't, so I will simply describe my own experiences. With Ubuntu, suspend and resume, as well as hibernate and resume, did work on my notebook, albeit very slowly. In Vista, the same functions worked as well and took a great deal less time. My desktop would not enter sleep mode in Ubuntu, although it did hibernate; Vista, however, slept and woke up without a hitch. So I suspect people's mileage will vary across the board.
On the whole, Windows still deals with hardware more elegantly and efficiently than Ubuntu.