Ubuntu Linux Vs. Windows Vista: The Battle For Your Desktop - InformationWeek
Software // Operating Systems
03:28 PM

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.

Ubuntu Linux
Many of the actions for Plug-and-Play devices in Ubuntu are controlled through the Removable Drives and Media Preferences window, although configuring hardware devices themselves often requires editing config files.

Windows Vista
Vista's Device Manager keeps all the information about installed hardware in one centrally-managed display.

(click image for larger view)

Many of the actions for PnP devices in Ubuntu are controlled through the Removable Drives and Media Preferences window.

view the image gallery

(click image for larger view)

Vista's Device Manager keeps all the information about installed hardware in one centrally-managed display.

view the image gallery

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.

The Winner: On the whole, Windows still deals with hardware more elegantly and efficiently than Ubuntu.

3 of 8
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2014 | 3:35:33 PM
Ubuntu vs Windows.
I've used both Windows and Ubuntu and they both need a lot of familiarization. However Windows disappoints me. I feel all the effort goes into protecting Microsoft's income streams as opposed to providing a product that customers can use and upgrade with all their other programs.

I'd rather have to mess around with a program that cost me zilch than one that is just as dysfunctional and it's cost me dearly: One I have to uninstall from my old machine to use it on another. One that will not run the software I use for my accounts or gaming software I bought.

Sorry Microsoft with your Windows in your various guises. I guess Fear of the Unkown is what's keeping you in business.
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
IT Success = Storage & Data Center Performance
Balancing legacy infrastructure with emerging technologies requires laying a solid foundation that delivers flexibility, scalability, and efficiency. Learn what the most pressing issues are, how to incorporate advances like software-defined storage, and strategies for streamlining the data center.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of November 6, 2016. We'll be talking with the InformationWeek.com editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll