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.
Ubuntu has two basic ways to deal with adding software: the the Add/Remove Applications tool (easy) and the Synaptic Package Manager (for experts). Add/Remove Applications lets you search the entire directory of applications recommended for Ubuntu -- dozens of programs in 11 categories -- and install them with little effort. I added applications like Adobe Reader and the Thunderbird mail client without too much difficulty. It all compares pretty favorably to Windows's Add/Remove Programs system, which should be familiar to everyone reading this. (Linspire's CNR digital software delivery service is also set to be offered for Ubuntu in the future.)
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Ubuntu's software management tool plugs you into a hand-picked, searchable repository of applications for Ubuntu, organized by licensing.
Ubuntu also tries to simplify the process of adding programs that aren't installed through the above-mentioned package manager systems. For instance, if you insert a CD, Ubuntu attempts to detect the presence of valid packages on the disk, and offers you the chance to install them.
Another Windows-like feature in Ubuntu is the ability to set preferred applications for certain common functions -- your default Web browser, mail reader, or console application. Unlike the Removable Drives and Media Preferences console, though, the choices you can make are available from an existing drop-down list; you don't have to provide the name of a specific executable, although you can if you want to. Vista's way of handling the default programs issue is a little more central, via the Default Programs section in Control Panel; there, you can set defaults by program, file type, or protocol.
One thing I liked about Ubuntu was the way you could browse in the Add/Remove Applications list for free software hand-picked by the Ubuntu community. The closest thing in Vista is the Digital Locker feature, where you can purchase software online and download it in a protected fashion. In addition, a number of free / trial programs are available through their system (such as the free version of AVG Anti-Virus).
It's a tie. Both operating systems show much the same centralization and efficiency in dealing with applications, protocols, and programs.
Networking / Web Browsing / E-Mail
Network setup in Ubuntu, both wired and wireless, was quite easy. My notebook's wireless adapter was detected and worked fine; all I had to do was supply my network name and I was in business. One thing that did worry me was how my unconfigured wireless card seemed to try and seek out whatever available connection there was without notifying me -- at first it attempted to connect to a neighbor's unsecured wireless base station before I redirected it back towards my own.
Both Vista and Ubuntu also let you create network profiles, although the way they're managed is markedly different. Ubuntu only lets you switch between profiles manually; Vista is semi-automatic (it makes a best guess to determine where you are), but can be manually overridden. Network connection sharing, though, is much harder to set up in Ubuntu than it is in Vista, since there's no GUI interface in Ubuntu for doing such a thing. I was able to connect to Vista's shared folders from Ubuntu, but you need to do so via a username/password combination that's valid on the Vista system you're trying to access.
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Ubuntu's default e-mail client is Evolution, which contains calendaring and contact management; it's not hard to switch to another client (like Thunderbird) if needed.
Web browsing is another area where the playing field is relatively level between operating systems, thanks to the general success of Firefox. Firefox is loaded as the default browser in Ubuntu, and if you don't like Internet Explorer in Vista, you can swap it out for Firefox (or most any other browser written for Windows). The behavior of Firefox on both platforms is remarkably similar; in fact, I was able to get support for Flash plugins in Ubuntu by simply pointing Firefox at a Flash-driven page and letting it download the needed components.
Ubuntu's default e-mail client is Evolution, which connects not only to POP accounts and conventional Unix mailboxes, but can also talk to Exchange servers (via Outlook Web Access) and has a built-in PIM / calendaring / appointment system. Vista's Windows Mail application is a heavily rewritten version of Outlook Express, with a stripped-down calendar/appointment application, Windows Calendar, on the side, and integration with Vista's search system. If you want more sophisticated calendaring or a full PIM, you'd need to upgrade to Outlook -- so Ubuntu has another edge here in terms of what's possible right out of the box.
One thing I did have a fair amount of trouble with on both platforms was importing mail from another program -- especially e-mail from Windows. Evolution was allegedly able to import a .CSV mail file exported from Outlook, but the import somehow ended up reading everything as contacts, not e-mail. I eventually used a third-party program called Outport to move e-mail from Outlook into Evolution -- with some limitations, so I'm not sure if the problem lies with Outlook's CSV export or Evolution's importing.
Microsoft Mail had its own share of problems: The only way to import e-mail from a file was by importing from an Outlook Express store directory, or from a copy of Outlook already installed on Windows. If you have existing e-mail stores, be prepared for a migration hassle in both cases.
Windows, but only by a hair. Windows has a bit of an edge in terms of sharing network connections -- but both platforms have possible mail migration complexities.