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.
So how do Ubuntu and Vista shape up against each other?
To be honest, there's a lot about Ubuntu that impresses me. The out-of-the-box software available with the OS is well-chosen, and the Ubuntu community folks have made a good effort to support the vast majority of the things people do with their PCs. The fact that Ubuntu is free is of course another big motivator, especially if you've already blown your budget for a PC on hardware alone.
But there's at least as much about Ubuntu that I find disheartening or frustrating. There are still too many places where you have to drop to a command line and type in a fairly unintuitive set of commands to get something done, or edit a config file, or -- worst of all -- download and compile source code. For a beginner, this last is the kiss of death, because if compiling code fails, a beginner will almost certainly have no idea what to do next.
To be scrupulously fair, the situation isn't always much better in Windows: Most people find the idea of spelunking the Registry to be about as unappealing -- although the Registry does enforce at least some degree of consistency in the way configuration data is stored.
What Do You Think?
If you're a Windows user, are you considering Linux or is Vista still in your future? If you're a Linux user, do you think more individual users would be comfortable switching to an open-source operating system? Leave a comment at the InformationWeek Blog and let us know.
Another area where Ubuntu still needs improvement is documentation -- not just the online help manuals, but Ubuntu's own prompts and dialogs. Some of the wording in the installation texts assumes knowledge of Linux that might not be in evidence, and some things are so skimpily documented they scarcely seem to be present at all. For example, the entire section on printing in Ubuntu's online documentation for version 6.10 is essentially a link to LinuxPrinting.org and the Ubuntu Wiki Printer page. The user-prompt problem has been improved a bit since 6.10, but it's still something that needs continual attention.
Ubuntu's user-contributed Wikis are often useful, but they're inconsistent in terms of what's covered and how, and they also often assume knowledge on the part of the reader which may simply not be there. By contrast, Vista's own plain-language documentation for many common system functions has been improved a great deal since XP, and they've implemented a system where contextual help can be supplemented with newer on-line material. (That and they've also made it easier to access the discussion groups used for peer-to-peer support.)
Ubuntu works best at handling the ordinary task-based day-to-day stuff, the kinds of applications that don't need a particular operating system to run well. Admittedly, the applications themselves aren't tied to any one OS anymore; you don't need Windows (or Linux) to run a good word processor, and you don't need Linux (or Windows) to have a good Web browser. Vista, on the other hand, has a level of completeness and polish in many small respects that some people find it hard to do without -- the way hardware devices are handled, for instance.
The very best thing about Ubuntu, in my opinion, is the fact that you can boot the CD and try it out in a totally non-destructive way. If you're curious about whether you can make a clean break (or at least a partial one) from the Windows world, burn yourself a copy of the CD, boot it, and try it out. Just remember that there's still a fair amount about Ubuntu that doesn't quite pass the Granny Test -- but they're working on it, and for some people they may have already passed it.
The Last Word:
Ubuntu's best strength is handling the ordinary task-based day-to-day stuff. Vista has a level of completeness and polish that some people find it hard to do without.