Windows 7 Vs. Linux: The Battle For Your Desktop - InformationWeek
Software // Operating Systems
02:18 PM
Connect Directly

Windows 7 Vs. Linux: The Battle For Your Desktop

Early reaction to Windows 7 is that it's a winner. Could the successor to Vista be Microsoft's last gasp, or does open source have a formidable new rival to Linux?

Netbooks, Etc.

The word that has had Microsoft most worried over this past year was not "Linux," but "netbook," Or, rather, it's the rise of the netbook that has forced Microsoft to a) extend XP's lifespan and b) make future editions of Windows run that much leaner to avoid losing present and future market share to Linux.

One of the advantages of insuring that Windows 7 runs well on netbooks is that it guarantees much more performance on less-than-state-of-the-art computing hardware. I have a desktop machine, a hand-me-down from the family, which sports an AMD Duron processor and 1GB of RAM; next to it, a Sony VAIO notebook, a single-core Centrino also with 1GB of RAM. Windows 7 (Beta) runs quite decently on both, although for the best possible performance I turned off most of the visual effects. (The AMD machine, but not the VAIO, supported Aero Glass.)

Linux has, in a sense, always existed in something akin to a "netbook edition," thanks to the presence of any number of versions designed to run well on less powerful computers: Xubuntu (or Ubuntu Netbook Remix Edition), Puppy Linux, DSL, and so on. But even with what constitutes the "low end" of computing these days -- like the machines I mentioned above -- the more conventional distributions also work splendidly.

Xubuntu on a netbook. Note the smaller visual elements.
(click for larger image and for full photo gallery)

The most recent Ubuntu and Fedora incarnations run without a hitch on those two machines; the VAIO even lets me use desktop effects (although, again, it makes more sense to turn them off). So while both Linux and Windows now work better on more modest hardware, it's easy to forget that the definition of "modest hardware" has moved up incrementally even since the first netbooks appeared.

To be scrupulously precise, though, the best definition of a netbook edition of any OS would mean something that's not only been tuned to run well on minimal hardware, but also has its interface and visual styles set up to support a smaller display (and perhaps also a smaller keyboard and less accurate pointing device).

As of Beta 1, Windows 7 doesn't really have an out-of-the-box theme for a smaller display -- if anything, most of the effort in recent releases of Windows has been on making larger displays more useful. Desktop gadgets also do not appear to be freely resizable, which makes them somewhat less useful on a smaller display. But there's nothing to say that a netbook-friendly theme won't be available with Windows 7 eventually, and it's not all that difficult to create one from scratch.

Linux, on the other hand, has both entire distributions and desktop environments designed for modest hardware including lower-resolution displays. Work in this field is ongoing, such as this post which instructs how to make Android run on an Asus Eee netbook -- since, as it turns out, the way Android handles displays is a pretty good match for the smaller display habitually found on netbooks.

The tradeoff for all this flexibility is that much less visual consistency between incarnations. Although, the same could be said (incrementally) of XP vs. Vista vs. 7 -- and, in all cases, once you figure out where things are it's one less thing to worry about.

2 of 6
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
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
2017 State of the Cloud Report
As the use of public cloud becomes a given, IT leaders must navigate the transition and advocate for management tools or architectures that allow them to realize the benefits they seek. Download this report to explore the issues and how to best leverage the cloud moving forward.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of November 6, 2016. We'll be talking with the 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