When Deependra asked me to post something related to computers on his blog that would spark some interesting discussions, the first thing that came to my mind was the highly debatable topic of Windows Vs Linux.
As most of you out there, I am myself, primarily, a Windows user. However I've been using Linux on and off for some years now. Most of the time, I had some sort of a Linux distribution on my computer, running alongside Windows, but after the initial excitement wears off, I always end up switching to windows full time. So here are some of my opinions on why Linux failed to win me and the other 96% of the world who use Windows (according to the latest statistics listed on Wikipedia about 96% use Windows while only 0.04% use Linux).
When talking about Linux, probably the most attractive feature is that it is free; "or so everyone says". But when you really dig deep down, you'll realize that using Linux is really not that cheap. For individual home users it is free; but things get little bit different when it comes to commercial use, where stability and support aspects are important. Commercial variants of Linux i.e.: Redhat Enterprise Linux, Suse Linux Enterprise by Novell, etc. costs money just like Windows. So it goes without saying "nothing good is free". Let me take another example: If you look at some of the major PC vendors like DELL (one of the few to support Linux), you'll see that buying a Linux computer is not always cheap. Go to www.dell.com/linux/ and configure a computer with Linux, then configure the same computer with Windows Vista, you'll see that Vista computer is in fact cheaper! This is mostly due to all the bloatware (trial and adware programs) DELL installs on their Windows computers. The commission DELL receives for installing these programs helps them to reduce the cost of the operating system almost to the point of being free. However, at the end there isn't really that much of a difference. When you also take in to account all the hassle and the time you have to spend in learning and trouble shooting Linux, do you still think Linux is really FREE?
When talking about usability, I think even the most hardcore Linux gurus will agree that Windows is undoubtedly the more user friendly OS. Don't confuse the term user-friendliness with graphical user interface, because when I bring up this topic, more often than not it ends up at discussing how wonderful the Linux GUI compared to Windows. Sure, with modern window managers like Compiz Fusion, Linux GUI makes Windows Vista look like 10 years old. But that is beside the point. I also agree that recent release of Ubuntu, Fedora Core and OpenSuse has given a lot of emphasis to the usability aspect of the OS, but still Linux has a long way to go before becoming a viable alternative to Windows. I think the recent findings by MSI computer corporation that Linux netbooks are returned 4x more than Windows based version is a good indication to support this argument. A netbook is sort of a smaller low power version of a notebook, primarily designed for basic mobile computing needs (i.e Browsing, multimedia and light word processing). Linux is ideal for this type of computers, because it is light weight and manufacturers can customize it exactly to fit their device. But it turns out that slower and less esthetically appealing Windows XP is still the first choice of the end user.
My current Linux distribution is OpenSUSE 11.0. Personally I think OpenSuse is the nicest looking and most user friendly Linux distribution out there (but many will say Ubuntu is better, I guess it all depends on your personal preference). The installation wizard was straight forward and almost as easy as Windows, therefore anyone who knows how to install Windows should have no trouble installing it. But getting everything to work after logging in, is a different story. Out of the box I had trouble connecting to my wireless network, but after a bit of googleing I managed to get it fixed with a software update. Then I had numerous problems getting the microphone to work. I ended up spending several days, and numerous fixes to finally get it working, which to me was totally unacceptable. I mean C'mon, Wireless and Sound are two of the most basic components, if they cant get them right then no point in talking about other things. This is just my latest experience, I don't want to talk about all the problems I've had with my earlier experiences. I'd be surprised to find anyone who had zero trouble getting everything to work out of the box like in Windows.
I think the biggest problem of Linux is that there are simply too many options. Starting from choosing a distribution , package management system, desktop manager, driver model all the way down to selecting your own customizable Windows manager. There are too many options, available but none of them really work that well. If the whole Linux community concentrated their efforts on making a one perfect product instead of making 10,000 variations of the same thing their own way, Linux would have overtaken Windows a long time ago. Some call this freedom but I think its only adds to the confusion.
I really admire the Linux design concepts; on paper perhaps it may be the perfect operating system, but sadly it is not the ideal operating system in reality. This is my view of things, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.
updated on October 9, 2008
Please don't let this post stop you from experiencing Linux, try it and decide for your self. A good safe place to start is with a Live DVD (which is basically a fully functional Linux installation you can boot off a DVD without installing anything on the hard disk, running Linux like this will be slow and you won't be able to save any configuration settings because everything is on a read only DVD, but this is the best way to experience Linux without any hassle or risks).