Comparison of Windows and Linux

Comparison of Windows and Linux

Comparison of the Microsoft Windows and Linux operating system is a common topic of discussion among their users. Windows is the most prominent proprietary operating system, while Linux is the most prominent operating system that is free software (note that many Linux distributions also have a small amount of proprietary components, such as compiled binary blob drivers provided by hardware manufacturers, for their default installation.cite web
url =
title = Free GNU/Linux distributions
accessdate = 2007-08-07
author = The GNU Project
authorlink = GNU Project
date= 2007-07-29
work = Links to Other Free Software Sites
quote = These are all GNU/Linux distributions we know of which consist entirely of free software, and whose main distribution sites distribute only free software. If a distribution does not appear in this list, there's a small chance that it qualifies and we do not know it; however, almost certainly it contains or distributes non-free software. Unfortunately, the most well-known distributions do this.
] ) The two operating systems compete for user-base in the personal computer market as well as the server market, and are used in government offices, schools, business offices, homes, intranet and internet servers, supercomputers, and embedded systems.

Windows dominates in the desktop and personal computer markets with about 90% of the desktop market share, and accounted for about 66% of all servers sold in the year 2007. [cite web
title = Microsoft sees Windows gaining server market share
url =,microsoft-sees-windows-gaining-server-market-share.aspx
publisher = iTnews
date = February 28 2008
accessdate = 2008-03-16
] In server "revenue" market share (2007Q4) Windows achieved 36.3% and Linux achieved 12.7%. [ cite web
title = Worldwide Server Market Experiences Modest Growth in Fourth Quarter as Market Revenues Reach Seven-Year High in 2007, According to IDC
url =
publisher = IDC
date = February 27, 2008
accessdate = 2008-03-08
] As of November 2007, Linux powered 85% of the world's most powerful supercomputers, compared to Windows' 1.4%. [ [ Operating system Family share for 11/2007] ] In February 2008, Linux powered five of the ten most reliable internet hosting companies, compared to Windows' two. [ cite web
title = Tiscali Italia is the Most Reliable Hosting Company in February 2008
publisher = Netcraft
date = March 4 2008
accessdate = 2008-03-06

Linux and Windows differ in philosophy, cost, ease of use, versatility, and stability, with each seeking to improve in their perceived weak areas. Comparisons of the two tend to reflect the origins, historic user base and distribution model of each. Typically, some major areas of perceived weaknesses regularly cited have included the poor “out-of-box” usability of the Linux desktop for the mass-market and poor system stability for Windows. Both are areas of rapid development in both fields.

Proponents of free software argue that the key strength of Linux is that it respects what they consider to be the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes.

Difficulties in comparing Windows and Linux

Several factors can make it difficult to compare Windows and Linux.

* The term “Linux” can have different meanings. In some cases, it refers only to the system kernel; whereas in many other cases, “Linux” refers to a complete graphical desktop Linux distribution.
* Both come in different editions, each with different functionalities (e.g. Desktop, Server, Embedded, Multimedia Editions). Linux, in particular, has a vast number of distributions, including many that are highly specialized for specific job tasks. There are also vastly differing versions of "Windows". One can say "Windows runs on old computers" (Windows 95), "Windows has modern multimedia capabilities" (Windows Vista) and "Windows is a server operating system" (Windows Server 2008), but these assertions don't necessarily apply to the "same version" of Windows, thus making it much more difficult to make a "Windows vs. Linux" comparison.
* Price and support for both systems differ based on editions, distributors, and OEM products. [cite web
title=Windows Licensing Guide
* Major OEM vendors of new computers may also choose to bundle additional useful software in addition to the installed operating system. Additionally, some OEMs receive payment from the vendors of this software, which they may use to reduce the overall price to the buyer.
* There are conflicting claims about each operating system from the marketing and research done on the topic.
* Microsoft sells copies of Windows under many different licenses (usually in a closed source fashion, but occasionally in different levels of shared source). Likewise, most Linux distributions contain some proprietary software when necessary (for example for some device drivers).

Total cost of ownership

In 2004, Microsoft launched a marketing campaign named "Get the Facts" to encourage users to switch from Linux to Windows Server System. [" [ Get the Facts] ", Microsoft's Website] Microsoft claims that its products have an overall lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than open source programs because of their ease of use, resulting in less work and lower staff wages." [ Get the Facts: Total Cost of Ownership] ", by Microsoft (refers to Windows Server 2003).
*"Acquisition costs are a very small component of TCO", p. 2
*"The cost of IT staffing for Linux is 59.5% higher than for Windows", p. 10]

However, Microsoft's figures are disputed by a variety of organizations, notably Novell and "The Register". [" [ Windows v Linux security: the real facts] ", The Register, "22 October 2004" " [ EMA Study: Get the Truth on Linux Management] ", Levanta / OSDL, "February 2006" " [ Unbending the Truth] , Novell, Inc. " [ Truth Happens] ", Red Hat] Some websites suggest that some common inaccuracies in Microsoft's figures stem from including figures for the Unix and Solaris operating systems with figures for Linux." [,14179,2907876,00.html Linux TCO edge: Lower labor costs] ", ZDNet, "3 January 2003"]

In 2004, The UK Advertising Standards Authority warned Microsoft that an advertisement using research that claimed “Linux was […] 10 times more expensive than Windows Server 2003”, was “misleading”, as the hardware chosen for the Linux server was needlessly expensive. [" [ Microsoft's Linux ad 'misleading'] ", BBC News website, "26 August 2004"]


It is very difficult to properly gauge the number of Linux or Windows users as the former are mostly not required to register their copies; additionally, a large number of illegal copies of Windows exist. The above desktop usage share data is estimated from web browser user agent strings, rather than sales information or surveys. This is not entirely reliable because, among other things, web browsers do not always provide accurate information to web servers, and different sites attract different audiences that may be more prone to using one OS or another: such bias is very difficult to eliminate. (Of course, most servers are unlikely to be included in this measurement due to their traditional role as dedicated computer machines). More estimates are available at Usage share of desktop operating systems.

Linux distributions were said to be difficult for the average user to install. However distributions like Ubuntu include graphical package managers which assist the user in searching for packages and installing them graphically (e.g., Adept Package Manager). By use of package managers the need of downloading software (open source) from official site saves time as there is no need of surfing web pages as the downloading, installing, resolving dependencies, conflicts are handled by the package manager. [" [ LUIGUI - Linux/UNIX Independent Group for Usability Information] ", Linux Journal, March 2000] Today, most distributions have simplified the installation and offer a “Live Distro” system allowing users to boot fully functional Linux systems directly from a CD or DVD with the option of installing them on the hard drive, this enables a user to evaluate a distribution with no permanent modification to their computer.

The Windows install process, like most general-use Linux distributions, uses a wizard to guide users through the install process.

Accessibility and usability

A study released in 2003 by Relevantive AG indicates that “The usability of Linux as a desktop system was judged to be nearly equal to Windows XP”. [" [ Linux Usability Study Report] ", Relevantive AG, "13 August 2003"]



Both Windows NT-based systems and Linux support permissions on their filesystems, except for FAT which has no permission support.

Linux and Unix-like systems

Linux—and Unix-like systems in general—have a “user, group, other” approach to filesystem permissions at a minimum. [ Security on a Linux file system] , retrieved January 19, 2007.] Access Control Lists are available on some filesystems, which extends the traditional Unix-like permissions system. Security patches like SELinux and PaX add Role-Based Access Controls, which add even finer-grained controls over which users and programs can access certain resources or perform certain operations. Some distributions, such as Fedora, CentOS, and Red Hat use SELinux out of the box, although most do not. [Red Hat discusses RHEL's inclusion of SELinux: [] A wiki devoted to SELinux in Fedora: [] A review of CentOS hosted at [] ]

Most Linux distributions provide different user accounts for the various daemons. [For instance see this paragraph in Debian Policy [] (a better citation is welcome)] In common practice, user applications are run on unprivileged accounts, to provide least user access. In some distributions, administrative tasks can only be performed through explicit switching from the user account to the root account, using tools such as su and sudo.


Windows NT uses NTFS-based Access Control Lists to administer permissions, using tokens. [cite web |url= |publisher=Microsoft Technet |title=Managing Authorization and Access Control]

On Windows XP and prior versions, most home users still ran all of their software with Administrator accounts, as this is the default setup upon installation. The existence of software that would not run under limited accounts and the cumbersome runas mechanism forced many users to use administrative accounts. This gives users full read and write access to all files on the filesystem.

Windows Vista changes this [Microsoft describes in detail the steps taken to combat this in a TechNet bulletin. [] ] by introducing a privilege elevation system called User Account Control that works on the principle of Least user access. When logging in as a standard user, a logon session is created and a token containing only the most basic privileges is assigned. In this way, the new logon session is incapable of making changes that would affect the entire system. When logging in as a user in the Administrators group, two separate tokens are assigned. The first token contains all privileges typically awarded to an administrator, and the second is a restricted token similar to what a standard user would receive. User applications, including the Windows Shell, are then started with the restricted token, resulting in a reduced privilege environment even under an Administrator account. When an application requests higher privileges or "Run as administrator" is clicked, UAC will prompt for confirmation and, if consent is given, start the process using the unrestricted token.cite web
title=Windows Vista for Developers – Part 4 – User Account Control
author=Kenny Kerr

For more information on the differences between the Linux su/sudo approach and Vista's User Account Control, see Comparison of privilege authorization features.


It is easy to have multiple languages installed in Linux and to switch between them while the user is logging in. Almost all applications will communicate with the user in the selected language, because the open nature of development allows volunteer based translations. In MS Windows, localization can be provided by a separate installation of the operating system, or the Multilingual User Interface (MUI) can be used to provide multiple languages on one installation. Many of the available applications for the Windows platform lack natural language support for many languages.

See also

* Comparison of open source and closed source
* Comparison of operating systems


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