Recently there have been a mess of articles on Overclockers.com about the question ” Is Linux ready for the desktop?”. Then there was a rebuttal titled “Is Windows ready for the desktop?”
So now I ask the real question – Is ANY OS ready for the desktop?
Well, as I started doing research for this article I found that this question is not new and is not readily answered. It has been asked numerous times in many different ways. So, how does one begin? I feel that first we have to define what would be a perfect OS.
A perfect OS would include(at a minimum) these points:
- Stability: The perfect OS should NEVER crash.
- Functionality: The perfect OS should be able to use any and all features of any hardware attached to the system. It should instantly recognize and install appropriate drivers for said hardware.
- Usability: The perfect OS should be able to run any program, regardless of code base or age of said program.
- Security: the perfect OS should be an airtight vessel in this regard. Hackers should find themselves out of work because of this OS.
- Configurability: The perfect OS should let the user set it up the way he/she wants.
With this definition in place let’s see how the current OS’s stand up.
- Stability: Well….let’s face it – up until XP, Windows was noted for the BSOD. Even with XP, there is a goodly chance that the program you are using will fail, giving you the dreaded “X program has crashed” dialog.
- Functionality: Windows generally holds its own here. Most all hardware is recognized and setup by the Windows install system. However there is room for improvement, as we still have to manually install many drivers. Most Windows drivers release the full potential of the hardware they are designed for.
- Usability: Windows has a wide range of software available to it; however, the particular code base and age of that code base can sometimes cripple our favorite programs. In its quest to move forward, Microsoft has chosen to let legacy code fall by the wayside.
- Security: Windows has the widest usage of any OS out there and has been attacked because of this. Its insistence that the user has no clue allows a lot of these attacks, as there is no form of security built into the OS.
- Configurability: Windows is, well, Windows. While you can change the way it looks to an extent, there is no change in the underlying way things work. This can be both a hindrance and a blessing.
Linux (Ubuntu as it is the only distro I have worked with):
- Stability: Linux trumps Windows here. Linux has a great reputation for stability. However there are cases of “kernel panic” that do occur.
- Functionality: Linux has improved over the years, but it still has issues here. While Linux itself has made leaps and bounds in this category, third party vendors have neglected to give adequate driver support.
- Usability: Linux is gaining ground here as well. There are a number of commercial games and other programs starting to appear for Linux. However there is the fact that many of these require a certain level of system knowledge to use. “Out of the Box” experience is limited here.
- Security: Linux has the ace up its sleeve here. However, as Linux gains more and more ground on Windows, it will likely come under more and more frequent attacks. The Open Source feature of Linux may work to help control this problem.
- Configurability: With a number of shells available to it, linux has an advantage here. They are highly configurable and can drastically change the way that actions are undertaken from the desktop. This can lead to higher productivity or higher confusion factor…depending on the level of knowledge of the user.
So as we can see no OS currently available is “READY” for the desktop. Both of the major OS’s have install systems that require knowledge of the system to use – a big no no for Joe Sixpack. Both OS’s have major problems with the way the other works, preventing inter-operability of programs. Linux can and often does have hardware driver issues. Windows has no locks allowing any thief to enter at will. Linux requires too much user knowledge to be Joe friendly. Windows thinks we are all Joes, preventing us from doing what we want. And the list goes on and on.
Let’s face it people:
There is no perfect OS for all.
As humans we have such diversity that no system can possibly be made to satisfy everyone. There are different needs for every user and no OS out there can ever hope to satisfy every possible one. Power users and those who like to learn about computers will tend to drift into the realm of Linux. It empowers them.
Gamers tend to go the way of Windows. It’s the law of supply and demand – gamers demand games and Windows gives them. Joe Sixpack actually has it easy today. If he has never had any experience, he can use either system. He’ll have someone set up his system and then use it for surfing, email and what games the system comes with. The fact that there is an option won’t even affect him/her.
Maybe the better question to ask: Is (insert OS here) ready for me?
Jason Taylor akaEd Note – My $0.02:
After spending some time in the Linux world with Ubuntu and looking back on emails and articles we posted on this, I offer the following summary:
- It’s a Windows World: Like it or not, Windows is the dominant OS by far. As such, hardware and software written for Windows is overwhelming, as is the task for any OS trying to gain a viable foothold.
- Windows will always be vulnerable: This comes with being the dominant OS, coupled with the fact that hacking Windows to annoy Microsoft is a blood sport among virus writers.
- Linux’s strength is its diversity: Lots of talent writing freeware programs from the ridiculous to the sublime.
- Linux’s weakness is its diversity: Distrowatch.com ranks 100 different Linux OS’s on popularity – any wonder that hardware drivers are not that easily available for Linux?
If you have major Windows security concerns, look into ways to build walls around your system – check out Amustsoft.com, DropMyRights or VMWare’s Browser Appliance as possible solutions (all free); also there’s no reason to use buggy/vulnerable Internet Explorer when Firefox or Opera offer excellent alternatives. There is so much excellent freeware around that paying for software beyond Windows is not necessary and they are not as vulnerable as Microsoft Office.
Right now Ubuntu is a terrific Linux OS for anyone who just wants to browse the web, use email, do some light word processing and image editing. This is all my wife does and Ubuntu fills the bill. Considering Vista’s hardware needs, Ubuntu is looking better all the time.