Guest Post – My thoughts on Ubuntu vs Windows 8

This is a guest post authored by Robert Kegel.

The other day I read an article on Zdnet where the author put Windows 8 against Ubuntu Linux 12.04. The author was against Windows 8 and said it was “dead in the water”. I decided to install Ubuntu in a virtual machine and test it out myself.

Here is a little background on me. I’ve been in the computer field for over 10 years, upgrading, updating, and fixing Windows machines. I don’t claim Microsoft of being the all mighty, they make mistakes, they’ve made major ones in the past and I think they’re trying to fix them now.

I’ve been using Windows 8 on my laptop since the Developers Preview and I have tried Linux Distributions before (especially earlier versions of Ubuntu). I have been a Windows user for most of my life, and before Windows I used Amiga an and a Commodore 64. I’ve used Mac OS very little so I’ll mention Apple very little (if at all) in this article.

I’ll start with my thoughts on Ubuntu’s most recent release 12.04. Starting with version 11 Ubuntu has developed their own shell called Unity. Unity looks very clean and nice, it reminds me a bit of Windows 7 with its taskbar (Ubuntu calls it Launcher).

You can lock and unlock programs to the launcher (like you can pin and unpin programs to the Windows taskbar), it works very well (although you can’t lock programs from Dash Home to the main dashboard, you have to start a program then right-click and click on “lock to launcher”. Also when you do alt + tab Linux has a very Windows like program switcher.

Ubuntu’s Unity shell is very finger friendly, it seems like it would make a good tablet OS. Its clean and simple to use. The developers did a great job of taking a sometimes confusing OS and making it very easy to use. The installation was easy and quick. It has Ubuntu App Center which is basically an app store, you can find both free and paid apps on there to download.

There is Ubuntu One which is their cloud service. In it you can save programs, files, music and more. Sign up and setup was pretty simple and straight forward.

You can have different programs run on different workspaces (which isn’t new for Linux) and works well if you have several programs running at once. This is something I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t added to Windows, you can download programs that do it, but regular users probably don’t.

System setting on Ubuntu is very nice and usable. You can find everything quick and easy and it seems straight forward. The only real issue I had was it wouldn’t find my Lexmark 240N printer.

The Dash Home button (which is like the Windows button), is very nice. Its setup in 5 sections, first you have your main area which shows your most recent programs you’ve run. Second you have your main application section where you can find icons for all the programs on your system. Third is the documents section. Fourth is the music section and finally Fifth you have the video section.

You also at the top have a search area where you can type in the program name you’re searching for. In the search area you can also type in URL’s and it’ll bring them up in your favorite browser. In this section you can not preform Internet searches though.

At the upper right you have an area which has many useful functions. You have an envelope which is an area where you can make yourself visible, invisible or offline for chat, you can access your email and Ubuntu one. Next to that you have your networking button, volume button then time and date.

Next to those you have the user button which allows you to switch user accounts. Finally you have your power button which lets you access system setting, display, startup applications, software update, attached devices, printers, as well as lock the screen, shut down, suspend and logout.

Overall Ubuntu Linux 12.04 is very usable and clean and once setup is easy to use.

And here is the problem with Linux still and that the regular person will need someone to help them set it up. With Windows you usually buy a computer with it on and for the most part its setup. Microsoft does a very good job of walking you through what you need to do to do the rest of the setup.

With Linux it’s not always that easy, there are still times when you need to go to a terminal to set things up initially. Ubuntu does a good job of making you not have to do this often, but it will happen. For instance, VMware has VMtools which give you more functionality in a virtual machine.

With Windows 8 I just had to click install VMtools and it brought up a notification to open a drive which after clicked it installed VMtools just like any other program. With Ubuntu you can’t just double click on the install file for it to install (the programs you get from the store you can just install and they are easy), I had to go into Root (which meant going into a terminal) and typing in commands.

Then I had to type in more commands to install the tools and then the setup had me answer a dozen or so questions until the tools were fully installed then I had to type commands again to get out of Root.

With Ubuntu its very simple if you use the programs in the software center, but if you want to download programs from another site thats when you run into issues. Granted most people won’t need to download anything that can’t be found in the Software Center, but some may and that will be an issue.

The other issue with Linux is software names are brands. Microsoft Office, Intuit Quickbooks, Adobe Photoshop and such because they’re brands people know and trust. Linux doesn’t really have any major brands of software. Even Mac OS has Microsoft Office, Quickbooks and Photoshop, because like Microsoft, Apple knows brands are important to people.

With Linux you have to use open source clones of software and even though most of them are quite good, people may not be able to get past that they’re not the brands they’re use to.

Right now I’m writing this article in LibreOffice Writer and for me it works really well, but I know many people I show them Libreoffice and they turn their nose up at it just like they would if you showed them an off-brand pair of shoes or sun glasses. Also Windows gets good known games where Linux still lags behind. Most people use what they know because it’s what they’re use to.

Ubuntu 12.04 is the best Linux distribution I’ve ever used and even though true Linux fans will snub their noses at this comment because Ubuntu has become easy to use, I’ll stand by that statement. I think OS’ should become easier and easier.

In all actuality the person who uses other more complex Linux distributions is very small, they’re usually IT professionals or computer nerds who like an OS that challenges them. The thing is 99% of the population just wants something that runs and is as easy to use as possible. Ubuntu with the Unity shell has done that (for the most part).

Now I’ll talk about Windows 8 in comparison to Ubuntu.

Windows 8 is a totally different monster than any other version of Windows and that will throw people off. The Metro interface with its tiles is not familiar (unless you have (or have used) a Windows Phone 7). Unlike Ubuntu 12.04, Windows 8 is very loud with its colorful live tiles. This is what makes Windows 8 unlike any other OS.

If an app is written for it, the live tiles can show you all types of information. In the peoples app you’ll see your friends pictures, tweets and Facebook comments pop up and more. In a weather app you may see today’s forecast and in a news app you may see today’s top stories pop up.

This is all very useful information and when just in front of my computer thinking or on the phone I find myself mesmerized by the information that show up on these tiles. Its like a dance of information right before my eyes and at my fingertips if I see something that intrigues me.

While Ubuntu is very clean and minimalistic Windows 8 is very loud and the old Windows Desktop was more like Ubuntu so people may get thrown off at first. I think once they setup their news, calendar, peoples hub, weather app, stock app…etc, they’ll see how useful and beautiful Metro really is.

Installing an app from the Market Place is simple and apps are easy to find (so far easier than on Ubuntu but that may be due to the small number of apps on the Widows 8 Consumer Preview at the moment. I’ll have to see how the Marketplace handles thousands of apps).

Right now its cut up into different categories (games, entertainment, music & video…etc). Ubuntu’s Software Center has categories as well and even though I didn’t do a bunch of test searches, I did search for Adobe Flash and the plugin which was easily found and installed. So far I would say both OS’ are equal when talking about their app stores.

With Windows 8 (for x86) you can use Windows desktop programs and to access them you use the Metro desktop. Its easy, you can categorize the desktop to make it look tidy and neat. I actually find it easier to find apps on Windows 8 than I do with the start menu on Windows 7.

In both Windows 7 and 8 you can preform a search to find the app you’re looking for, but in Windows 8 it just seems easier. Ubuntu you can do the same thing within Dash Home and it works very well too. In all three as you type a name programs pop up as each OS tries to predict what you’re looking for but in Windows 8 and Ubuntu it just does it better and quicker. Finding apps installed on your computer is about as easy on both Ubuntu and Windows 8.

Notifications in Ubuntu are nice. I use Thunderbird for my email client and I get notifications pop up as I get a message. The problem is when I click on the notification (and I’m not sure if its because I have Thunderbird on a different workspace than I’m on now) it doesn’t switch to Thunderbird.

Windows 8 you get notifications as well but if you get an email in Thunderbird on the desktop client you do not get a notification if you’re in Metro yet. I think Mozilla will have this fixed (if they even can do this within Windows 8 ) or they’ll make a Metro version of Thunderbird.

Right now the preview mail program doesn’t have notifications, and so far if I’m on Windows desktop I don’t get any Metro notifications, but I think that will change.

I can’t do any performance tests on Ubuntu since this is on a virtual machine. It runs ok, a little sluggish when going between workspace and loading programs, but again that’s probably due to it being on a virtual machine.

I have Windows 8 on a virtual machine too and it also runs more sluggish than on my laptop where I’m dual booting it with Windows 7. Neither are that bad though, still very workable. Download speeds on the Internet are good on both Firefox and Chromium.

Overall I’m having a good experience with Ubuntu 12.04, Much better than with past versions of Linux. Its much easier to use, a nice minimalistic interface and I think it would be good on a tablet. I wish I had a tablet that I could test both OS’ on. I’m actually thinking of trying to put Ubuntu on my CR-48 Chromebook.

Does Ubuntu make me want to switch from Windows to it? No, I like Windows 7 and unless Microsoft really messes up I’ll like 8 as well. I like running playing games and even though I use LibreOffice even on my Windows machine, I run other brand name software.

I might put it on my Chromebook or if I can get a cheap tablet with Ubuntu on it, and I’ll still probably use the copy I have virtualized on my PC. I’m going to stick with Windows though, I know it well, I can do what I want, and Windows 8 is a nice face lift for an old friend. I have a Windows Phone 7 and I’ll probably get a Windows Phone 8 (unless something in Android or Blackberry 10 really blows me away).

What do you think? Have you tried Ubuntu? What do you like and/or dislike about it? Will you switch from your present OS or stay?

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