In the last few days I have been busy testing Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 1. As you can imagine, the idea to test them back to back came very quickly, and I just had to find out a fair and easy way to do so. I decided I would use Virtual Box 3.1 for the job. I wanted to find a way to provide the exact same resources to both and a virtual machine, even with its flaws, would at least be fair (which is another way to say that I can't afford two identical machines just for testing).
These are the resources I assigned to both:
|VirtualBox machine parameter||Value used|
|Disk Space||20 GB|
|Video Memory||64 MB|
LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLEEEEEEEE...
Before I go on to the test, I want to acknowledge that this is obviously not a fair comparison. Ubuntu is quite solid already, but still only the first Beta. Not only it is an unfinished product, with many branding and functionality changes still pending, but crashes and lack of stability could be somewhat expectable. Windows, on the other hand, has been live for approximately 6 months, so it is (or at least should be) a very mature product by now. Taking that into account, and the fact that I didn't take a very "scientific" approach to this comparison, I want to stress that it is by no means exhaustive. I wanted to keep some consistency throughout, so the results would be meaningful, but this is clearly comparing at a very high level.
BOOT AND SHUTDOWN TIMES
One feature that has attracted lots of attention lately is that of boot and shutdown times. Most OS manufacturers want to close down the gap between the start/stop experience of a PC and that of other electronic devices,such as a TV, for example. Google was probably the most explicit and aggressive, targeting a 7 second startup time with Google Chrome OS (which by the way is Linux based). Both Windows and Ubuntu keep trying to reduce their startup and shutdown times, so I wanted to check how they were doing.
Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Linx Beta 1 Login Screen
Windows 7 32bit Ultimate Login Screen
I split these processes in stages, timing 3 times each:
Stage 1: From the moment I start each virtual machine (including BIOS load) to the login screen.
Stage 2: From login screen to a fully loaded desktop.
Stage 3: From clicking the shutdown button to complete halt.
The resulting average times go as follows:
|OS||Stage 1||Stage 2||Stage 3|
|Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 1||31 sec.||14 sec.||8 sec.|
|Windows 7 Ultimate 32bit||45 sec.||12 sec.||11 sec.|
Ubuntu is clearly ahead, but Windows times represent a notable improvement over previous versions. Having said so, I have to say that both installations are brand new and completely clean, which makes these results misleading to a certain extent. Any Windows user knows the impact of performance degradation as time and use wear apply. Disk fragmentation is quite a big concern, but it is mostly down to how the registry becomes bloated quite quickly that makes the biggest difference.
In other words, if these two installations happened to take place in two identical machines and their users repeated this same test after a year of normal use, the gap would increase. Ubuntu in particular and Linux in general manage that degradation in an optimum way, so impact on the end user is reduced or not even noticeable.
...AND THE WINNER IS: Ubuntu is in the lead out of the box, but it is even more important how the gap will be accentuated as time goes by.
Another important element in this comparison is how each OS uses the resources available. I know that hardware in general is continuously becoming cheaper and more accessible, but that should not justify the lack of optimization in an operating system, or in any software application for that matter. In fact, the spiral of increasing hardware power required by software in general is merely a way to justify perpetual consumption, if you ask me.
The GNOME system monitor used by Ubuntu
Because this is an operating system comparison, I thought it would be fair to compare memory, CPU and disk space usage, checking the first two a few minutes after the desktop is fully loaded and stable. I didn't want to compare resource usage with applications loaded, because I believe that if an application was developed with poor resource usage, that should not be blamed on the OS.
Once again, the results shown below come from averaging three different measures,each from a different session.
|Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 1||139 MB||35%||2.4 GB|
|Windows 7 Ultimate 32bit||460 MB||45%||13.3 GB|
I never used Windows Vista myself, but my understanding is that its use of resources was terrible. I believe Windows 7 is doing a much better job, but still quite far from the results obtained by Ubuntu. In fact, the differences are quite astonishing, specially in the case of memory and disk space use.
The heavily improved resource monitor available in Windows 7
Ubuntu seems to happily manage itself with around 22% less memory than Windows 7. That's a very big gap, which may look harmless here, but makes a big difference when we start opening many applications at the same time. However, the biggest difference comes when comparing the disk space used by each installation. Windows takes 34.5% (around 6.5GB) of the 20GB provided, while Ubuntu is content with a little over 12%, an impressive 2.4GB for a full blown installation. This is even more impressive when we take into account that Ubuntu already includes the full OpenOffice suite (minus the "oobase" package) and a more complete set of applications in general.
Windows 7 takes a massive 13.3 GB after installation!
Once again, it is interesting to put things into perspective and look at how each machine would develop as time goes by. An MS Office installation is likely to take place on the Windows box, along with social networking (the usual MSN, Twitter, skype, etc), a proper antivirus, Adobe reader, etc. Let's not forget about Service Pack releases, the first one for Windows 7 likely to be released at the end of the year. Last but not least, let's throw in the numerous and frequent security patches necessary for about anything Microsoft. I believe that a Windows 7 user could easily eat another 3-6 GB of disk space in about a year, just counting application installations and patches, not data.
On the other hand, Ubuntu already includes a wide variety of software that makes life easier. Lucid Linx already integrates social networking and chatting clients (epiphany and Gwibber), both of which can cover the most popular "protocols" (Twitter, MSN, Yahoo Chat, Google Chat, etc.). No antivirus software is required, and security patches usually take a few hundred Kb, if no less. A full kernel upgrade takes usually about 80MB, and older kernel versions can safely be removed after the upgrade.
Ubuntu 10.04 magically manages to take only 2.4GB!
Some may think "so what if Windows takes 10 or 15 GB of space, my drive is 300GB!", and they'd have a point, for disk space consumption is not the biggest concern. It is about how an operating system behaves when it takes such mammoth dimensions that matters, and the answer is clear: poorly.
Edit: I fixed some inaccurate information about Windows 7 space consumption, my bad! (Thanx Richard, good catch!)
On a different note, I find it very convenient that Ubuntu (and pretty much any Linux distro) take so little disk space. I usually carry with me Ubuntu and Fedora installed on a USB drive, something I can't even think of doing with Windows 7. (NOTE: It may be possible in a 32GB+ pendrive, but I am not paying 70+ euros to try!).
...AND THE WINNER IS: Ubuntu has the edge from the get go, but once again it is that long term Windows degradation that gives it the winning spot.
This is one of the areas in which Windows 7 seems to shine. Obviously, a virtual machine does not prove anything, but I am basing my comments on the feedback I get from other users and the apparent consensus over internet forums. I know that's far from a serious conclusion, but I have no easy way to measure it or reason to think otherwise. In fact, it only makes sense that Windows would have the edge after so many years of keeping almost exclusive attention from hardware manufacturers.
Ubuntu, on the other hand, seems to be getting some negative feedback on this department lately. The latest version, Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala, has taken quite some beating about this. The main concern is not about not being able to support every single device under the sun (which is impossible for any OS, but much more so with the weak manufacturer support Linux suffers from), but because it was having problems with devices supported in previous releases.
I have already discussed about Linux problems in this department, but let's just say it would do better by improving the following four areas:
- A unified and standard packaging system. Although it could be argued that this has added to Linux security, it is hurting its users because of the inherent complexity it represents. If a hardware manufacturer wants to make an effort to support Linux users, how exactly does it do it? Creating DEB packages for Debian? For Ubuntu? RPMs for Red Hat? Mandriva? Fedora? It quickly gets out of hand and becomes ridiculously complex to manage and support.
- An optimized kernel compilation process. I believe certain areas should be left out of kernel compilation. Lots of users are having problems with proprietary drivers, which need to be installed again after each kernel upgrade.
- Lack of standards. Video and specially audio are lacking from solid standards developers could aim for. As an example, certain distros choose ALSA over Pulse Audio server, while others stick close to the latter.
- Better user education. The whole Linux community needs to stop pretending Linux can run any hardware available. Instead, we should make it clear to new comers that they need to put a bit of thought before they buy hardware or install Linux on their machine.
...AND THE WINNER IS: All in all, I think Windows has the edge here, for an average user couldn't care less about whether his Windows is OEM or not. With that in mind, Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular keep on an ever improving path to optimum hardware recognition. Just a few years ago it was a nightmare to get a modem or a simple USB drive recognised, and look where it's got now!
NOTE: Funny enough, Windows 7 was unable to set up the right screen resolution for this test, even after installing Virtual Box "Guest additions". That is what is causing the black stripes on each side of the Windows screenshots.
USER INTERFACE AND LOOK&FEEL
I have to say Windows 7 makes Windows XP look poor and ugly. The user interface has been redesigned and fine tuned. In my opinion, there is an obvious improvement in this area, specially considering that the changes applied still manage to mantain a familiar vibe. It feels like Windows 7 is a familiar evolution, not an awkward departure. As a result, even if I had never used Windows Vista, I was able to find my way very quickly and easily for about 95% of the things I wanted to do.
In addition, the default overall style is very good looking. The windows and icons have all been heavily improved and make for a much more pleasant experience. I was particularly impressed by the default wallpapers and some sleek widgets.
The beautiful Windows 7 desktop
In turn, Ubuntu 10.04 (keeping in mind that this is still a beta and that further branding work will surely be added) looks are not as sleek out of the box. I am not among those hating the "brown departure". In fact, I was very pleasantly impressed by the default desktop looks, so much so that it was the first time it crossed my mind to not change anything. Leaving the controversy raised by changing minimize and close buttons to the left side aside, I very much liked the default window and icon themes.
The Ubuntu 10.04 beta desktop
As far as ease of use is concerned, that's always a difficult thing to measure in Linux. Obviously, Ubuntu is a different operating system with different (not better or worse per se) ways of doing things. People rarely like change, so "different" can easily be linked to "complicated". Moreover, I believe it is impossible to balance the "ease of use" and "flexible and full of features" concepts. You either choose one or the other.
Windows clearly bids for ease of use, heavily limiting customization freedom. Icons cannot be resized, Widgets only allow two different sizes, and its location on the desktop responds to an inflexible grid design. On the other hand, Ubuntu opens the door to customizing pretty much about anything. There are many window, control and icon choices available out of the box, but so many more made available from the community. When a new Ubuntu user gets past the initial adjusting to a new environment, the possibilities available are immense... And if all that was not enough, simply installing the compiz effect suite takes the desktop experience to a whole new level.
In my experience, when I show a Linux desktop to Windows users, that powerful visual experience is what is most captivating. I have to say I am far from being a user who takes compiz to its limits, but watching the "desktop cube" in action, the wobbly windows and other type of desktop effects is truly impressive. However, I must stress that beyond that initial visual shocking effect there is an interface that adds lots of value to user productivity. As soon as you start getting past the "eye candy" side of it and start customizing your desktop to get the most out of it, that's when you really start to see the real benefits. I know because there are lots of things I miss when I go back to a Windows desktop, and I feel "slowed down".
...AND THE WINNER IS: Pretty tight, but Ubuntu gets the edge, if only for the endless possibilities and freedom it offers to its users.
Always a controversial concept when talking about Windows, I have to say I found Windows 7 brings big improvements in this area. The amount of security features available out of the box is already quite good, but even a free antivirus is eligible (although I have no idea how good or bad it actually is). Logically, this article is based on early impressions, so it is hard to judge how vulnerable Windows 7 really is, but it was nice finding that the new UACs stopped me from creating a file under "Program Files", I could only create a folder there. Modification of any of those systems files was equally disallowed. In fact, it seemed I was only allowed to create or modify stuff on certain areas, which made me understand why some claimed Windows 7 was inspired on BSD.
Personally, I feel the guys at Redmond might have taken things too far. I was using an administrator profile on the machine, apparently capable of doing anything, but I found no way to create a file inside that restricted location. Ironically, the system kept prompting me to contact the administrator so that access to that location could be provided! (Wait a minute, I should contact... myself?!)
It seems that, despite what Microsoft claims, Windows 7 security improvements still make the use of several anti-malware tools a must. You can read more on that from THIS ARTICLE
...AND THE WINNER IS: Ubuntu and Linux in general keep a strong lead on this one.
As mentioned above, Ubuntu includes a quite rich set of applications out of the box. The OpenOffice suite is probably the star now that GIMP has been left out, but other important applications such as evince (PDF reader), F-Spot (picture manager), Transmission (Torrent download client), Evolution (email suite), UbuntuOne (cloud storage service, up to 2GB for free), Brasero (powerful CD & DVD recorder) or RhythmBox (an iTunes-alike music player). That's not all, but I guess it gets the point across.
The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that Ubuntu only requires an internet connection to open the door to a huge collection of great and free applications.
...AND THE WINNER IS: Ubuntu. The catalog of available applications out of the box is already impressive, but even more so what can easily be installed from its repositories, safely and with no cost.
HELP & DOCUMENTATION
Ubuntu keeps improving in providing good documentation and help, but I must admit it is still far from what a Windows 7 user gets. Windows documentation feels more mature and abundant, which is no surprise, considering one corporation owns everything that's installed. In the case of Ubuntu, many of the applications installed, even the desktop manager, are driven by third parties. That situation makes matters even more complicated to create a well rounded set of documentation and help media.
As a side note, I have to say that the Ubuntu community plays a very important role here. It is a radically different approach to what Windows or Mac users are accustomed to, but once you get around it, there really is nothing like interacting with other "Ubuntuers".
...AND THE WINNER IS: Windows gets the edge here, because of its more complete and easy to reach documentation.
CONCLUSION: WHAT IS AND WHAT SHALL BE
As I was comparing these two great operating systems, I kept coming back to a concept of present and future, of stillness and motion, of immediacy and potentiality.
Windows 7 feels like a very good step forward, a great improvement over previous versions (although it has to be noted that it wasn't hard, specially after the Vista fiasco), easily providing all its power at a few clicks distance. The Look&Feel, security and performance aspects all seem enhanced, making it a very good choice for users with little computing experience, or for those not particularly interested in computers. People using their PC primarily for browsing the web, social networking, gaming or listening to music will get a kick out of all the improvements coming with this latest version.
Having said so, I kept feeling Windows 7 would never surprise me again after a mere couple hours of use. Windows offers immediately its goods, but once discovered, all paths beyond them seem to end very quickly. In turn, Ubuntu felt more like an empty canvas, offering a vast amount of choices. From system configuration to Look&Feel and applications available, there were options all over the place for the end user to pick. In that sense, Ubuntu and Linux don't feel immediate or still, but ever changing and evolving after the user's will and skills.
Aside from its inherent flexibility, Ubuntu keeps a 6 month release schedule, which allows it to stay much more current and fresh. While Windows 7 will remain almost unchanged for a good 3-4 years, Ubuntu 12.04, for instance, will likely be very different to 10.04.
Building on that same concept, I also think an Ubuntu user keeps getting an optimum experience through time, not being forced into a rat race of hardware upgrades. A Windows user though, gets the best experience right after the initial installation, but it's all an uphill struggle from there on.
This concept more than any other is what makes me regard Ubuntu 10.04 higher than Windows 7, for I am not simply looking at what each can offer me today, but how my user experience will unfold as time goes by.
From the sections that make up this article, though, it could be argued that they are pretty even, and I think that wouldn't be far from the truth. Ultimately, it is down to what the end user values most that will decide which one is the winner for her/him.
...So tell me, what is your choice and why?
Thanks for reading!