Passionate freak that I am, I got so into it that I went on and on, quickly realizing I should split my article into two parts. I used part 1 to share my thoughts on Fewt's article. Part 2 will go over the reasons why I choose Linux as my main desktop OS.
Note that this article is by no means an attempt to troll, bash or demean Fewt's opinion, which I very much respect. It's just me sharing mine.
WINDOWS 7 & LINUX MINT 10 DUAL BOOT
About two months ago I purchased an HP 5320M laptop, a sleek, light and good looking piece of hardware, I have to say. Not surprisingly, it came with Windows 7 pre-installed and, for the first time in years, I decided to keep it so I could potentially play commercial games. I then installed Linux Mint 10 on a different partition. This setup allowed me to experience both Windows 7 and Linux Mint 10 back to back, under the exact same hardware, providing me with a great opportunity to truly check where the Linux desktop stands when compared with the latest and greatest from Microsoft.
If there was one thing that was clear to me before and after reading Fewt's article is that both Linux and Windows 7 make for a great desktop OS. The key element to decide which one has the edge is really determined by the criteria used in comparing them. In other words, as far as I am concerned, it's not so much about which one is best, but about which one best fits the user needs.
Fewt defined his criteria throughout his article: Lack of crashes, consistency over time, richer application catalog and security are some of the areas in which he considers Windows 7 shines. In the following sections I will go over those concepts and discuss them from my perspective.
I haven't had a single crash on neither Linux Mint 10 nor Windows 7 since I started using my HP 5320M. Windows 7 is indeed a solid OS, but so was Windows XP (I have not experienced Vista, though). The superior Linux stability that once made a big difference when compared to older versions of Windows is no longer evident.
In my opinion, as they stand today, both Windows 7 and the Linux desktop are very stable environments, so much so that I don't consider the lack of crashes a deciding factor to choose one over the other.
CONSISTENCY OVER TIME
It is no myth, Windows does indeed slow down over time, certainly many orders of magnitude more than Linux does. To which degree, though, does depend on the kind of use it gets. There are a few factors that play an important role in degrading a Windows machine performance over time:
Disk Fragmentation: Unless Windows 7 users have a Solid State Drive installed on their machines, they will experience varying degrees of disk fragmentation. This file system "weakness", if you will, is more or less evident depending on the kind of data manipulation that goes on in the machine.
Intensive allocation, reallocation and deallocation of data will eventually accentuate disk fragmentation problems, degrading the machine performance over time. Similarly, the less free space available on the drive, the more struggle fragmentation will cause. Creating, copying, moving and deleting files are common activities for the average home user, the result of such mundane actions as keeping large collections of personal pictures and videos, a gigantic music collection, a good share of downloaded movies and/or frantic installation of games and applications. Yes, it doesn't take much to cause disk fragmentation.
Although user activities certainly play a significant part in disk fragmentation, it would not be fair to blame it all on them. One other element that certainly doesn't help is the blatant lack of optimization of resources that plagues the Windows ecosystem. How game and application system requirements got to where they are at right now is a mystery to me, but it's plain ridiculous.
|Photoshop CS5||1GB+||GIMP 2.6.10||12.6 MB|
|Maya 2011||4GB||Blender 2.49.2||34 MB|
|ProTools||15GB||Ardour 2.8.11||29.2 MB|
|MS Office 2010||3 GB||OpenOffice 3.x||400 MB|
The table above compares a few popular Windows applications and their Linux/opensource counterparts, clearly depicting the abysmal difference between them in terms of disk space requirements. Games are no different, often worse: The blockbusters Starcraft II and World of Warcraft: Cataclysm require an incredible 12 and 25GB of disk space respectively!
The truth is the average Windows user sits in an environment where optimization of resources is anything but a priority. At the end of the day, that makes issues such as disk fragmentation or excessive data allocation more of a risk.
Regardless of the cause, disk fragmentation problems are very much a reality in Windows 7, and Microsoft themselves are the best proof. The efforts that they still put into improving their workaround speak for themselves. Indeed, the disk defragmentation tool received several improvements for Windows 7, including automation, scheduling, as well as the ability to defragment more than one volume at a time.
NOTE: Although useless unless the user keeps the machine on long enough for the scheduler to trigger the defragmentation process, automatic defragmentation is a step forward. Those interested in learning more about Windows 7 improvements can check this Microsoft ARTICLE.
Windows Registry gaining weight: The infamous Windows registry certainly suffers when intensive installation/uninstallation tasks take place. Unlike Linux desktop users, who get a wide set of applications as part of their default installation, Windows users often have to install a significant number of applications to become productive. Software from printers, webcams, cameras, your casual iTunes and the like, media players, an office suite, proper Internet browser(s), torrent client(s), social networks client(s) and a good share of games are just a few things most Windows 7 users will end up installing on their machines. If maintained over long periods of time, that installation frenzy would add more and more registry keys to the database, making it grow heavier and more difficult to manage, eventually resulting in slower performance.
So there you have it, there are clearly identified areas that may cause performance degradation in Windows 7, and they are not that different from standard day-to-day activities. At the end of the day, lack of performance degradation over time is one of the last things I would have highlighted about Windows 7.
NOT THE MOST REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE
Let me put it this way: Fewt is anything but the average Windows 7 user and his experience is, in my opinion, not one to draw conclusions from. If he's not experiencing performance degradation over time it is not because NTFS fragmentation problems disappeared, nor because the Windows registry magically became a light and optimized database. Most of it comes from an expert following best practices, and in doing so, putting a thick make up layer over some of Windows 7 weak spots.
The fact of the matter is a Linux user can afford a lot more abuse on his machine and still keep reasonable performance over time (I still keep my first Ubuntu 8.10 installation, which went through all kinds of tests as I was learning, and it runs great!!). Disk fragmentation problems exist, but they are nowhere near as severe as they are in Windows. Moreover, because resource optimization is taken seriously, it plays a key part in maintaining a healthy and lean system as time goes by.
RICHER APPLICATION CATALOG
Agreed, no use hiding it, Windows has a wider, richer application catalog. However, the advantage is only significant if commercial software is part of the equation, which would make cost implications something to consider. If the comparison is limited to free software, then I would say the difference is not as significant. Yes, some applications are only available for Windows, but the opposite is true as well.
All in all, I guess this one depends on the user's needs. If there is a dependency on applications from the Windows ecosystem, such as having to use MS Office to be fully compatible with other people using it, then Windows 7 would be the natural choice. There may be $$$ implications, though.
Undoubtedly, Windows 7 is a step forward in terms of security, specially when compared to XP and older versions of Windows. Having said so, even with its shiny User Account Control (UAC) feature, it still is very much vulnerable to viruses. A STUDY conducted last year at Sophos laboratories demonstrated that Windows 7 was vulnerable to 8 out of 10 viruses from a random sample.
Now, let's stop here for a moment, because we are talking about Windows 7 security: Is it legitimate to say Windows 7 is secure when it is vulnerable to so many viruses? Is it fair to talk about Windows 7 security taking for granted an Antivirus must be installed and correctly configured? I don't think so.
Anyways, let's assume antivirus software is on and correctly configured. Fewt still shares the key concept towards making Windows 7 safe:
"Since I apply common sense browsing habits and I don’t pirate software, I don’t really have any security concerns."
Totally agreed, but then again, any Linux desktop user could make a similar statement.
It is important to go back to the concept of average Windows 7 user, for once again, Fewt is not a representative example. The relevant question here is whether that average Windows 7 user should have any security concerns. Let's consider this: two random unexperienced users are not following safe practices, one using Windows 7, the other one a Linux desktop. Is it realistic to say they face the same threats, both in terms of number and criticality?
In summary, security is another area where Windows 7 does not shine. It gets better with the use of external antimalware applications, but then again, that only goes to show its shortcomings.
SUCH A BIG STEP FORWARD?
After the huge Vista fiasco, Windows 7 appeared as a long awaited alternative for many, a desktop OS which went back to reasonable levels of performance, resource consumption and stability.
I have never used Vista, so the frustration many users experienced with it is unknown to me. I stuck with good ol' Windows XP SP3, but maybe as a result of that, I wasn't so surprised with Windows 7. Don't get me wrong, it is prettier, fancier, does include some notable improvements in terms of security and energy management, and it works fine over all, but come on, it's been 8 years since XP was released... 8 years! Is it really that big an improvement or is it just that expectations on Microsoft are so low that people get surprised when they get a product working reasonably well?
To put this matter into perspective, it should be noted that Ubuntu was born in 2004, maintaining an incredible rate of improvement throughout these last 6 years. To think that all of that has been achieved with a tiny fraction of the resources, money and hardware support that went into creating Windows 7 is really something, and should help avoid getting too complacent with the latest Windows incarnation.
Long story short, Windows 7 is a fine desktop OS, but to me personally, it is a "meh" product. Yes, it's got some interesting features and works OK overall, but it is not the improvement over Windows XP I was expecting after so many years. The fact that "Windows 7 doesn't crash" is something worth mentioning today, almost 30 years after the first Windows release, is hilarious to say the least, and speaks volumes about the average quality expectation for Microsoft products.
Anyways, as I am sure you know by now, I choose Linux Mint 10 and the Linux desktop in general over Windows 7, and it certainly is not just because I expected better from the latter. I will be sharing my reasons in the second part of this article.
Until then, thanks for reading!