Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Windows 7 and the Linux desktop (PART 2)

A few days ago I published an ARTICLE about my experience with Windows 7, somewhat influenced by Fewt's own VIEW on the subject. Because the article was taking on some humongous proportions, and to hopefully organize it in a way that would make some sense, I decided to split it in two parts.

The first part was my take on the interesting concepts Fewt raised about Windows 7. The second part, the one you are reading now, will elaborate on why I choose the Linux desktop, Linux Mint 10 in this case, over the latest from Microsoft.


What can I say, I love speed and responsiveness, and that's one of the many areas where Linux definitely delivers. I had heard Windows 7 was nothing like Vista, that the resource eating days were over, and that this latest edition of the Microsoft OS was the fastest ever. That's all mostly true, but after getting used average Linux performance, Windows 7 is simply not fast enough.

Because I am dual booting Windows 7 and Linux Mint 10, it's a great opportunity to compare each and obtain somewhat meaningful results. I decided to time a few things, mostly concentrating on boot up and shut down times.

Bios to Login screen23 secs28 secs
Login screen to desktop12 secs19 secs
Shutdown6 secs24 secs

Linux Mint 10 is 30% to 40% faster than Windows 7 on average, and while differences are not that exaggerated on day-to-day desktop activities, they are still significant. I am not saying applications open that much slower on Windows 7, it's the experience as a whole that is slower. Antivirus updates, system and other security updates, random automatic antivirus scans, way too many applications loading on startup...

The number of things that have an impact on speed and responsiveness is indeed important, but so is the how. I already talked about the exaggerated size the average Windows application has taken on. It only makes sense that applications that are so heavy require updates that are proportionally heavy, and that is the case indeed. As a result, downloading and applying updates in Linux takes less time, adds less user disruption and, as we will discuss later, hardly ever requires a reboot.

Long story short, I just can't be bothered to put up with that many obstacles. In Linux Mint and the Linux desktop in general things work fast. Me likes.


The Linux command line interface is an incredibly powerful ally. Automating day-to-day activities such as distro updates, package installation/uninstallation, resource monitoring... You name it, the CLI unleashes the true power of your computer.

NOTE: The Windows 7 command line does provide some 180 commands that certainly add to the GUI functionality, but comparing it with bash isn´t even funny.


The Linux desktop has many features that I´ve found help increase my productivity. Here are some examples:

1.- Multiple desktops: Those who have used a dual screen setup in Windows have only scratched the surface of what working with multiple desktops feels like. I personally find that I can work on several things at once more productively, isolating each task on a different desktop and limiting the amount of open windows on that particular desktop to two or three at most. This allows me to always know what I am doing, as opposed to having an endless list of open windows that I can´t make sense of.

2.- Compiz FX: Believe it or not, Compiz effects do help as well. Anything from the widget layer, where I can add widgets that provide me with interesting information, to the enhanced desktop zoom, the desktop wall, etc. The idea is that, if used correctly, these effects are way more than just eye candy, they actually add their two cents towards overall productivity.

3.- Keyboard & Mouse: Linux is all about flexibility, and keyboard shortcuts are no exception. A LOT can be achieved with the default keyboard shortcuts, but way more as soon as one starts adding custom combinations.

Mouse gestures add a lot of value as well. One of the things I miss the most when I am working on a Windows box, for example, is the ability to highlight text on any app and then paste it elsewhere by clicking on the middle button.

4.- Applications: Many tools are at hand to enhance productivity and make things easy and fast, but even more importantly, the community is constantly introducing ideas to take that productivity up a notch. Here are some examples:

- Synapse takes the Gnome Do concept even further, allowing quick search of pretty much anything on the computer straight from the keyboard.
- Pidgin, empathy, Gwibber, Choqok, Kopete and several other applications provide a single interface for all your IM and social networking needs, avoiding unnecessary installations and desktop cluttering.
- Several distros propose top native integration for social applications and media (Ubuntu), while others provide powerful system tools, like the Linux Mint menu, which integrates anything from installation to dictionary search, web search, etc. in one place.

...And what´s even better, most things I listed above are available out of the box!


Another amazing thing about the Linux desktop is how it handles software installation. In my opinion, the concept of software repositories is light years ahead of what Windows users get these days. As a matter of fact, Apple has incorporated this idea and rumor says Microsoft is thinking of doing the same.

Software management in Linux is fast, simple, safe and convenient. Some distros, like Ubuntu, Linux Mint and now Pardus are doing some amazing work on their software managers, providing information, screenshots and sometimes even user ratings for each package.

Another great thing about repositories is that they not only provide critical OS updates, but also for the desktop manager and applications. Certain distros, like PCLinuxOS and Fedora are particularly proactive in updating their application catalogs, allowing users to enjoy the latest and greatest just days after it is released.


Unlike Windows 7, which requires rebooting to apply updates way too often, Linux hardly ever needs a recycle. Applying Kernel updates is the one task that must undergo a full reboot to take effect, but it doesn´t happen that often.


Another great thing about the Linux desktop is that it can easily take on many more roles, some of which are only meant for "grown ups". In other words, setting up a MySQL, SSH, Application, Web or even a small eMail server with Linux is usually surprisingly easy. Users can indeed turn their PCs into pseudo-servers, which by the way, work reliably. This is another area where Linux performs well ahead of Windows.


There is something about Linux that means more than just software. There is a huge community of enthusiastic individuals willing to join efforts to create something truly amazing. The best thing? Everyone is invited to join and collaborate and there are thousands of ways to do so. The whole concept feels a bit strange when proprietary software is all you know, but once you get past the initial fears and start to enjoy help and support from others, it's easy and gratifying to become part of such an incredible community.


When all is said and done, of all the features in the Linux desktop, being free and in control is the one I appreciate the most. Customization is as deep as it gets and one can truly understand what is going on. Users may still choose to ignore technicalities and stick to defaults if they so desire, but if they want to make their OS truly theirs, all doors are open.


After such a long and boring article, I must go back to the concept I started with: Ultimately, both Windows 7 and the Linux desktop are great options for any kind of user, so it´s more a matter of finding which best fits one´s needs.

I purposedly left the "free as in beer" aspect of Linux out of the picture. Don´t get me wrong, it is quite an important thing, but the Linux desktop has grown mature enough to stand out on its own merits, not just because it has no cost. Building on that concept, it was not long ago when the Linux desktop was not even a valid option as a desktop OS... Today it stands a comparison with the Industry standard! The speed and quality of its growth are unquestionable, and yes, there are many areas of improvement, but after looking at what the latest releases have achieved, there is no stopping it!

Long live the Linux desktop!


  1. "One of the things I miss the most when I am working on a Windows box, for example, is the ability to highlight text on any app and then paste it elsewhere by clicking on the middle button"

    I still keep on trying it again and again, unconsciously, in my windows PC at work!

    Nice article.

  2. Really nice article and I can compare it good to my experience.
    And you are right with the community fact, that is something that I dont want to miss anymore.

  3. Great info here, thanks for the article


    Install Cygwin.

    "Multiple Desktops"
    Check out: http://www.windows7.cc/windows-7-software/windows-7-virtual-desktop-manager/


    MS Office, Visio, Photoshop to name a few.


    There is a project under way to bring software repository technology to Windows.


    This is true, I can't argue it except that a lot of progress has been made on the Windows side in the last few years to reduce reboots.


    Hmm, you can do all these things on Windows too.


    This community exists in the world of Microsoft too. Often the Microsoft community is more professional and doesn't condemn people for using software that they don't like.


    This is the most significant difference, and advantage to using Linux. You are free to do what you want any time you want. Windows hides a lot, and prevents you from doing things that you can do on a Linux or other open source computer. If you are a geek, this is an advantage. If you aren't, it could become a disadvantage.

    "Ultimately, both Windows 7 and the Linux desktop are great options for any kind of user, so it´s more a matter of finding which best fits one´s needs."


  5. Thanks all for your comments!

    @Fewt: I know that many things are somewhat achievable in Windows, but the great thing about Linux is that they are native mostly. Users don't need to risk installing an application that may compromise security or stability, etc.

    To me Cygwin is a bit like Wine, home away from home, not the real deal. If you want to run Win apps, use Windows and if you want to use bash, use Linux. That's how I see it, at least.

    "MS Office, Visio, Photoshop to name a few."

    That's cool, are you paying? ;-)

    "Hmm, you can do all these things on Windows too."

    How come you mention too many reboots is a problem in Windows and you still consider it capable to run like a server? I know we're all used to servers that require reboots every month, perhaps even more often, but that's not the way it should be. In my opinion, the fact that Windows requires so many reboots makes it a bit of a "toy" when "serious" tasks are due.

    "This community exists in the world of Microsoft too."

    Hmmm... Playing devil's advocate a bit too hard here, don't you think? I know there are forums and many resources available for Windows users, but they are nothing compared to the Linux community, not in my book at least.

    Having the opportunity to talk straight with the developers, to become part of and have a chance to influence where your OS is going is something Windows users will never be able to do.

    Anyways, the nice thing is that we agree on the conclusion! ;-)

  6. @Chema - If necessary, sure I have no problem paying for software if it helps empower problem resolution. I see your point about Cygwin, but at the same time I find it infinitely useful.

    About reboots, I look at the problem differently. I try to avoid building a "server" as a solution to provide a service as that would be inherently flawed since it would be a single point of failure. Whenever possible I build application services that are capable of withstanding a fault. This means that you should build application services to continue to run if you need to reboot any single server.

    Not so much a Devils advocate, I've just been around for a long time if you are looking in the right places you will find a LOT of really good free help for Windows. It's really hard to filter the useless information from the valuable information sometimes within some of the Linux forums.

    Yes, it's nice to agree. ;)

  7. @Fewt - The whole thing about reboots... Well, I think you are avoiding the question. In my article I mentioned that Linux was better suited for "serious" tasks, tasks that required a solid and consistent platform, such as server stuff. Not sure how that is related to your personal approach and your preference of application services over servers? I mean, I see what you are saying, but it has nothing to do with what is being discussed here?

    Similarly, you completely skip my point on how a Linux community member actually has the ability to influence where a project is going... Heck, any member can define a project entirely, and you are a perfect example of that because of the work you put on Fuduntu!

    Can Windows users influence Windows at all, other than complaining? The answer is no, and that is what I am talking about. Linux users belong; Windows users are... well, just users.

    On top of that, Linux belongs in the community, meaning that it naturally encourages users to interact with other members to learn how to do things and overcome issues. A great side effect is that they also learn how to share that knowledge, so many of those users who started asking questions on forums end up understanding enough to share that knowledge back.

    Once again, I agree with you that Windows users may find plenty of resources, but I don't think they will ever feel part of the Windows project.

  8. I personally really am swaying towards Linux over Windows however for me its finding a Laptop that is compatible as I have had over heating issues when using Ubuntu previously on them.

    The reason I am currently using Windows 7 on my current laptop is due to the fact my network card has given up the ghost and I don't really want to sort it as its on the board. I have been looking at no OS laptops from ebuyer however not sure whether linux will play nicely with them.

    I really would like a only Linux machine. I could use my desktop but I like playing World of Warcraft on that so choose to leave that as it is.

  9. @Chema - You missed my point. No function should be dependent on any one server, reboots are going to happen even with Linux (when you update the kernel). This isn't a personal approach, it's a professional approach. Windows and Linux are on-par with each other in the datacenter and have been for years. The reason to select one of them over the other is entirely up to the function for which it will be used.

    I did skip over the point you were making about a community member having influence. Community members do sometimes impact the direction of Windows, look at the MVP program and the integration of tools like the former sysinternals products for examples of this.

    Yes, you also see it in the community; Fedora is a great example, but counter to that is Ubuntu where the community at large does not have any influence.

    I wasn't disagreeing with you completely, you have great points. My point is that it isn't black and white. ;)

  10. @Fewt: I didn't miss your point, it's just that you are answering a question I didn't ask :-)

    Whether using a server is a recommendable approach or not is out of the question here... My point was that Linux can stretch and take on tasks that go beyond the realm of the desktop, and Windows falls short in that department.

    It's like I ask you "Ferrari or Lamborghini?" and you reply "Well, you know what? cars are not that efficient and they pollute too much, I would choose the train..."

    As for Kernel updates, indeed they require a reboot, but you know better than me that they are not mandatory, perhaps not even recommendable in production environments. I have worked for companies that would not apply kernel updates because of the risks they implied, so they would stick to critical security updates, carefully choosing what should be applied in PROD boxes and remaining online without a problem for months on end.

    I am also tired of working with Windows admins who would like to skip some monthly security updates and their corresponding recycles... The problem is they can hardly pass on an update (because Windows has soooo many critical security holes), so a monthly recycle is more certain than sunshine every morning.

    I work for a large corporation and it is Global policy to not trust performance-critical tasks to Windows boxes. Oracle, for example is either run on Sun Solaris or Linux... DBAs stay away from Oracle on Windows like the plague!

    How about about Exchange servers begging for a monthly reboot to catch their breath? I personally set up Siebel environments that split their components across several boxes, some are Windows, some are Linux... My Linux boxes may get one reboot for every 10 or 15 reboots in the corresponding Windows boxes... Come on, you know what I am talking about... :-)

    In any case, we are deviating from the original concept, which was the Linux desktop ability to stretch beyond standard desktop tasks, but I assure you, you are the first person to tell me Linux and Windows servers are on-par...

  11. @Chema - 'It's like I ask you "Ferrari or Lamborghini?" and you reply "Well, you know what? cars are not that efficient and they pollute too much, I would choose the train..." '

    No, it is not like that at all. You said a Ferrari is better than a Lamborghini, and my response is that if you build the road that they drive on correctly what you drive on that road is unimportant.

    "My point was that Linux can stretch and take on tasks that go beyond the realm of the desktop, and Windows falls short in that department. "

    Linux is barely acceptable on the desktop where Windows is king. Windows and Linux both own roughly 50% of the datacenter, using the right tool for the job and hiring competent people is the most important thing to consider.

    If your Windows admins are rebooting servers monthly because of problems, they are doing it wrong. Windows servers that are properly configured and managed are every bit as stable as Linux servers that are properly configured and managed.

    I say this as someone who happens to be an expert in both Linux, AND Windows. ;)

  12. Linux is the only real desktop OS.
    Windows is a joke.
    No multiple panels, no activities, no multiple workspaces.
    I am referring of course om KDE that is clearly the best GUI of Linux.
    Marketshare is irrelevant.
    Point is that if you enjoy the Linux desktop you don't care if it is a 1% or 6%
    You enjoy the best.
    And contrary to the closed priced windows you are allowed to share and copy your OS.

  13. @Fewt: I did not say a Ferrari was better than a Lamborghini, I said that a Ferrari accelerates faster and is faster on the curves. A Lamborghini may be safer and faster on the straights. Each will have strong and weak spots, but they can still be matched overall.

    I know you are an expert. I don't like to consider myself as such, but I know what I am talking about.

    Microsoft releases their security patches on a certain specific day of the month every month, every month to us, which is something they do as part of the contract we have with them. They release those security patches and inform us of the criticality of the security issues they are fixing. Some are minor and we can skip, but the majority of them are critical and almost imposed by Microsoft. When it comes to applying those security patches, our admins simply follow what Microsoft is asking us to do, so please don't assume they don't know what they are doing... In fact I am surprised your company Windows servers are free of security problems... Perhaps you should worry? ;-)

    In my years of experience, I have talked with lots of people from different companies, Microsoft certification collectors and every bit an expert as you say you are, and once again, you are the first one to say Linux and Windows servers perform on a similar level and can offer similar levels of stability. I suggest you tour the world offering clinics to all kinds of sys admins, so they can learn that bit of "black magic" that suddenly adds that extra stability that nobody else finds... ;-)

    The fact that Windows owns 50% of datacenters means absolutely nothing. It mostly responds to political stuff rather than a decision based on product quality. A big percentage of IT management in big corporations is made of old farts who barely remember anything about technology, so they base their decisions on "what's safe and popular, so nobody can blame it on me". I know, I have seen those kind of decisions throughout my career, year after year, and the fact is, nobody is brave enough to embrace "that ugly free OS nobody knows about".

    Aside from that, the quantity of marketing behind Microsoft products is astonishing, so if Linux managed to take 50%, it really speaks volumes. I guess it would be worth asking how a product with an infinitesimal fraction of advertisement and budget can take over half of the market... Could it be down to its sheer quality?

    Yes, market share is irrelevant. My aim here is to compare quality, not quantity... Or are you going to tell me Windows 98 was a great desktop OS because most people owned a copy?... Perhaps Microsoft Windows was better than Apple Mac OS back when Apple was falling apart?...

    All in all, I am not sure I understand why you can't accept Linux outperforms Windows on a specific area. I did and do accept Windows 7 is better on other areas, not sure what is the big deal?

  14. I can't accept it because they aren't used for the same functions.

    Like you said, Oracle on Windows isn't even a consideration. However, neither is SQL server on Linux.