A long-time Windows user and an avid gamer, I never felt the need to install Linux on any of my systems. That was until I required a server box to handle automated build compilation, source control and backups for my programming work. The idea of buying another copy of Windows for a machine I’d never be in front of seemed ludicrous and so a copy of Ubuntu was installed instead. Having used Windows and Linux side-by-side for almost a year has given me an entirely new perspective on both operating systems.
Image: Adam Dachis
It would be impossible to cover the major differences between Windows and Linux and having only used the latter seriously for 10 months, I’m not qualified to. What I can do is talk about the two biggest points that have stood out for me.
Good: Tools In Linux… Well, Linux Has Them
With Windows, when you need to accomplish something beyond copying files or firing up Notepad to edit a text file, the first place you turn is the internet for a program that does what you need (or for me, whether I can quickly code a solution up in C#).
In Ubuntu, there’s usually a command-line app that will get the job done. You just need to find it. If you can’t find it, Synaptic, the GUI package manager, makes it easy to grab precisely what you need from a trusted source.
The best example for me was setting up regular, simple backups. My Windows configuration involved downloading 7z, running it from a batch file and sticking it into Task Scheduler. I tried following a similar path and got it working in Ubuntu, but found the Linux version of 7z absolutely slaughtered my quad-core, 4GB server box, even using “nice” to change the process and I/O priorities.
When I looked for an in-built option — something I’m not used to doing — “tar” came up as a popular choice and not only did it run flawlessly, it even supported “xz” compression, which is effectively the LZMA2 algorithm used in 7z.
Bad: Security In Linux… Treats You Like An Idiot
This is something that, from a technical standpoint, I completely understand. Lock down the operating system as much as possible by requiring root permissions to do tasks that alter the fundamentals. But coming from a Windows background, having to constantly type in a root password to do what I consider the most basic activities, like copying files, remains annoying to this day.
Windows isn’t much better, with Vista’s nefarious User Access Control dialogue proving just as frustrating, if not more so, but at least that can be turned off and it’s something most experienced users recommend. On the other hand, every article I found about giving yourself root access on a permanent basis said it was a bad idea and so, I put up with typing in “sudo” or waiting for the inevitable prompt from GNOME.
Again, I understand that it’s to protect against accidental deletions and to stop malicious users from toasting a machine, but for the day-to-day stuff, especially when you know what you’re doing, it just slows you down.
Linux and Windows are different beasts, and trying to apply the same logic and usage patterns to both of them just won’t work. As I’ve come to understand it, setting yourself up as an administrator in Windows is something most power users sort out immediately, but it’s not something you should be do in Linux.
Windows will remain my production OS, but I’m happy to recommend Linux now, whereas before it was a topic I had little knowledge of. Now I just need to find the courage to crack open another distro…