Could the Windows Comparison Game Hurt Linux?

It’s a rare thing indeed to hear Linux discussed without some comparison to Windows.

That may not be surprising, given Redmond’s effective monopoly in the operating system arena — but is it harming Linux?

That was the question being mulled over here in the Linux blogosphere in recent days, even as the rest of the world had its sights set obsessively on all things Facebook.

‘Like Comparing Apples to Oranges’

“I’ve grown to dislike the idea of comparing Windows and Linux as I feel that it’s a lot like comparing apples to oranges,” wrote Matt Hartley on Datamation, where the conversation began. “Both run software and each of them has its strengths and weaknesses. Trying to trump one over the other is time wasted in my opinion and leaves you with no benefit.”

Such comparisons could, in fact, ultimately hurt Linux, Hartley added.

“With some Linux distributions trying so hard to compete with proprietary operating systems, we’ll likely end up with more of those users who expect an idiot-proof experience than those who are willing to invest a little time learning about how their computer works,” he asserted. “I think it could be hurting Linux adoption as we end up with a group of individuals who are all too willing to drop Linux the first time something doesn’t go according to plan.”

Well nigh 50 comments had appeared on the Datamation site by Wednesday, and that was on top of the 600-plus outbursts on Slashdot and more beyond.

‘Slavish Imitation and Dumbing Down’

“I say more power to Ubuntu with their efforts to make Linux more accessible to more computer users,” wrote mcorn in the Datamation comments, for example. “The beauty of Linux is still in the choices.”

Then again: “The problem is not in comparison, it is in slavish imitation and dumbing down,” opined twitter. “Slavish imitation is a mistake because Windows is a poor model and Microsoft just moves the goal posts.”

In fact, “direct comparison of Windows to GNU/Linux is almost always favorable to GNU/Linux, both raw performance and features,” twitter added. “There’s no way to convince me to go back to that buggy, single screen, DRM laced nasty.”

Was there any shortage of other opinions on the topic? You bet your DRM-laced nasties there wasn’t. Linux Girl took to the streets of the blogosphere to learn more.

‘Being Competitive Matters a Lot’

“Ah yes, the old old, OLD story,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza began. “This argument has only been going on since Linux has been suitable for real work and will probably keep going so long as people are paying for both of them.

“It matters if you’re trying to sell Linux in a world dominated by Microsoft,” Espinoza added. “Otherwise, not so much.”

On the other hand, “I think being competitive with Windows matters a lot, but I also wouldn’t want to lose what makes Linux great in the process,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined. “In other words: Make nifty GUIs for everything but still leave me the option of digging into the config files with a text editor if need be.”

‘That Sad Imitation of an OS’

Competition is good, blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl.

“If we cannot out-perform that sad imitation of an OS that M$ produces, GNU/Linux should be shut down,” Pogson asserted. “In my experience, GNU/Linux has out-performed M$ since 2000 because GNU/Linux did not crash and was much easier to manage and cost less.”

Of course, “we should check our rear-view mirrors occasionally to see what the competition is doing,” he added. “I don’t see MacOS as much competition since it does not run on the same hardware by decree, so there is no proper way to compare.”

‘The Home Field Advantage’

Using Windows as the standard to compare against is “ceding the ‘home field advantage’ to Windows rather than playing to linux’s strengths,” suggested Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

Then, too, there’s the fact that “it’s not a straight swap — there is a learning curve,” she added.

As a result, “positioning linux as a ‘Windows substitute’ — free or otherwise — is not going to happen,” Hudson opined.

‘Advantages That Users Can Understand’

Linux has myriad advantages, including “a repository system for one-stop installs and updates, and no need for an anti-virus,” Hudson pointed out. “These are advantages that users can understand. The question is, are these enough to get people to give it a try?”

The realistic answer, she asserted, is, “not until they’re motivated, which only happens when their Windows box gets p0wned or so infected that it needs to be re-formatted anyway.

“It’s only at that point they’re more open to looking at something that’s NOT Windows,” Hudson concluded. “Even then, with new computers so cheap, most will just buy another computer with enough extra cpu to run the next generation of malware in the background.”

‘People Want Hand-Holding’

The bigger question is how much the community wants Linux to compete with Windows, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told Linux Girl.

“If you do, there are some hard facts the Linux community is gonna have to accept, like the CLI has to die and die hard,” hairyfeet asserted. “Think iOS. People want simple, they want hand-holding and wizards, they want ‘clicky clicky’ easy.”

For example, “Linux should automatically find and install drivers during install, even if it has to call the repos and make its own kernel module, and ideally it should tell you before even starting if there is a SINGLE device that isn’t compatible,” hairyfeet said.

In short, “if you want the world you have to give the world what *it* wants, not what you think it should have,” hairyfeet concluded.

‘We Must Continue to Struggle’

Speaking of the world, “what we should care intensely about is the usage of GNU/Linux globally,” Pogson pointed out.

“The monopoly is still holding usage back,” he explained. “Retailers and OEMs have successfully sold GNU/Linux (e.g. netbooks) and in many parts of the world continue to do so, but the monopoly has persuaded many OEMs and retailers not to sell GNU/Linux in M$’s back yard.

“That must end, and we must continue to struggle against that,” Pogson asserted. “Pester retailers. Pester OEMs. Remind them of M$’s tax on their businesses. Remind them of Vista — how much were their brands harmed by that stuff? Remind them of how well Android sells.”


  • It’s more effective to let people try Linux – in my case, Ubuntu – and let them make their own conclusions.

    I have found this very successful in promoting Linux with my students who try Ubuntu on my notebooks and netbook. Eventually, they install Ubuntu and gradually, as I have seen over a year, their use of Ubuntu increases – to the point where they boot into Windows only to play Windows games or to complete an assignment where the teacher concerned insists adamantly on Office 2007 format.

    This is a lot slower in spreading the word than using words but as the numbers increase, it snowballs because the extent of contact increases exponentially.

    And, I have found too that adoption is more ready when Windows is not even mentioned.

    These youngsters, when they become adults, will carry the influence of Linux with them to their future families, social and work places.

    • linux foundation? nah.

      this entirely depends on the distro or distro spin, not on the foundation.

      Ubuntu is definitely going to be the "bloated one" soon with its new 3d interface, unity.

      But i dont live in the states, so i dont have cash to throw around.

      I was very pleased that linux supported my old hardware 3 years ago. It was a relief for my old pc and my productivity increased exponentially by not having to worry about viruses/spyware/security issues from XP.

      Then a year ago, i was able to get a nice dual-core laptop. It brought vista….

      It was even more painful than XP. So i installed ubuntu once again and solved my problem.

      governments and institutions are the first ones that refer to price, security and good performance on cheaper hardware.

      But i totally agree with you on more "bloat" (eyecandy) and better machines so the masses change their opinions ! (not overpriced either like most macs, but offer comparable quality at better prices. In other words something you can’t resist: a bargain! At the pace we’re going we might be there in a few years. "The cloud" trend will also help tons.)

      And like Korean manufacturers Hyundai, kia, samsung, etc. All of them were the low end / trash of the market 10 years ago. But look at them now! They’re as good or better than most and have positioned their self as cool "quality brands".

  • The lion’s share of the PC platform software market goes to the various versions of Windows. Windows is the market leader by far. What does that mean, though?

    Linux fans like to paint the buyers of Windows computers as somewhat mindless "sheeple" who do not notice how they are being abused by Redmond. The expectation is that the people will rise up and throw off their chains, migrating enmasse to Linux in the process.

    Good luck with that. The real mechanism at work here is that Microsoft sets the standard of comparison, i.e. Windows, and others are then measured against it. Linux is always introduced as some sort of alternative at the extreme low end of the product range. Look at Dell’s offerings, when they are around. Sears invented the good-better-best approach over a hundred years ago and it is still in vogue today. The bottom end, when you can find it, is Linux. Pay a little more and you move up and through the Windows versions of Starter, Home, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, etc..

    At the end of the day, Linux is seen as some cheesy substitute for Windows and puts the label of "loser" on anyone who cannot afford to move up the chain. That is how it works, regardless of any protests of technical superiority by the Linux advocates.

    Microsoft owns the PC turf and that is never going to change. The only strategy that will work is to define a new product turf that can be put up for grabs. Google has managed to create a competition amongst Blackberry, iPhone, and Droid. Maybe they all will beat up Windows Phone 7, mostl likely one or another will dominate some day, but it is a new game and there can be a new winner.

    Linux needs to re-invent itself as something that is "not-Windows" and define some reason for its existence. The only thing that will work is for the new Linux product to do somethings that cannot be done otherwise.

    As long as Linux paints itself as a Windows alternative at the low end of the price range, it is not going to go anywhere.

    • I know it sounds crazy, but look at the facts: Linux devs and users like to brag about how low you can go with system requirements, even here on Linux Insider there have been articles about taking basically dumpster dived PCs and making useful Linux machines out of them.

      So what do the OEMs do? They basically use Linux to clear out the old slow crap that Windows won’t run well on. in this day and age of triple core kits at $200 I STILL see places pushing Linux on lame garbage CPUs like older Via and the lowest Atom junk they can find, then they take the absolute bottom of the barrel cheapest tiny HDD they can find and pair it up with the most piddly amount of RAM.

      Last I looked at Linux PCs many were running lousy Sempron and Celery CPUs in the 1.4-1.7GHz range, 512Mb of RAM (in this day and age? cheap much?) and 80GB HDDs while the Windows machines usually started at dual cores, 1Gb of RAM minimum (and most running 2GB+) decent onboard GPUs, 200GB+ HDDs, they just stomped the Linux boxes in every way. Like you said the Linux boxes where the junkers, the Windows boxes the hotties.

      So maybe it is time for the Linux foundation to come up with some minimum standards on what you can sell and still use the Linux name. Being known as the "cheap junk PC OS" is certainly not doing Linux any favors, and anyone that has used one of these junkers knows that even Linux doesn’t run well on garbage. So maybe it is time for the Linux community to tell these OEMs that if they want to push junkers let them use WinCE or Android but NOT Linux.

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