Why Do People Keep Using Windows?

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone for another year here in the U.S., and that means the holiday season is thick upon us once again.

We *could* buckle down and get working on all those holiday shopping lists, but it’s not difficult to think of countless ideas that would be a whole lot more fun.

Take a good, old-fashioned debate, for example — about operating systems, no less!

Thank goodness for the team over at Slashdot, because that’s just the conversation that’s been raging there recently, to the tune of almost 2,000 comments.

Forget holiday shopping, ladies and gentlemen — it’s Windows vs. Macs vs. Linux for yet another round. No fistfights have broken out in the Linux blogosphere yet, but it may just be a matter of time.

‘What Would It Take to Switch?’

“Distributions like Ubuntu and CentOS have made GNU/Linux more friendly,” the Slashdot introduction reads. “Options for word processing, spreadsheets, etc. have grown. Apple and their products have changed considerably, though their philosophy hasn’t.

“Microsoft Silverlight came and is on the way out. Wine and solutions like Transgaming have matured,” it continues. “So… why are a lot of us still using Windows? What would it take for us to switch?”

What could only be described as a mass stampede to the comments section followed immediately afterward as bloggers from every platform rushed in to have their say.

‘Adobe Software and Games’

“Not enough money to switch to a Mac,” quipped Anonymous Coward at the head of the line.

“Adobe software and games — that’s about it,” offered Etylowy. “Sadly Gimp is no replacement for Photoshop at this point.”

Similarly, “just games,” chimed in mcvos. “I don’t know much about Adobe software, but there’s plenty available for Mac. For games, however, Windows is still the leading platform.”

‘I Like Windows. So Sue Me.’

Then again, “at home: nothing,” wrote moongate. “At work: my boss.”

Alternatively, “I like Windows (Windows 7 is almost godly perfect for me), I hate OSX with a passion but unfortunately I need to use it at work,” countered El Lobo. “I have 3 Linux servers that I use because of price reasons. On the desktop, I don’t look for anything else at the moment. I like the ‘Windows 7 experience’: it’s stable, fast, reliable, most software runs on it. So, sue me.”

Opinions spanned the spectrum, in other words, so Linux Girl knew it was time to learn more down at the blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon. Why *do* any of us keep using Windows?

‘The Tar-Pit Known as Vista’

“As always, the answer is games,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza told Linux Girl.

“Anything else I want to run will run at worst on Windows in a virtual machine, but that’s totally unacceptable for gaming,” Espinoza explained. “Pretty much none of the games I want to play work under Wine, and even if they do this week, they probably won’t next week, so why bother?”

Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, had a longer list of reasons: drivers, Windows-only software, and multiplatform testing.

“For years, I went without a copy of Windows running,” Hudson told Linux Girl. “Then I bought a laptop with ‘the tar-pit known as Vista’ — I needed a Windows machine to pull some video from my camcorder. After that, the laptop sat unused for about 8 months, until I put in a second hard disk and installed Linux.”

‘It Does the Job’

Later, Hudson bought a multifunction color laser printer that “said on the box, ‘Windows, OSX, Linux,” she explained. “The box might support Linux if I physically sat the computer on top of it, but the printer sure doesn’t. So, Vista became my printer driver.”

A bit later, “I got the yen to revisit the SimCity series,” she recalled. “Back to Windows … and the updates to Vista had by then made it half-decent. Those old games really take on new life in 1920×1200 resolution on a 26″ screen and newer hardware.”

Throw in some Flash development and some browser compatibility testing, and it’s “back to Windows,” Hudson explained. “And now, with the latest patches, lo and behold, Vista runs just fine as long as I give it a couple of minutes to ‘stabilize’ after logging in.”

Windows “still isn’t attractive as a primary work environment, or even for day-to-day use, but for what I use it for, it does the job ‘good enough,’ which, considering the lack of alternatives, is ‘good enough,'” she concluded.

‘We Lack Software’

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack is also mostly on Linux, but he keeps “one Windows machine around for the ATT Connect Participant software I need for one of my online classes,” he told Linux Girl. “I tried Wine, but it really didn’t work at all.”

At church, “I have a machine I maintain that is stuck on Windows because there just isn’t a good FOSS replacement for EZ Worship,” he added. Meanwhile, “my father is stuck on Windows because there isn’t a good replacement for AutoCad.

“We are at the point where Linux is easily installed by a beginner without ever needing to see a command line, but we lack software,” Mack concluded.

‘It Is Always Something’

For Slashdot blogger hairyfeet, however, no Linux distro has yet passed his “‘is it safe?’ test,” he told Linux Girl.

“My ‘is it safe’ test simulates what my customer would go through if they had bought a Linux PC from me and kept it for a few years, and sadly, they ALL fail,” he added.

“Just download ANY distro from 3 years ago (this is less than half what Windows gives you as far as support goes, so I’m already cutting Linux a BIG break) and make sure all the drivers work,” hairyfeet explained. “If this takes CLI to get it set? So be it.

“Now here is the tricky part: update it to current and see how much stuff breaks,” he said. “I have yet to have a distro not leave me with one if not multiple broken drivers, video, sound, wireless, networking — it is always something.”

‘Newer Hardware Has Issues’

Indeed, hardware compatibility, software compatibility and the fact that Windows comes preinstalled on most computers are all reasons people stick with it, according to Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

“Linux works great on older machines,” Lim explained. “Newer hardware has issues. Same thing with printers and some other peripherals. They will work, but not necessarily with 100 percent of the available features.”

Most hardware manufacturers, in other words, “simply don’t build with Linux in mind,” Lim opined.

‘Linux Comes in Third’

Power management for laptops is “still not up to snuff” with Linux, Lim added, while “on the software side, you can run Windows software on Linux using WINE, but it is still not the same as being able to download an installer or stick in a DVD and clicking ‘install.'”

Windows is “essentially ‘free,'” he asserted. “For the user, it is already installed on the computer they buy, and in most places you cannot un-install Windows and get a rebate. And Windows machines actually do work pretty well. If they did not, all the big companies would be on Macs.”

In the end, “when you look at the ‘it just works’ metric from a user’s standpoint, Windows scores highest, Mac OSX a far second and Linux comes in third,” Lim concluded.

‘They Feel Comfortable With Windows’

Not everyone saw it that way, however.

“Nothing is keeping me on Windows,” asserted Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “I only use it when a customer requires it.”

Customers, however, “may be stuck on Windows for a few reasons,” Travers explained. “The big ones are vertical applications for managing businesses or doing certain tasks — yes, I’d include Photoshop here. Another reason might be games.”

For most, though, the biggest reason is comfort, he suggested.

“They feel comfortable with Windows and don’t want to use something else,” Travers concluded. “That’s something that will take a lot of time to turn around, I am afraid.”

‘I Don’t Do Windows!’

Last but not least, educator and blogger Robert Pogson was unequivocal in his views.

“I DON’T DO WINDOWS!” Pogson exclaimed.

“There certainly was nothing keeping me with it after my first experience with GNU/Linux 11 years ago in my classroom,” he explained. “GNU/Linux gave me software that worked for me.

“In those days, I had a personal computer running that Other OS, but Fate caused it to be dropped on the runway,” Pogson added. “With it died my last use of that other OS and Comanche.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


  • I use Windows mostly to run some softwares which can only be run in Windows even though I used to run it only for games 🙂 It just really hard to find a replacement for legacy programs which you can’t part with.

    Apart from that I run Fedora for my own PC and Ubuntu for my work one.

  • My main business computers all use Ubuntu 10.04.

    I also use Windows Vista which I don’t prefer, but it works when I turn it on, it’s annoying but dependable, it has the software I need, and it came installed on as a new computer so it worked right away. (I’m a techie so I’ve got Vista tuned and working about as well as it can.)

    I’ve used various Linux distros since 2006. I would categorize them generally as buggy and incomplete–they work but the software I need isn’t always available and probably never will be. (Try QuickBooks) I also sometimes run into awful upgrade issues, boot loaders that won’t work nicely with multiple installs, intermittent wifi or networking, etc., etc. Long term bugs just don’t seem to get fixed either.

    My Ubuntu 10.04 works about as well as I could expect and I can run my business with it. The next LTS in April, 2012 is probably going to be unacceptable as a replacement. I feel it’s a bad regression from the 10.04 because of the massive changes to the desktop and a likely crowd of new usability bugs. So I’ll be back to all Windows computers probably. Ugh!!

    • Linux Mint (my favorite distro), as well as other distros, may not have the most software, but what it does, it does well. Windows on the other hand makes you pay a lot for Microsoft Office, it doesn’t want to support free codecs and formats (out of the box), if I leave my computer alone for too long it decides to restart itself for the purpose of updating, etc. Windows may have the best software, but the way it works just angers me.

      • I won’t deny the multiple annoyances (reboots, yukky stuff with an anti-virus client, Java, Flash, etc.) that come with the Windows environment. In that environment I use LibreOffice so I don’t have to pay $$ for Microsoft’s equivalent. When I use it, I turn on the Vista computer and come back 15 minutes later to see if I can "borrow" the machine to get some work done.

        Thanks for the tip about Linux Mint. I actually have the version 10 on a separate IDE HDD and it works very well. I think it’s based on Ubuntu 10.04 so that makes a good fit for me.

        • Is trivial to fix. Reboot? That is one click under Windows update or even better just download the free WSUSOffline and then update when YOU feel like it. MS Office? Nobody forces you to use it, there are nearly a dozen alternatives, several free. Codecs? If you are on XP use Klite, on Windows 7 use Windows 7 Codec pack, which even works in DVD Maker so you can drag and drop any format you wish. I hear they have a Windows Vista codec pack as well, but after the beta I avoided Vista so not sure there.

          In fact pretty much any problem you have with Windows can be fixed simply and cheaply if not free. you don’t even need to use the Windows DE if you don’t want to, there is AstonShell which will make Windows look like anything you want from OSX to Android to even KDE.

          Sadly the Linux problems I have found NO quick, easy, or relatively painless solution for. as I said above try my "is it safe?" test and see what would happen to my customers. They are not gonna pay for 5 year support contracts and I am sure not giving away free lifetime support. I have several XP builds in the field going on a decade, that is THREE service packs and probably another 3k or so fixes on top of that and NO broken drivers.

          But of course the drivers are just a symptom of a larger problem and that is the fact that EVERYTHING in Linux is in a constant state of flux, from the kernel on up. While some might like that to me it screams alpha build and not something I’d want to hand my customers. And before someone trots out the LTEs I’d point out that the LTEs are 1.-Anything but LTEs since you are looking at 3 years IIRC on the desktop, most Windows get a minimum of 8, and 2.- LTEs in linux land often equals "old and unsupported" because everything requires Kernel Y and you have kernel X.

          If you want the masses, the driver support, being able to buy any device in any shop and have it "just work" then you have to accept the fact that YOU have to change, not them. Expecting the world to embrace bash and hunting forums to fixes is frankly delusional. they want simple, easy, clicky clicky and no driver breakage. While Linux has made strides it is sadly still a far way away from that goal, and I honestly don’t know if it will ever get to the point it can stand next to OSX and Windows in the polish dept.

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