Comparing Linux and Windows XP

For the first time in years I’ve been using Micorsoft Windows regularly. The Linux client for Skype is unusable, and I need to use Skype just now. At the same time, some hardware became available, so I’m running Windows XP on what has become my primary desktop. My Ubuntu Linux installation remains is use for LaTeX and related work. It isn’t the fault of Linux that Skype can’t or won’t release a functional client, but if Linux won’t let me do what I want, I have to run something that will. Some observations:

  • The difference between Linux and Windows is less dramatic than it was, at least on the home pc desktop. Laptops, netbooks, smartphones, who knows? Not me. Maybe Windows improved because they faced competition from Apple (and to a lesser extent from Linux). Maybe Linux development has seen a decline in activity and interest, at least on the home desktop. Maybe the home desktop is a dead-end platform, or isn’t going anywhere for a while, as all the smart kids play with their netbooks and phone-like gizmos. Anyway, Windows XP has been perfectly stable and usable so far.
  • My Linux install is robust; my Windows install is fragile. If anything serious goes wrong, that’s pretty much the end of it, unless some kind of virtualization or emulation is possible.
  • Windows online documentation is surprisingly good.
  • Linux is still more secure and more free (as in speech). Potentially it’s entirely free, if you install it that way.
  • In Linux if my hard disk starts spinning or there’s a burst of network activity, I can find out why and stop it. With Windows, who knows what it’s doing?
  • In Windows, I can’t easily try out snippets of LaTeX if I see one that looks interesting. I could in theory install and use MikTex, but no way I’m going there.
  • Windows clipboard behavior is annoying. I’m tired of typing ctrl-c ctrl-v.
  • I don’t want any essential tools to be proprietary software. Inevitably some creeps in. There’s gmail, and after all Skype is proprietary (very). But I want as much as possible to keep everything open, and to not get locked in.
  • It’s great that the Vim text editor works across platforms. I would not want to learn Word to get work done. Of course, people who use Word would not want to learn VI.
  • Linux, even a heavy distribution like Ubuntu, works better on old hardware.
  • Remarkably, the Linux printer driver for my HP Deskjet has more options than HP’s driver.
  • Linux is free (as in beer). Some people add “if your time has no value,” but I’ve already spent the time.

So. I prefer Linux and run it when I can, but Windows is okay.

UPDATE: Dropbox is handy for keeping files accessible to both machines.


2 Replies to “Comparing Linux and Windows XP”

  1. To figure out why your disk is spinning right click on the time display on the task bar and select “Task Manager”. It has lots of features for listing process properties and you can order by any column just by clicking on the column header. Sometimes you have to google a task name to figure out what it is.

    The windows control keys gave me some headaches at first, but after 15 years of having to use Windows, you get used to them and you start looking for Unix tools that use the same conventions so that you don’t have to switch reflex sets when you switch OSs. It would be convenient if human brains had a way that you could configure them, sort of like fancy cars do where you can push a button and it automatically moves the chair, mirrors, and steering wheel to a preset preference but until someone finds a way to do that, it’s easier just to go with a single set of conventions and the Windows conventions are the closest to universal.

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