Ubuntu has established itself as THE alternative to Windows and by far, the best Linux distribution aimed at the consumer market. Based on the Debian fork of Linux operating systems, Ubuntu’s popularity has literally ballooned since its first version was released back in 2004. There must be some solid reasons behind Ubuntu’s scintillating success. Today we’re going to look into these very reasons.
Why Linux/Ubuntu is better than Windows
Yup, not the best of decisions to use Ubuntu and Linux as interchangeable terms but for now, this interchangeability applies.
Well, ’cause it’s Linux
Yeah, it’s true.While it was far from popular in the consumer segment 10 years, the Internet itself is said to run practically on Linux. Linux-based operating systems are known for their stability and security. These two attributes remain its greatest strengths. These two attributes are also where Microsoft’s Windows is found severely lacking.
The Linux kernel is built in such a way that it is much more robust as a system than Windows could ever hope to be. Its modular package management system, for example, beats Windows’ notorious install-and-note-it-in-the-registry system by a mile. It isn’t just about one or two features though. For the same number of equivalent operations on a system with identical hardware, you can rest assured that a system running on Linux will result in an exponentially lower number of crashes and system errors. It’s just how Linux is designed.
Then there is the issue of viral infections that are frequently bestowed upon us by the grace of Windows’ non-existent defense mechanism. Compare the number of viruses that affect and those that affect Ubuntu. You’ll see for yourself the massive gap that exists between the two.
Driver support is another arena where Linux knocks Windows clean out. Let’s face it: Getting old hardware to run on Windows is an absolute pain. The third-party repository system means that you just need to add repositories to your list of searchable locations for old drivers. You don’t have to plan a hunt on the Internet for them. Drivers for newer hardware are more or less equally easy to find as Microsoft has vastly expanded its driver cache.
Windows Emulator (WINE)
Ubuntu (and other various Linux distributions) are able to run most Windows application, courtesy WINE. In the old days, compatibility (or rather incompatibility) was the main drawback of switching over to any form Linux. Not anymore. WINE allows you to run Windows programs in any Unix-like operating system almost effortlessly.
First off, WINE stands for ‘WINE Is Not an Emulator’. Yes, you read that right. “But then how does it run Windows programs in Linux?”
WINE is basically a layer, a sort of an interface between Windows API instructions (e.g. Win32) and the Linux window-manager API (e.g. X11/Xorg). What is does is translate each Windows API into the equivalent X11/Xorg instruction in the case of Ubuntu.
“How is that better than virtualization, though? I could even try dual-booting”, you wonder. We’ll tackle virtualization first. There are two main problems with virtualization. Problem number one is that your system resources get divided between the host system and the emulated system. If you’re trying to run Windows programs that are resource-intensive on QEMU or VirtualBox et cetera then you better make sure you have a beast of a system.
The second problem is the inefficiency that comes with emulation. Hardware emulation is tedious. Even though you might have really powerful hardware, it doesn’t mean that your emulation will be without any hitches. In fact, considering that a single instruction designed for some other platforms results in multiple instructions on the your platform to account for the differences in register, architecture and everything else, emulation is quite slow.
Suppose that you do get reasonably fast performance on your emulated Windows machine, it will most likely not have access to the host file-system. WINE on the other hand, grants unbridled access to your Linux file-system.
As far as dual-booting is concerned, there is simply too much headache involved in most cases. Unless the tasks you are trying to carry out are highly specific, dual-booting is the worse option. Restarting your PC every time a switch between the operating systems needs to be made? It’s pure hassle. And God forbid if you end up deleting a crucial system file of the one OS while using the other. Care also needs to be taken about the order in which they are installed and the boot-loader in use.
WINE isn’t perfect though. There are bugs and issues but the WINE online community is so large that a workaround exists on forums for just about every problem you encounter. Check out the list of supported Windows programs for WINE here.
BASH shell scripting vs MS-DOS batch scripting
The shell scripting language that most Debian-based Linux distributions have is BASH. Now, in comparison, MS-DOS, which early versions of Windows were fundamentally based on, used batch scripting. Recent version of Windows combine DOS commands with a bunch of other commands to make the PowerShell batch scripting language. There are a bunch of clear-cut differences between the two types.
- BASH has around 60000 different commands. MS-DOS is restricted to just beyond one thousand commands
- Versatility is BASH’s forte as you can almost seamlessly integrate other code in other programming languages in its shell commands. DOS commands barely support any code integration. This means that BASH has infinitely more potential when it comes to executing complex tasks.
- Linux employs the superuser permission mechanism whereby a user is not granted root privileges until they ask for it and provide verification. This greatly cuts downs the chances of unauthorized access and of accidental damage being caused to the system.
Now while general PC/laptop users don’t use the Command Prompt all the time, the users who are even fractionally tech-savvy do. BASH is for people who fall into the second category, not the first one.
While Microsoft’s fairly recent user interface overhaul was cute, Ubuntu and its desktop management system is where it’s at. You have a whole bunch of desktop environments to choose from. Ubuntu comes with its native Unity interface by default. If you want the visually smooth and stunning KDE environment, you can download the Kubuntu image file instead of vanilla Ubuntu.
Of course you can install multiple desktop environments and switch between them on will. KDE, GNOME, LXDE, Xfce and a whole catalog of desktop environments can be downloaded as packages from Ubuntu’s repositories.
Additionally the concept of multiple desktops, recently introduced in the Microsoft Windows lineup with Windows 10, has been there in Ubuntu for almost a decade. Says a lot about where the two stand in comparison to each other, doesn’t it?
All in all, Ubuntu is a solid alternative to Windows. If you hadn’t heard of it before now, I highly recommend that you try it out on a virtual machine or a spare machine if you have one lying around. This is part one of our series on Ubuntu. It was a basic comparison between Linux and Windows. The next article in the series will pit Ubuntu against other Linux distributions. Stay tuned!