Lets start by understanding that Linux is the core underlying functionality of a Linux Distribution. A Linux Distribution is a collection of software that works together and includes the Linux Kernel. For this Linux vs Windows comparison, we’ll be looking at the Debian distribution compared to Windows 10. There are many Linux based distributions other than Debian and Ubuntu, which share many common roots. You’ll notice Debian and Ubuntu look quite different from an end-user point of view, but they share a common foundation. Other distributions include Arch and Kali, or Redhat and Suse.
Windows on the other hand is also organized this way, however because of it’s tight coupling with the graphical desktop interface only in specific situations is it possible to run Windows without a graphical interface. Microsoft in recent years has done some work to separate the Kernel from the desktop in Windows Server Core, but for the end user working with Windows 10 the desktop environment is what they will be using.
Linux in your office
Windows with Microsoft Office is a great combination and is the defacto standard around the world for office workers. Does Linux have a chance? You might be surprised to know it does and can be a great replacement. In fact we use it exclusively here at Exomeridian.
A traditional application suite for an office worker includes:
- A web browser
- An email client
- Word Processor and Spreadsheet (office tools)
- File sharing tools
- Antivirus and Firewall
- Centralized authentication system
- Printer/Scanner and other Peripheral support
- Desktop based phone application (VoIP systems)
- Software installation manager
- For remote workers – VPN software and collaboration software (Nextcloud, Microsoft Teams)
Some staff will require
- Accounting software (Quickbooks, Sage, etc)
- An ERP like SAP, Sage, Microsoft Dynamics
- A CRM such as Salesforce or Sugar
- CAD or CNC software
- Multimedia software (Adobe Photoshop for example)
- Remote control software
I am sure that I am missing some, but overall, the majority of office workers need software for each one of these items.
These software requirements are well filled by both platforms. In some ways with direct equivalent options, in others by cloud services or adopting other methods to resolve. See the table below for more information.
Computers used for home often have less emphasis on office programs and a higher emphasis on entertainment. Gaming, content watching and Social media interacting is common. Students benefit from the Google suite of software for schools.
Linux is usually found at home in appliances, or on hobbyist desks. Its not normally seen because of the higher level technical skill required and also because most people at home use Windows. It came with their computer and they are familiar with that operating system after all.
Gaming is still the domain of the Windows PC. Microsoft Xbox features and software library are available natively for Windows and while emulation over WINE is good, it’s not there yet. Steam for Linux is a viable alternative, however because of the extensive library in Windows, they have a lot of catching up to do. Additional emulators support multiple platforms, as an example Bluestacks is a great Android emulator that gamers use which runs on Linux, Windows and Mac.
Consuming content (Video, Streaming)
The major streaming services: Youtube, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video etc. are all available on both platforms. In our opinion Linux makes a better video platform than Windows due to the Kodi project and the vast amount of open source software available.
However, Android based systems such as tablets and smartphones often are even better for consuming multimedia content, they have a vast library of apps that are specifically designed to create and consume photos, videos and music. This content is usually available on the go over WiFi or Cellular network services.
Apple iTunes can be installed on Linux emulated with Wine as well. Many users report good results.
Social media platforms are all web based on PCs, so there is virtually no difference between using a Linux computer and a Windows PC for consuming and creating social media content.
The Google Workspace for Education is available in the cloud and requires a modern browser. There is virtually no difference between using a Linux computer or a Windows computer for these cloud tools.
Windows tools and their Linux equivalent
It’s the software that runs on the operating system that will determine what platform is better. Comparisons between Linux vs Windows usually come down to “can I be productive on that platform?” and “is the software I use available”. The nuances of the operating systems and what OS is fundamentally better are not visible to most people.
Browser based cloud programs are available on all platforms. For example the browser applications from GSuite and Microsoft 365 can be used on Windows, Linux and Mac so we’ll not discuss them here..
|Requirement||Windows Software||Linux Software||Equivalent|
|Browser||Chrome, Firefox or Edge||Chrome and Firefox||Yes|
|Email Client||Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird||Thunderbird|
|Yes for most functions|
|File Sharing Tools||Filezilla|
Windows File Explorer
|Yes, Linux has more capability|
|Antivirus and Firewalls||Builtin Windows Defender|
Multiple third party tools
Many third party tools
|Yes, Linux is more flexible, Windows is easier to use|
|Centralized Authentication System||Active Directory||Active Directory||Yes. Windows or Linux can be Domain Joined. AD in Windows or Samba in Linux are functionally equivalent.|
|Desktop Phone Applications||Various third party and web based|
|Various third party and web based|
|Update Software||Windows Update||Various depending on distribution||Yes. Package mangers exist for both platforms. They are different but perform the same functions.|
|Adobe Products (WINE)|
|Yes. Emulated functionality is identical to native because it is the same software package.|
|Yes. Emulated functionality is identical to native because it is the same software package.|
|ERP/CRM||Most are browser based||Most are browser based||Yes|
|Remote Control Software||Windows RDP|
|Streaming||Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime||Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime||Yes|
|File Manager||File Explorer||files||Yes|
|Screen Shot||Snipping Tool||screenshot|
|Text Editor||notepad||text editor|
|Task Manager||task manager||system monitor|
|Terminal||command or powershell||terminal|
|Remote desktop||RDP – requires Pro and above to host RDP sessions||VNC|
|Multimedia||Windows Media Player||rhythmbox|
|Disk Manager||Disk Management||fdisk|
|Task management and scheduling||Task Manager||Cron|
|Built in file sharing||SMB (primarily)|
This is the most controversial topic. Many people believe that because you need to pay for Windows, it is less affordable than Linux. That may or may not be true.
- Linux is free
- Windows 10 Professional as of this writing costs a one-time $200
As you can see above many of the programs above are available on Windows and Linux. Where they are available on Linux and on Windows, they are usually free on both platforms.
If you choose to purchase and use Microsoft 365 as your source of office programs, you’ll have monthly fees. However, office programs are available that are mostly functionally equivalent and often less complicated and perform faster. As a result we consider those paid for programs as a nice to have rather than a requirement.
There is no denying that Windows costs money and Linux does not. Is Linux truly free considering the time and effort required to learn how to use it effectively? You’ll need to make that determination.
Hardware and Cost
The majority of new computers come preinstalled with Windows. Like it or not, Microsoft does not give Windows copies to the manufacturers. There is a cost built into each new computer for Windows. There are some manufacturers that do not bundle Windows on certain product lines. These are ideal for Linux installations.
Microsoft requires a separate Windows license for refurbished computers. When purchasing a refurbished computer, you’ll be paying for this as well.
Linux really shines when you are building your computers and have the choice of operating systems. You may have older equipment that has an obsolete copy of Windows and for whatever reason it doesn’t make sense to upgrade. You can try Linux without any cost to see if it fits your needs before purchasing Windows.
Linux makes a good choice if you are building an appliance such as a NAS device, Firewall, Media Center, or Security Camera system. In our opinion on this Windows vs Linux comparison, Windows is not a good purpose built platform for appliances. This is especially true because Windows tendency to automatically update and appliances must not arbitrarily restart.
Linux vs Windows? Our conclusion: Linux is not better than Windows; Windows is not better than Linux for a general purpose computer. They both are good at what they do and they both are perfect for an Office or your Home. They both have great programs to choose from. In our opinion, the experience on either is just… well… different.
These comparisons are always subjective and as a result it will come down to the operating system you are most comfortable with. Spend some time test driving each, at the very least you’ll definitely come out of the experience learning something.