Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ubuntu Vs XP Pt1

I was planning to do this part of the story of my switch over to Ubuntu eventually, but hearing that fellow TDDOer Malcolm has had a less than fun time trying to use Ubuntu and had to give up on it I thought I would crack on with it and let you know how it stacks up with Windows. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of Leopard or Vista to hand, but I've spent some time with a decently speced Vista laptop and a fair bit of time on a Final Cut Pro machine which I believe was Panther on a Power PC based G5 Mac Pro so though I don't feel well informed enough to do a comprehensive comparison I will chip in with points where I can. I will focus the first part of the article on core OS features and will talk about applications in the next part.


At the time of installing both of my machines the current version of Ubuntu was 7.04 Edgy and so I haven't had any experience of the new versions installer, but I must say it was an absolute breeze. The PC booted into the Live CD and then during the installation all I had to do was set the time zone and type in my name and that was it.
I must note that two people I know have had problems installing Ubuntu one with a very old machine and the other with a non standard screen in this case there is a text mode installer which is just as easy to use but doesn't look as pretty it's annoying that you have to download this separately and it doesn't detect the problem and switch into text mode.
For more advanced users Ubuntu comes with superb features for making a PC duel boot and repartitioning the disk. While installing my desktop PC I repartitioned my fragmented XP system partition and it worked like a charm without any scares.

XP is the easiest Microsoft OS I have installed, but I have had a few problems with it. The first one is the classic have a cup of tea and leave it going problem. You set it up and leave it to do its thing for half an hour and then come back to find a dialogue box popped up seconds after you left and its done naff all in the time you were away.
I've had XP hang on installation more than once and had to reformat and go back to the beginning and I've also had Windows become confused on a rebuild and recreate all the user folders a second time prefixed by the computer name and a dot.
XP is also blighted by the fact that many vendors don't provide a proper Windows disk and some don't even provide a recovery disk.
Had two of my friends not had a bad installation experience I would have given it to Ubuntu as it is I'm calling it evens.


No registration is required unless you take out a support contract woo hoo! Windows
Initial registration is not hugely arduous and easily circumvented if you are so inclined however I must mention the blight that is Windows Genuine Advantage. This is a special application the job of which is to check you aren't doing anything you shouldn't be with Windows. Having bought my desktop PC and reveling in my first paid for legal Microsoft product since the Postman Pat game I had for my Amstrad in 1985 I allowed the Genuine Advantage app to install its self as an automatic update. My PC then promptly spent the next month flashing up messages that it was pirated and refused to update. I later discovered that Norton Firewall was blocking the connection to the authentication servers online so it had decided to call me a thief rather than give me the benefit of the doubt. What depressed me about this episode is that if I had cracked Windows none of this would have happened so I was effectively being punished for being honest.
Genuine Advantage is one of the things that made me loose faith in XP so it's an Ubuntu win hands down.


Windows XP and Vista
Some of you may not know what I am talking about when I say Crapware, but believe me when I say that this is one of the most significant problems facing the Windows platform today. Crapware is catch all term for the software that you didn't ask for which came preinstalled on your machine usually with some kind of limited trial or some kind of advertising revenue attached. The most common forms of this are Norton Antivirus, pre installed ISP services and the Yahoo toolbar. With my current PC Windows was so broken by this software it would not uninstall correctly that I had to rebuild it.
My mums PC has the same problem, but because it doesn't have a proper rebuild disk and has some proprietary media centre hardware built into the mobo I can't even do a restore!
The fault of this does not lie with Mictrosoft who I understand are very unhappy with the situation, but with the manufacturers. Dell have speculated about having a no Crapware option in there options list, but estimate the PC could cost as much as £50 more as a result.
Ubuntu and Most forms of Linux
Thankfully free from this abomination.
Apple have sensibly avoided this problem and well done to them for not taking the quick dollar at the expense of the user.
Windows in last place all the others are tied.

Hardware Compatibility

XP is the current market leader and it's been around for a while so it's fair to say that if you want to make hardware that people will buy then you make it XP compatible. XP will also run on a few processor types though the Intel x86 is the most common.

A disappointingly large number of companies haven't written any Vista drivers so it is still very likely that an upgrade will stop some hardware working. Companies like Creative make it a deliberate ploy not to write soundcard drivers for subsequent OS because they think you will shell out for new stuff. This will of course change

Ubuntu and Linux in General

Though a lot better than in days gone by you are still likely to find problems with esoteric or very new hardware in Linux however this is getting better all the time and the only bits of kit I have that don't work are the memory card slot in my laptop (the one in my desktop is fine) and some of the 3D acceleration features aren't supported on the esoteric graphics card on my desktop.

The hardware situation gets better all the time. Only a year or two ago Printers, Bluetooth, Multi Monitor set ups and USB WiFi adapters were all known to be problematic, but are now working out of the box.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Skype headsets and Touchscreen support is still pretty poor.

Ununtu gets support for the longest list of platforms supported with: x86, Power PC, SPARC, PS3 and Itanium all being supported.


As Mac increases it's market share more people consider it a must to write Mac drivers. The real bummer is that Apple won't let you put their lovely operating systems on your own PC which is a shame as there boxes are super expensive and the reasoning is purely to maximise profits and keep them exclusive rather than any technical reason. I understand the commercial sense of this decision, but I don't have to like it.

OSX can run on x86 and Power PC, but only on Apple provided hardware without contravening the licencing agreement.


XP is on top here with Vista and Linux in second place and OSX in last place.

Installing Software

This is one area where Ubuntu absolutely shines. You add and remove software from the Package Manager much like Windows, but where it comes into its own is that you can search or browse any of the software that is available for Ubuntu from the package manager, click install and you are all done.

Compared to installing directly from within the package manager having to download zip files, unpack, and then go though an install shield seems positively archaic in comparison.
Ubuntu wins hands down


Ubuntu is in the UNIX family so it has an excellent security pedigree. Ubuntu comes with a capable Firewall, Antivirus is available, but not really needed. Another excellent security feature is Sudo. In Ubuntu you are never really logged in as administrator (or Root in Linux terminology) instead when you need to do something that only admins should do you do a "super do" or sudo which asks you to put in your password to check that you really mean it. This is brilliant because it means that even if malicious code gets onto your machine it can't do anything naughty without your express permission and even then only for that session.
XP gets a bad rap but most of the security problems it has are due to the fact that it's the biggest target, but with a bit of tweaking it is fine. It comes with an adequate firewall which is switched on by default, but doesn't come with antivirus which is a must.
On the downside logging in as an administrator leaves you vulnerable and switching between user and admin accounts, or using run as is a pain in the arse.
Vista has much improved security over previous Windows products, but the obsessive paranoia gets in the way of the user and it seems that their need to prove themselves as super secure has been at the expense of usability.
Mac users are famous for their arrogance about security and that worries me a lot. OSX is also built on UNIX so theoretically it is very secure but there have been a couple of things recently that have worried me. One is that Panther comes with the Firewall switched off by default and is of a poor quality, but the main thing is that Apple's ascendancy is making them a much bigger target and the first commercial hacks are starting to appear.
Ubuntu in first place, despite my worries OSX goes in second place followed by Vista and XP

Boot Time

This one is a bit of a tricksy one. XP gets to the log in screen slightly quicker than Ubuntu, but it's still working furiously behind the scenes. Once you log in it takes quite a while before the PC becomes responsive.
It takes a little longer to get to the log in prompt, but one thing that's really nice is that once you log in and the Window manager starts up you can start working really very quickly.
From switch on to log in XP is a little faster. From switch on to starting to do things Ubuntu wins.


As standard Ubuntu will check for updates once per day. Like XP it checks for updates to the operating system, but the superb thing is that it will also update all of the applications that you install with the package manager. So your automatic updates also make sure you have all the latest versions of, Firefox, Java, etc. Updates are notified with a balloon which pops up to tell you that you have updates and you simply click on it to install them. Reboots are seldom required after updates.
XP also features automatic updates, but unfortunately they are one of the most broken features of XP. A problem I had recently illustrates the point
I logged into my Windows PC a couple of days back for the first time in a while and as well as a balloon popping up to tell me that I needed to update Windows I had balloons from my Java notifier telling me Java was out of date and also one from HP telling me that my printer drivers needed to be updated and another that Avast was out of date. In comparison to the slickness of Ubuntu this looked positively backward.
I was in a hurry and needed to set my PC ripping a DVD then transcoding it into a format for my portable. This is a time consuming process so having set everything up as a batch of rips and codes I left my PC for a couple of hours and came back to find that shortly after I had left to room Windows had decided that it needed to apply a critical security patch and so without consulting me it had installed the patch then rebooted the machine all without any user intervention. Though applying updates as the rule rather than the exception is a good thing this kind of big brother behavior is what has increasingly put me off spending any time using Windows.

Ubuntu by a country mile.


Networking in XP is pretty good. Though settings and preferences are set out in a slightly esoteric manner I have found wireless configuration to be very easy and something that works most of the time.
Apparently wireless networking in Ubuntu used to be a nightmare but since the previous version it is really quite easy. The menus are laid out rather more logically than XP, but the experience is not quite as seamless as Windows. I have had a few minor problems with Wireless my desktop with a USB wireless antenna works like a charm, but my 5 year old laptop would not auto detect the name of my wireless LAN though it connected fine when I typed the name in by hand. I have also had a couple of problems one where Firefox would not recognise that the network had come back for a few minutes if it had been disconnected and another time when after coming out of Hibernate the machine would not connect wirelessly until I did a reboot. One advantage Ubuntu does have is a nice network tools GUI that lets you do ping, netstat, whois, finger lookup. trace root and lots of other handy tools from one interface without having to negotiate the terminal.
I have had less problems with XP networking than with Ubuntu so XP is the winner here


I haven't upgraded a PC from XP to Vista but I have done so from 2000 to XP and though there are some useful tools for maintaining some settings and backing up data it has never worked very well for me and I've always found it easier to just format the disk and start again.
This is another of the areas where Ubuntu works far better than anything else I've ever used. When Gutsy Gibbon the most recent version of Ubuntu came out last month a little icon appeared on my update manager saying upgrade to Gutsy and when I clicked it the machine downloaded all the packages taking about an hour and then installed the updated operating system taking about another hour. Once it had completed everything continued to work seamlessly and all the settings and data was preserved. A new version of Ubuntu is released about every 6 months so you are able to benefit from a continuous stream of updates rather than having to worry about the more substantial shift involved in the 5 years or so it takes MS to get a new version of Windows out.
Ubuntu is far more impressive.

Performance and System Requirements

XP will run on most PCs that aren't ancient. It used to run ok on my 900mhz laptop, but the 256MB of ram made it painfully slow to load applications. On my 3.8Ghz 1GB P4 desktop it ran nice and fast.

Makes my laptop runs significantly quicker though there is still the issue that Firefox is a memory hog (no more than on any other platform mind you). If you have an even more ancient machine than me then you can use Xubuntu which uses a different Windowing manager and runs even faster.
This is one of the area where Vista has been a rod for Microsoft's back. In it's full glory with the Aero Glass interface Vista really needs a modern multicore processor and high spec graphics card to get the best out of it. If you aren't buying a new PC then it probably won't run Vista all that well and even new laptops can struggle if you buy a cheaper one.
Ubuntu is noticeably faster than XP. Vista is so resource hungry it is a serious problem.

That concludes my discussion of the core parts of the operating system.
Next time I want to cover software and who I would recommend to try Ubuntu.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Great article- but it's missing one crucial category- performance.