Windows vs Linux: The Key Differences Explained

For most consumers, operating systems aren’t foremost on their minds because they tend to settle for whatever comes preinstalled on their device. On the other hand, people who are more tech-savvy or curious often like to explore their options. Windows is a robust OS that dominates the market, but Linux has some appealing attributes for people who are considering moving toward a more secure, free, and open-source operating system. Whether your interest is for home use or commercial applications, the following guide will help you understand more about the pros and cons of Windows vs Linux.

Windows vs Linux: Side by Side Comparison

WindowsLinux
Initial releaseNovember 1985.September 1991
Cost$99 – $199Free
DeveloperMicrosoftLinux
Primary target marketsHome personal computing, office applicationsServers, cloud computing, data centers, supercomputers
Source code developed inC++Assembly, C
PrivacyUser data collectedUser data not collected
Source code accessUsers have no accessOpen-source operating system
Customer supportRobust integrated support with live helpA rich network of forums and open-source community, third-party support options
Update methodologyCan occur spontaneously, requiring unplanned rebootsUsers have complete control of when to perform OS updates, and reboots are not required

Quick Summary

  • When considering security, Linux has a clear edge, mostly because Windows is targeted by the vast majority of malware attacks and hackers.
  • Windows has far more features, and its market dominance, ease of use and gaming performance makes it much more attractive for most home users.
  • As an open-source operating system, there are a variety of different variations based on Linux. For Windows users, there are no alternate operating systems built on the basic OS.
  • Although Windows is more prevalent in the marketplace, Linux is far more common in data center environments.
  • One of the main reasons that home users consider Linux is to avoid the intrusive update protocol of Windows and to avoid privacy issues from any type of data collection by Microsoft.

Windows Dominance

Windows is by far the most popular operating system in the computer market, running on nearly 90% of desktop and laptop computers. Although the company suffered some setbacks after the market response to Windows 8, Windows 10 quickly entered the market three years later with much-needed changes.

Having dominated the PC market for decades, Windows has developed such a robust feature set that most home users will never learn about all the functionality and configuration options that the OS is loaded with. For gamers and people who like to build systems, the degree of support for hardware and software makes Windows the primary choice by far when considering the pros and cons of the two operating systems.

Windows power and versatility

Another compelling quality of Microsoft Windows is its ability to meet a wide range of performance needs and expectations. Casual users can get a working Windows-based laptop for less than $300, but it will have limited speed and capabilities. On the other hand, the vast availability of hardware and software can enable power users to create home PCs for many thousands of dollars that can perform the most demanding tasks with impressive speed.

Windows interface
A part of the user-friendly user interface of Windows 10. Apart from the interface, Windows also comes with a plethora of tools to help keep the system working optimally.

Windows Features

An exhaustive description of all the Windows features would fill volumes, but this section will highlight some of the most useful and noteworthy ones. With the exception of Windows 8, one of the most user-friendly features of the user interface has been the start button with its corresponding start menu. Windows 10 reintroduced this quick, easy tool for finding files or applications.

Extending the capabilities of the start menu is Cortana, a search bar located just to the right of the start button. Cortana is a text or voice-activated personal assistant that enables users to search the computer or the internet, set appointments, answer natural-language questions, and much more.

Windows also comes with a plethora of tools to help keep the system working optimally. The Device Manager lets users view the hardware installed on the system, update drivers, diagnose compatibility problems and other related tasks. The Disk Cleanup utility is a useful tool to help remove obsolete files that are taking up space on the hard drive, and the Registry Editor provides advanced capabilities to make changes to settings deeper within the system when regular apps or features don’t suffice.

Gaming on Windows Versus Linux

People who spend significant time playing computer games often choose Windows, mostly because of the vast number of games developed for the OS. Users can also benefit more from external hardware upgrades, such as dedicated video cards, that are necessary for rendering the most realistic and complex in-game graphics. However, upgrades to reach desired performance can come with significant costs.

Gaming support for Linux has improved over the years with roughly 30% of titles in the market playable on the OS, and the “Proton” API allows some non-native titles to work on Linux. The main downside for gaming on Linux is the lack of driver support for controllers and hardware upgrades. Furthermore, the performance when gaming on Linux lags far behind the capabilities of Windows.

Windows Security and Updates

The reputation of Windows for being vulnerable to malware is poor compared to other operating systems, and the limited ability to control updates is a major pain point for many users. One of the reasons why Windows is less secure than competing platforms is that, due to the popularity of the OS, it is far more frequently targeted by hackers and malware attacks.

Windows comes with a suite of applications to provide security that includes a built-in firewall, antivirus, account permission functionality, and other essential features. However, to be safe against malware, it is still advisable to install third-party security products and deactivate Windows Defender for enhanced protection, especially for online threats.

Linux Features

Linux computer
Computer with the Ubuntu Logo. Linux is an open-source operating system for computers.

Unless you’re a server administrator or work in a data center, you’re likely to have very little familiarity with Linux other than knowing that it exists. Being an open-source system means that the Linux community has created several variations and more customization of the essential user interface. By contrast, the various iterations of Windows are almost identical to each other, other than some specific features that are available in more expensive iterations of the OS.

Linux has a feature called “multiuser Capability” which enables several users to remotely access the hardware resources of the machine, such as memory, processor, and hard disk. This is accomplished with a client-server architecture that enables client machines to connect to the central machine, called a server.

To better serve in a variety of commercial or at-home scenarios, one of the advantages of Linux is the variant products available that are built on the basic Linux OS. Popular with home users, the Ubuntu and Linux Mint varieties provide ease of use and wide availability, plus they’re free of cost.

For servers and advanced users, Slackware and Arch Linux can enable experts to extract the maximum performance in commercial settings and data centers. For Linux beginners, anyone who is looking to try this OS should probably start with Ubuntu.

Linux Security

Experts tend to agree that Linux is the most secure of the leading operating systems. One of the reasons for this is the open nature of the source code that powers the OS. Because so many developers are able to scrutinize the code, bugs are more easily caught and alleviated. Another strength in the security of Linux is that users are not granted as much administrative access by default as users of Windows. Furthermore, with so many variants built on top of Linux, there are specific OS versions that are geared toward high-security environments.

How Does Linux Handle System Calls Versus Windows?

Windows system architecture

Windows architecture is composed of two main layers which are the User Mode and the Kernel Mode. These two are further divided into various modules for specific areas of the system. The User Mode handles calls from software and relays them to the Kernel Mode where there is direct access to hardware.

Linux System Architecture

Linux also uses the main divisions between user and kernel space, and Linux also has a shell component that serves as a layer between the application and the kernel. The shell provides users with access to the kernel via a command line or graphical interface.

Windows vs Linux: Which One Should You Choose?

When considering the pros and cons of these two choices, the bottom line is that Windows is by far the most robust, beginner-friendly, and versatile option for home and office use. On the other hand, Linux is the superior choice for data centers and most servers, and some home users might migrate to Linux due to privacy concerns and avoid intrusive automatic updates.

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