What are you afraid of.
Before we dive into a full breakdown, we need to tackle one of Linux’s most confusing barriers to entry. While Windows has so far maintained a fairly straightforward version structure, with progressive iterations divided by tier, Linux is much more complex.
Originally designed by Finnish student Linus Torvalds, the Linux Kernel forms the basis for all Linux operating systems. However, as it’s open source, it can be modified and altered by anyone to create their own custom versions of the software.
As a result, there are hundreds of different Linux-based operating systems known as distributions, or ‘distros’. This makes reviewing and choosing between them much more complicated than simply picking Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10.
These distros can vary wildly in design, functionality and sophistication, and are often constantly changing. The differences between them aren’t always obvious either, and the choice can seem overwhelming.
On the other hand, one of the benefits of an open source OS is that you’re free to try as many different distros as you like at no cost. The most popular one, and the closest Linux has to a ‘standard’ OS is Ubuntu, which makes things as simple as possible for those new to Linux.
Other popular distros include Linux Mint, Debian, and Fedora, the last of which Torvalds personally uses on all his PCs. There are lean builds designed to make the most out of underpowered hardware, graphics-intensive builds designed to look as attractive as possible, and everything inbetween.
Windows vs Linux: Installation
Still with us? Good; now we move on to looking at installation. Again, this differs a little from Windows methods, as well as varying between distros.
A common feature of Linux OS’ is the ability to ‘live’ boot them – that is, booting from a DVD or USB image without having to actually install the OS on your machine. This can be a great way to quickly test out if you like a distro without having to commit to it.
The distro can then be installed from within the live-booted OS, or simply run live for as long as you need. However, while more polished distros such as Ubuntu are a doddle to set up, some of the less user-friendly examples require a great deal more technical know-how to get up and running.
Windows installations, by contrast, while more lengthy and time consuming, are a lot simpler, requiring a minimum of user input compared to many distros.
Windows vs Linux: Software and compatibility
The vast majority of programs are written predominantly for Windows. While there are many that also have Linux-compatible versions, the sad fact is that a lot of popular Windows software simply isn’t available on Linux.
There are always ways around this, however. The open source community has created free alternatives to basically every program you could wish for, and has devised workarounds, such as emulating them in virtual machines, for the few that it can’t recreate.
Still, these replacements are often homebrewed, and feel like poor relations in comparison to the originals. If your business depends on specialist software, we’d strongly advise checking that this software either supports Linux or has an adequate substitute before making the jump.
Another key difference from Windows is the method of installation. Rather than downloading a nice, neat .exe file, most Linux programs install from within your distro’s software repositories.
These can be installed from the command line using the apt-get command, but the majority of distros will have a package manager built in. This acts as a nice graphical front-end that does the same job, but functions much in the same way as an app store, making the process a lot easier to understand.
Some software, of course, will not be in your distro’s repository, and will need to be downloaded from the source. This is usually for non-open source variants of proprietary software such as Skype or Steam.