By request, this is a comparison essay I wrote for extra credit in Intro to Operating Systems, which was actually a class about Windows 7. The instructor wanted us to hit several points, and told us to not expect full credit because he has never given more than 15/20 on this. I got 20/20 and an email of praise. Don’t expect this to be too in depth though, it was for a 100-level course in community college. Anyway, the paper was written March 2011.

While this is not my first time using Linux, it has been a while since I have used it, at least a few updates. I installed Ubuntu 10.10 x64 on a free partition of my hard drive and was able to use the recommended partition and formatting settings without any problems. I could see, however, that a first time user who is trying to dual boot Windows and Ubuntu may find this intimidating and more than a little confusing. If, however, they did a little research on the installation process ahead of time, it would make it easier for them. On the other hand, if a new user was trying to dual boot instead of doing a full installation, I would assume that they understand a little technologically. For Ubuntu’s credit, however, it has the ability to install easily as a second operating system, unlike Windows.

The installation itself asked me minimal questions, as did Windows, but it did offer up one addition, the offer to download package updates during the installation process. For one thing, this allows the user to get the most stable operation system possible at first installation in addition to updating all the installed software to the most stable version, while in Windows, you have multiple restarts and system updates to get to the most current patched version. The ability to download software updates during installation lead to a longer installation time, but it’s a trade off. One last thing to point out is that the GUI of the install seemed a little less, well, pretty. The bright colors of Windows versus the earth tones of Ubuntu can leave an impression on some people and were definitely chosen for their specific purposes by the marketing team.

With Ubuntu installed without problem, I boot into the first startup expecting additional last minute configuring and am surprised to find the login screen. My first impression of the desktop is “minimalist” when I notice that I have both a task bar on the bottom with buttons for multiple desktops and what would be the “start menu” with quick links to applications, places, and system options at the top as well as the notification tray. I am also greeted with a popup telling me that there is a proprietary driver available for my video card and all I have to do is click this button, and it will be installed. Easy.

This all seems very easy to use, so I set about trying to configure my multiple monitor setup. Let’s see: System, preferences, monitor. From this screen it’s basically just like the Windows version. I can set individual resolutions and drag one monitor to the left or right, top or bottom and change the rotation. In addition, I can apply a button to the panel for quick access and make the configuration the default for all users. I’m not sure how Windows handles this, but I’m pretty sure that one change applies for all users. A quick click on the desktop background yields the “change desktop background” as expected. One thing that is bothering me though is how Windows and Ubuntu both decided for me which monitor would be my main screen. I agree with Windows that my 23” is my primary, but I’m not sure what lead Ubuntu to pick my little 15”, and I would like to find a way to change it in the future. One more thing is that in Windows the difference is size of the two monitors is noted and only the space on the monitors is used. This is apparently not so in Ubuntu. My pages, as well as my mouse pointer, can drift off the visible space. I noticed that the first time when typing this document up; when I got to the end of the page on the screen, the page did not scroll down.

While taking the default browser for a spin to see if everything is working correctly, I notice one little thing that is bugging me, my mouse’s scroll wheel moves the page really fast. I check the system – preferences – mouse and there is nothing about a scroll wheel. Five minutes in Google and still no answer, though I did find out that the calendar built into the panel is linked to an installed calendar. Nice. Edit: The scroll wheel issue seems to be Firefox specific, as it happens in Firefox only in both Windows and Ubuntu now, but only in that browser.

I have used OpenOffice before and will remain unsurprised at the simple interface and surprisingly well adapted functions in this free product. By default, it even has an auto-complete function. While the length of this paper won’t handle a side by side comparison, I will say that almost everything I have ever wanted to do in OpenOffice has been possible. Notably, I can’t double click the header or footer to make an addition, though I can insert a header. Double clicking in the margin behaves differently as well. In Word, a single click selects that line, a double click selects a paragraph, and triple click selects the whole document. In OpenOffice, the first click places the insertion point at the edge of the page, the second click selects the word closest to the margin, a triple click select the nearest sentence, and four clicks selects that paragraph. It’s similar to an older version of Word, back before they introduced the ribbon.

Getting back to the point of this assignment, it’s hard to say which OS was better at detecting the hardware. If I was forced to choose, which I guess I am, I would say Ubuntu. While the installation of the drivers for my Microsoft brand wireless keyboard and mouse went as expected in both operating systems, the automatic download of proprietary drivers for my ATI graphics card is what gives the final point to Ubuntu. In Windows, I would not have been notified that I was using a Windows driver. I would have to go to the manufacturer’s website (which I did) to find the appropriate driver for my model series and manually download and install. One more interesting thing to note is that I didn’t need to install guest additions to Ubuntu in VirtualBox, like I had to with Windows 7, to utilize mouse integration. With that I segue into software installation.

The simplification of software through the use of software repositories built into an operating system is an amazing integration. I don’t know who started this concept, but clearly it got the attention of Apple, Inc for use in iOS (as the App Store). The Ubuntu Software Center simplifies the retrieval and installation of several categories of software. While it is not all inclusive, it’s GUI is nice. What it lacks here in choices it makes up in the Synaptic Package Manager, the overly inclusive repository manager. Basically, if you hear about a piece of software for Linux, instead of Googleing it, you check the Synaptic Package Manager. The program not only finds and retrieves the program you are looking for, but it also finds any other software dependencies, can update you entire system and every piece of installed software in one click, including both major and minor operating system updates, and can be used to uninstall any program. With that latter function, it will also search out any other orphaned dependencies and uninstall them as well.

The last thing I need to go over is “mapping a network drive.” While I couldn’t find any information in the help files using those exact words, I did find information leading me to believe that if I took the time to make my Windows laptop play nicely with my Ubuntu installation, I could “mount” the network drive. I couldn’t actually get this to work right away though, for what it’s worth. It seems that mapping a drive in Ubuntu involves manually making a shortcut by manually inserting the necessary credentials. The help system is different than the one in Windows in that it’s arranged more like a book in that it has a table of contents. There is also a link right in the results to repeat the same search online, which is a helpful shortcut. I rarely find what I actually need in either help system, though the Ubuntu version seems to be directed to the newest users.

One quick personal note, just a couple years ago Ubuntu served a useful function for me. I had several roommates and my roommates had friends. In my usual style, I provided a “public” computer for everyone’s use, an 800mhz beast of a dinosaur with a cheap wireless card. I installed Ubuntu to it in it’s most recent version and it ran great and automatically installed drivers for the discount wireless card. That computer never got a virus, I never had to “fix” the computer, and I rarely had to show anyone how to use the operating system. I had an eight year old computer with an uptime of 100%. The only thing I ever had to show people was software installation; the repository install method was simple while the tarball method was more inclusive of a wider variety of content. For most users of the computer, however, they had no problems. I won’t lie though, part of the system stability was due to the fact that no one had root privileges, and not even I logged in as root, unless necessary.

My conclusion is that Ubuntu is an alternative operating system, but not a replacement. It is designed with the Windows user in mind, but does not try to mimic Windows in many ways. While many features of Ubuntu are easy to use and understand, it may be confusing to people used to other operating systems. Ubuntu offers more customization (search Compiz Fusion videos for an example), more options, more streamlined updates for both software and drivers, and more stability. Windows offers a wider variety of compatibility and this is the cycle that keeps users stuck on Windows, which keeps software developers creating software for Windows. Linux users have the option to run Windows programs in Wine, and most are compatible. For now, I will keep using Windows for it’s inate compatibility while maintaining and occasionally using the Linux partition in an attempt to further understand the operating system.