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8 operating system main differences, explained

Linux began as a passion project to create an operating system that anyone could use or think the way they wanted. That’s how computers were before Apple and Microsoft, like companies, locked them. But you had to be a committed and technical user to use Linux then.

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Today, millions of people see Linux as an easy-to-use and powerful alternative to Windows. It’s different, but different doesn’t mean bad.

Unsure between Linux and Windows? Let’s look at their differences and help you determine if you’re ready for the learning curve.

1. Distribution

Laptop with Microsoft Windows
Photo credit: Ashkan Forouzani /Unsplash

There is one current version of Windows that is available in several different versions. The differences between these versions largely relate to additional features that can be used in business or educational environments. Each of these editions costs a varying amount of money.

There is no single version of Linux installed. Instead, there are many different versions called “distributions” of Linux (short distros). There are hundreds of different options, although you can narrow down the list of most visible distributions you use to less than ten. What about the cost of the Linux operating system? Almost all Linux distros are free to use, and some enterprise options require a support agreement.

What is a Linux distribution?

Linux distributions
Photo credit: Flatpak.org

Linux is not a complete operating system. The name really only refers to the kernel, which is a relatively invisible part of the operating system. The interface, display server, sound system, and applications you see on the screen come from a variety of sources. Distribution is a way to pack all of this software together to get a working computer.

Because there are many ways to put these components together according to a person’s wishes or needs, there are several distros.

2. Source code

Windows has its own operating system. The source code is closed, which means that you must work with or obtain permission from Microsoft to see the code that activates your operating system. If you try to access or share this code without permission, you may experience legal issues.

Linux is a free and open source operating system. You can view the code, learn from it, make the changes you want, and share it with others. You still have to comply with the open source license, but that usually means you are not free to take the code and repackage it in your own software.

3. Desktop Interfaces

An overview of GNOME functionality on Linux

Until Windows 8, the Windows interface had not experienced much innovation for a long time. The Start menu, the taskbar, the system tray, Windows Explorer – it was all basically the same thing, and everything was restored with Windows 10.

In Linux, the interface is not part of the kernel system. You can turn up the interface without having to worry about reinstallations. There are giants like GNOME and KDE that come with a complete set of integrated applications. Then there are a number of lesser-known varieties, all focusing on different aspects. Here is what is hidden the best desktop environments for Linux






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Not only are there more interfaces to choose from, but you have more freedom to customize them. You can design your desktop the way you want, and when you’re done, it probably won’t run slower.

4. Applications

GNOME software on the GNOME Linux desktop
To install the software on Windows, visit a website, go to the download section, and click the link that sends you the EXE file. You do it, the program does its thing, and when you see it as “installed”. To uninstall programs, you need to mess with the control panel. Sure, Microsoft introduced the app store with Windows 8, but much of what you want is simply not there.

On most Linux systems, you don’t have to look for executable files. Instead, you have something called a package manager. Traditional package managers provide granular control for browsing, installing, and removing software packages. Newer options are more reminiscent of mobile app stores.

Things get more complicated when the application you want isn’t in package management. Because there is no single version of Linux, there is no package format that works in all distributions. Fortunately, the situation is starting to change thanks newer universal package






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Which one has more apps?

There are thousands of programs on Linux, but most of them are free and open source programs that newcomers have never heard of. Popular commercial software tends to target Windows. While more of these applications are on their way to Linux than before, Windows simply has a larger library of desktop software.

In other words, if you can’t find enough open source compensation, it’s possible to run most Windows programs on Linux using Wine or virtual machines.

5. File structure

Linux file structure

The basic structure of Linux is completely different from Windows – as it should be, given that it was developed through a separate code database by separate developers. You won’t find “My Files” on Ubuntu, and you won’t find “Program Files” on Fedora. There are no C: or D: positions.

Instead, there is a single file tree and your drive is installed in the tree. Your home and desktop directories are both part of that file tree. Technically, you need to learn a whole new file system and its architecture. It’s not very difficult, but the difference still exists.

file system

Windows uses the NTFS file system. In contrast, Linux supports many different options. If you are installing Linux on your laptop, you are probably using EXT4. But if you want to run Linux on a server, you can try BTRFS or ZFS instead. These file systems have features that may not be useful for desktop users, but are great for cloud-based companies or their own server administrators.

6. Register

The Windows registry is a basic database of all the settings on your computer. It includes application information, user passwords, device information, and the like. If the data is not saved as a file, it probably is stored in the Windows registry






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Linux does not have a single monolithic registry. Typically, applications store settings in program-specific hidden folders in the user’s home directory. There are some exceptions, such as the GNOME desktop environment with GSettings and the dconf configuration tool.

7. Drivers

Because Windows has such a broad understanding of the PC market, hardware manufacturers are trying to focus their efforts on that single operating system. This means that companies prioritize Windows over Linux. Sometimes they do not provide Linux drivers that interface with their devices. At other times, they may offer drivers, but omit some features. This means that you need to be more careful when buying different peripherals or smart devices.

This is not to say that the driver situation is more challenging in Linux. In Linux, most drivers come as part of the kernel. When you plug in a printer, there’s a good chance it just works. You do not need to use the installation CD or download the driver from the network. Only when drivers are not included do problems arise.

What about graphics cards?

This is the driver issue that comes up the most. Although there are open source drivers for Nvidia and AMD cards, you want private drivers for the best performance. They are available, but sometimes they raise issues with other aspects of the Linux desktop because developers do not have access to the source code.

8. Commands and development tools

GNOME terminal running Pop! With _OS

Both Windows and Linux have the ability to open a small black window and write commands. The version of Windows is known as Windows PowerShell, which is intended primarily for developers. This is not the primary way you are expected to interact with your Windows computer.

This is not the case on Linux. Here, this window is more commonly known as Terminal, although you may also encounter it as a Linux shell. If you want to type commands, you can remove the graphical user interface completely. This is the way most sysadmins manage servers (most of which use Linux).

Linux is well known as a friendly environment for developers. The terminal is a big part of this. This is the open source nature of the operating system. You simply have the authority to do whatever you want on your machine, assuming you have the information or are willing to acquire it.

But setting development environments for Linux is also simpler. Whether you are an administrator or a web developer, you often work with machines running Linux. On the Linux desktop, you can install the same tools, use the same information, and use computers that already understand each other.

Plus, there are so many tools to choose from. You can choose a full-featured IDE and text editors. You have virtual machines. And here’s an area where the ability to change your desktop environment is really helpful. With tile window management, encoders gain access to the zone without following with the windows. And much of what you need is waiting in the archives. Type one command on your terminal to download and install the program and be on your way.

Is switching to Linux difficult?

This question depends on how comfortable you are with computers. If you learn to use Windows by following a guide, reading articles, or first-hand experiences, you probably won’t find learning Linux such a big deal.

If you follow the instructions without the person being personally helping you, everything you need to know is freely available online. You can start the transition to Linux






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Right here.

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