Opinion: Say it with me: Linux is not Windows!
Tectonic journalist Richard Frank\’s column about his sad 300Mhz laptop with 128MB RAM and its slow performance with Linux (Taking a fstab at Linux) caused much wrath and waving of fists among our readers. He bravely took the attack on the chin, and I hope that the experience doesn\’t slow his inevitable slide into the world of open source.
His situation is not unique. I often hear complaints that Linux runs slower than Windows on the same system. For those of us who run Linux on a reasonably spec\’d machine, it raises eyebrows and causes quite a bit of confusion as we know that Linux is so much faster. Obviously Linux does take some configuration to get it running optimally — it is a hacker\’s operating system, so you\’re meant to play with it. But even a clean install of most of the distributions should perform better than clunky old Windows, surely.
To explain why Linux did not turn Richard\’s 300Mhz machine into a blazingly fast supercomputer, I\’m going to use Microsoft Windows as the departure point. Why, I hear you ask. Although I personally disagree with comparing Windows with Linux — they\’re completely different products catering for completely different types of users — more and more users are switching away from Windows, rather than switching to Linux. They\’re not switching because they like the philosophy or the hacker nature of Linux, but rather because they\’re fed up with Windows. When they get to Linux, they expect it to look, work and act like all the best parts of Windows, with none of the drawbacks. They are sadly disappointed. But I\’m going to compare Windows and Linux anyway, just for all those Windows ex-pats.
What Richard — and those like him — need to understand is that Windows XP launched in October 2001. That\’s right — it\’s four years old. To run XP, you need a 233Mhz processor (300Mhz recommended), 64MB of RAM (128MB recommended), and a video card and monitor capable of displaying an incredible 800 by 600 pixels. I remember having to upgrade my RAM to install XP when it came out, thinking that the minimum requirements were completely over the top.
Richard tried OpenLab 4 as his distribution of choice. OpenLab 4 is a good three-and-a-half years younger than XP. Your average PC today has 10 times the processing power, four times the memory and significantly better video cards. Linux is no longer just a server (Richard\’s laptop would have made an excellent mail server which would have knocked Microsoft out of the ballpark) and it\’s touchy-feely graphics and memory-intensive front-ends are going to use all the power they can get. Designing an operating system for PCs that even charities will refuse to accept because of their age is a bit ludicrous, since the majority of users will have upgraded in the last six years (AMD released the 300Mhz K6-2 in 1998).
Now to compare apples with almost-apples (golden delicious with granny smith\’s), let\’s see how Microsoft Vista, which may or may not be out next year, stacks up: In terms of time and computer specifications, it is a much closer comparison to OpenLab 4, Ubuntu Breezy, and all the other modern distributions.
To run Vista, Microsoft recommends between 1GB and 2GB of RAM. You should have a dual-core 64-bit processor. A PCI-X video card with 256MB of RAM should cut the cheese. Oh, don\’t forget the serial ATA 2 drives and bus, or the DDR3 memory (even though it\’s not going to be available until 2007). As for your LCD and TFT monitors, you can chuck those away. If you want to watch movies, you\’ll need a HDCP-compliant monitor (about as common as DDR3 memory). It\’s difficult to imagine how much Linux would rock on such a system, but I\’m guessing that it would fly.
Vista won\’t even run on Richard\’s machine. It might run on my laptop and desktop, but it\’s going to be damn slow. In fact it\’s unlikely to run particularly well on the super-beast you bought yesterday.
Linux isn\’t Windows. If it was, Richard wouldn\’t have been able to run a brand new operating system on a six-year-old machine. And it\’s not Windows in so many other ways. If you\’re expecting to just hop from Windows to Linux with zero learning curve, I\’m afraid you\’re going to be one miserable convert. If you\’d never seen a computer before, how easy do you think Windows would be to use? If you truly believe that a:\\ is an intuitive name for a floppy drive and that a six-year-old laptop is just coming in to its prime, and you plan to chuck all of your hardware out next year and start again, then stick to Microsoft.