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Opinion: Say it with me: Linux is not Windows!

By   |  November 29, 2005

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.


10 Responses to “Opinion: Say it with me: Linux is not Windows!”

  1. A Nony Mouse
    November 29th, 2005 @ 12:00 am


  2. RedRum781
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Ryan you should check the other link:
    \”Nigel Page is a strategist with Microsoft Australia. He told APC today that Vista would work best on a video card with more than 256MB RAM, 2GB of DDR3 memory and a S-ATA 2 hard drive.\”

    Richard Frank should try Puppy Linux. LiveCD that has option to install itself onto hdd.

  3. Piotr
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Thank goodness for distros like Damn Small Linux that can breathe new life into that six-year old laptop 😉 This is the real beauty of Linux: One can match apps or window manager to the hardware at hand.

  4. ChojinDSL
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    For such an old PC I would recommend Damn Small Linux.

    The downloadable Live CD is only 50mb big. It can be easily installed to a harddrive and there\’s plenty of extra software to download via the internet through \”myDSL\” packages.

  5. Ryan Franklin
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I got this from Microsoft\’s site:

    \”PC systems that do not meet the above hardware requirements for CPU, RAM and GPU may be capable of running Windows Vista. However, such Windows Vista-capable systems may not offer all the features and benefits of Windows Vista.\”

    This was after they mentioned that PC\’s should have 512 mb of memory or more. Where you got the 1 to 2 gb or RAM I don\’t know but your embellishing to make it look like you have a good point is pathetic.

    I\’ve used many different flavors of Linux and like any other piece of software the better the hardware the better the performance. The fact that the Linux community has left out a lot of graphic-intensive features and other CPU taxing goods for the sake of being able to say \”we\’re faster!\” is not something to brag about.

    As mentioned in the article, 1GB to 2GB is *recommended* for Vista. 512MB is minimum. But don\’t take my word for it. Check out Microsoft\’s Vista recommendations and Microsoft strategist Nigel Page\’s comments to APC. – Ed

  6. Richard
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Just choose a less intensive setup. I\’m running Linux fine on my old 200MHz laptop but I\’m using a setup of a similar age – apart from security fixes. You can still do most work fine on such old hardware. Even a modern distribution can switch to a lighter weight window manager and still have full functionality.

  7. anon-e-mouse
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    ubuntu breezy with icewm ftw on that laptop 😀

  8. Slacker
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    In my opinion one of the problems these day\’s is that programmers are programming features with high level object programming languages. While that speeds up development of programs, programmers these day\’s lack the ability or don\’t want to sit back, look at the code and take an extra effort to improve speed an/or seize of the code. If they did that, Linux applications would be very fast !

  9. Zubin Parihar
    November 30th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I\’ve got an old Dell Latitude 400 Mhz and 128 mb of ram.

    I\’m using MepisLite, and it flys! Its a very, very complete Distro and easy to install! – It has a relatively new kernel – 2.6.12 and it auto detects everything perfect, including my Wifi USB!!! I was very doubtful at first because I was running SUSE 9.1 and Knoppix 3.9 on it and the speed was very average…you\’d wait like 10 secs per application. But when I loaded mepisLite i was shocked! Konqueror was opening in under 2 secs and kword in under 5 secs… Amazing!

    Check it out and you\’ll see for yourself.

    Zubin Parihar

  10. Robert Pogson
    December 1st, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    I run a Linux Terminal Server on an AMD64 with 2gB. I have 150 processes going idling. I can run thirty clients logged in and a web server running PHP scripts with MySQL database. I would need two or three machines to do as much with Vista. RAM is getting cheaper and Opteron boards can load it up, but running Vista is the last thing I would do with such a machine.

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