In this article we compare the open source Linux platform to Microsoft’s Windows, and evaluate whether there’s any merit to considering running Linux on your computer.
Many gamers will be familiar with Linux, or at least know it now exists after recent news about the open source OS with regards to gaming. Valve’s excellent Steam client is on the platform and growing every day.
With popularity slowly increasing as more titles are made to work on the platform or as more games and apps are run through WINE or have their own native equivalents, does it make sense to switch platforms and if you do, what are the equivalent apps available?
Lets take a closer look. For the purposes of this review, Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator) compatibility only applies to games. For everything else, we’re looking at applications and services that run natively on each platform. Only well-known applications will be mentioned, as there are tons of apps out there that do more or less the same thing or suit a particular purpose.
|Cost to end-user||Free||R800 and upwards|
|Office application choices||Libre & Open Office, Google docs, Office Web Apps, Softmaker Office||Libre & Open Office, Google docs, Office 365 + Web Apps, Microsoft Office suite, Softmaker Office|
|Email clients||Thunderbird, Evolution, KMail, Opera Mail, Pegasus Mail, Claws Mail||Thunderbird, Evolution, Opera Mail, Pegasus Mail, Claws Mail, Windows Live Mail, Office Outlook|
|Web Browsers||Google Chrome, Firefox/Waterfox, Opera, Epiphany, Konqueror||Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox/Waterfox, Opera|
|Music/Video Players||Rhythmbox, VLC, Songbird, Musique, Clementine, Boxee, Miro||Windows Media Player, VLC, Winamp, Media Monkey, iTunes, Clementine, Zune Player, Foobar2000, RealPlayer, MPC, Gom Player|
|Instant Messaging||Pidgin, Empathy, Skype, Digsby||Pidgin, Skype, GoogleTalk, MXit, Digsby, Yahoo Messenger|
|Image Editors||GIMP, GimpShop, Inkscape, Picasa||GIMP, GimpShop, Inkscape, Picasa, Adobe Photoshop, Paint.net, Adobe Illustrator|
|3D Renderers||Blender, Art of Illusion, POV-Ray||Blender, Art of Illusion, POV-Ray, Google SketchUp|
|Cloud Storage||Ubuntu One, Dropbox, Skydrive ( through SME)||Amazon Cloud drive, Google drive, Skydrive, Ubuntu One, Dropbox|
|Games services||Steam, Ubuntu Software market, tons of online stores including GOG, many games through WINE||Steam, Origin, uPlay, online stores including GOG, Xbox Live Marketplace, Microsoft Store (Windows 8)|
In this case, the list is really endless and can be expanded further. Just as there are applications available for free or as proprietary software on Windows, so there are fully-featured versions of apps that do the same thing on Linux. Some of them are free, others are paid for.
The beauty of both operating systems is that you’re not that limited for choice – just a glance at the table shows that there’s more choice for Windows users than ever before. And if you’re more comfortable with the way Windows works, you can still save money in other areas – using Libre Office, Thunderbird and GIMP in place of their paid-for counterparts like Office, Outlook and Photoshop.
However, where they differ is in third-party device support. For example, most printers do work on Linux but there are several brands who just enable the basics, while Windows gets the bells, whistles and fireworks. Several open-source projects, like HPLIP, do a great job at supporting printers in most versions of Linux but the experience isn’t always the same.
As far as driver support goes, though, you may struggle here and there with particular objects. Many peripherals and devices are natively supported in the Linux kernel but some require proprietary software to work properly, as in the case of graphics drivers from Nvidia, AMD and Intel. All three do support Linux to some degree, although its nothing like the support users enjoy on Windows or OS X.
Where they also differ is in telephonic support. Windows 7/ 8 comes with free phone support for a year and you can just pick up the phone and dial Microsoft or your hardware vendor’s support desk and, in most cases, someone will be able to sort you out. But with Linux, unless you’re an enterprise or small business user with a Red Hat license with support, you’re on your own. Its up to you to hire competent Linux admins or have someone within easy reach who can help out – this is the same for Windows as well, mind you.
Year after year I hear that “this is the year for Linux!” and if you’re a general user, that’s completely true – you can switch to Linux today and in most cases you’ll be fine. Certainly if you’re coming from something like XP, running Linux is a free upgrade to an OS that supports modern standards like USB 3.0 and SSD Trim, looks great and didn’t cost you a cent.
Steam for Linux does change the game significantly, though. If you already own a bunch of indie titles through Steam, most of them are already playable on the Steam for Linux client. Already there are over 110 titles playable and more are coming, including Valve’s Half-Life 2 and Portal and Left for Dead series.
However, many AAA titles are already available for the Mac, which uses OpenGL for graphics rendering. Porting most games over should be a trivial exercise and with communities like Gearbox’s forum users petitioning for a port for Borderlands 2 to Linux, and with more companies making native clients for Mac, like EA’s Origin, gaming on Linux will improve with time.
Gamers still do have an issue with compatibility for today’s games and even though Wine does a great job for most titles, it won’t support the AAA blockbusters like Battlefield 3. You’re better off sticking to Windows or dual-booting into the OS just for gaming if those are the games you play.