Things I can do in Linux that I can’t do on Windows.

Since I often hear from friends and people on the Internet about
things they can’t do in Linux that they could on Windows, I thought I’d
write up a list of things I can do in Linux that I can’t do in Windows. 

  1. Update every single piece of software on my system with a single action.  This
    is one of the main reasons I run Linux.  Sure, Windows has Windows
    Update, but that only updates the operating system, Office, and a few
    other things.  For every Linux distribution I’ve used (Gentoo, Red Hat,
    Suse, Ubuntu), updating is simple.  When you update, you have every
    application, every library, every script – every single piece of
    software upgraded automatically for you.  And on most of them, they
    will check for updates automatically and notify you.  This is great for
    security, fixing bugs quickly, and getting the latest in features.
  2. Update nearly everything on my computer without a reboot. 
    On Linux, there is only one thing that requires a reboot after
    updates.  The kernel.  And even then you can continue to run on the
    previous kernel.  You just need to reboot to get the benefit of using
    the new kernel (say, if it has a bug fix or a new feature).  In
    Windows, many of the updates to even non-critical software require
  3. Keep my system secure without software that consumes my system resources, requires my time, and frequently nags me.  Basic requirement for a secure Windows box include:
    1. Running antivirus protection.  AV software consumes resources and requires routine scans.
    2. A software firewall like ZoneAlarm or the one built into Vista that
      constantly asks you if you want to allow software to contact the
      Internet.  More time on your part.
    3. Running Adblock Adaware and/or Spybot Search &
      Destroy on a routine basis, consuming your time, and requiring your
      manual intervention.  People often forget or don’t “get around to it”.
    4. Never trusting software.  You have to go through life assuming
      every bit of software and every website on the Internet is going to
      screw you over.  What a sorry state of affairs that is.

    All of this requires your attention, slows your computer, and ruins
    the open experience of the Internet.  None of this is necessary in
    Linux.  You get your software through your distribution.  As long as
    you can trust your distribution, you can trust the software available. 
    Having a firewall is a good thing even in Linux, but most of us have a
    firewall built into our Cable and DSL modems, or our wi-fi router.  A
    software firewall in windows is as much used to keep malware from
    calling out as it is to keep outside intrusions from coming in, and you
    don’t have the same concerns in Linux (since, as I said, you can trust
    your software).

  4. Run an entire operating system for free without pirating software, and without breaking the law. 
    Most Window’s users seem to accept that breaking the law is okay,
    because it is pretty much required.  Either you break the law, or spend
    countless thousands of dollars on the software you need.  You may not
    think it is a big deal, but if you own a home like I do, you are
    putting it at risk.  While unlikely, the potential is there for
    software companies to come after you just like the RIAA has come after
    countless people.  With Linux, this isn’t necessary.  You can run the
    software you need without paying for it, and without breaking the law. 
    I know I sleep better at night.
  5. Take my settings with me where ever I go.  In
    Linux, all your personal settings are stored in your Home folder, most
    in folders that begin with a period (like .gaim).  So, I can copy all
    these settings from one computer to another.  I can put these settings
    on a USB drive.  When I switched from Gentoo to Ubuntu, I kept all my
    settings.  On Windows, some settings are under your home folder and
    some are in the registry.  So your settings are not portable.
  6. Run Internet Explorer 5.0, 5.5, 6.0, and 7.0 on the same desktop.  I have all installed thanks to the wonderful IEs4Linux
    project.  I can even run them side-by-side if I want.  For a web
    developer, that’s huge.  Testing browser compatibility to that level on
    Windows requires multiple machines or something like VMWare.  Further,
    when I run IE under Linux, I don’t have to worry about any malware or
    virus getting onto my system.
  7. Understand everything that is going on in my computer.  Using
    Windows is like working with a black box.  You can see the outside, but
    you have no idea what is going on inside.  If you hit snags, your only
    option is to hope Microsoft fixes it.  Or, perhaps you can submit a bug
    report to Microsoft, spending your time improving software
    that  a company makes billions from.  Under Linux, you can look at the
    system logs, where you can see most issues.  You can search for the log
    messages on Google, and can usually track the cause and often find a
    fix.  If not, I can even go look at the source code to find the
    offending problem.  Granted, most people aren’t capable or don’t have
    the time to look at the source code.  But the fact that
    tens-of-thousands of geeks do is often very, very helpful.  And if you
    do spend the time filling out a bug report, you are helping other
    people just like yourself, not contributing your time to a rich
    software company.
  8. Customize every aspect of my desktop.  In Windows,
    you are more or less stuck with what you are given.  Sure, you can
    install buggy skinning engines, or you can pay Microsoft extra for the
    ability to put skins on your desktop.  But even these aren’t very
    adaptive.  It’s just a new coat of paint on the same desktop.  Under
    Linux, I can choose the window manager, the desktop environment, the
    theme, the GTK engine, the icon theme, the special effects (see Beryl
    or Compiz), the filesystem browser, and so on.  Nearly every aspect of
    the system has competitive options.  If you look around the internet at
    screenshots of various Linux desktops, you rarely see two that look the
  9. Benefit from competition between projects for each system on my computer.
    As I mention in point 8, there are options for every aspect of the
    Linux desktop.  Not only is it fun to try the various options, but it
    leads to better software as multiple projects compete against each
    other to be the best.  Can you imagine competing printing backends,
    competing desktop environments, or competing USB mounting systems on
    Windows?  I’ve been a Linux user for 3 years now, and I’ve seen
    remarkable changes in systems used on the Linux desktop, from critical
    systems (XFree86 switched to X.Org, auto-mounting systems) to
    non-critical  (my CD-Rom eject button works!). 
  10. Run thousands of great pieces of software that only run on Linux.  Just like Windows, Linux has software that doesn’t run on Windows.  Great pieces of software like Amarok, Bluefish, Neverball, Gnumeric, K3B, Beryl, gdesklets, and MythTV
    I know this is a chicken-and-egg point, where Windows has the exact
    same situation. Too often I hear “I can’t switch to Linux because it
    doesn’t run [insert Windows software]”.  My reason for pointing it out
    is just to make it clear that this is a two-way street.
  11. Learn about, support, and appreciate the value of free software. 
    I believe free software is important to us all.  Even if you use
    non-free software, the free software movement ensures checks and
    balances on non-free software by offering an alternative.  By running a
    free operating system and becoming involved in the community, I’ve
    contributed to free software, even if only in a small way.


The main point I frequently try to make is that you can’t expect
features to be 1-to-1 when switching operating systems.  We like Adobe
Photoshop or Microsoft Office because we have used it for years, and we
are used to it.  We hate change.  It’s natural that people
have a desire for everything to be identical.  Did we expect Windows to
be exactly like something else when we started using it?  Probably not.

When you learn closed-source proprietary software like Photoshop or Office, you have spent your time
indenturing yourself to a lifetime of spending $700 every so many
years.  And the same goes for every company you work for that you
insist you need Office or Photoshop.  And if you don’t think that your
company’s expenses affect your salary, think again.

Conversely, if you take the time to learn open and free systems like
Linux, Gimp, or OpenOffice, you now have given yourself a lifetime of
perpetually free software.  The value of that is quite profound.  No
more worrying about installing Office on more than one computer and
running into activation issues.  I have OpenOffice installed on all 5
computers I own, and my flash drive where I can run it on any computer I wish.

Bottom line is, yes, you will have to spend time learning Linux and
the software running on Linux if you choose to switch.  But by doing
so, you’ve set yourself up for a lifetime of free computing.  For many
of you, that’s going to be 40, 50, 60, 70 years.  A period of learning
isn’t so hard to swallow, when you can see the value of doing so.

My advice, should you choose to try Linux, is to forget about making
it exactly like Windows.  You will spend countless hours, and you will
fail.  Once you spend signicant time on Linux, every time you use a
Windows computer you will say “Bah, I could do xyz if I was on Linux”. 

If you are a Linux user, and you have other things you think should be on this list, please contribute comments below.


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One thought on “Things I can do in Linux that I can’t do on Windows.

  1. Hi, Srinivasan you are doing a nice job.
    Hey dude, I would like you to add a 12th point that I think You forgot to add. i.e., LINUX also allows some windows applications using “WINE” and such applications.

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