Thursday, June 11, 2009

is ubuntu superior?

Due to the agreement between our Education Department and Microsoft I work in a Microsoft centric environment. So when our network manager recently became very enthusiastic about the latest Ubuntu release (9.04), I asked him to spell it out. This is what he said:

Ubuntu is better than Windows (eg. Vista) as follows:
  • managing memory
  • easier to install virtual box, for testing multiple OS environments
  • managing multiple OS environments, it can run 4 separate sessions without noticeable lag (cf. 2 sessions max with Vista and VMware)
  • app support out of the box - it just tells you what you need to run an app and then installs it for you
  • no need to run anti virus software
  • more stable, it never seems to fully crash (blue screen of death)
  • if the window does freeze then it has a kill an app feature which works
btw I bought a dell mini inspiron last year and am now running Ubuntu netbook remix on it.


C said...

If you have a technician fluent in Linux then you are very lucky. I have used Ubuntu for a couple of years at home and at school. I thought it was absolutely wonderful - until I started to use a Mac.
What is the situation you envisage using it in? Labs, servers, notebooks,etc? The question you posted to the edulist is bound to start the usual flame war. :( Brings out the fanboys. ;)
Hence I decided to post to you here, rather than to the edulist.
My philosophy is the best OS is the one you like using - which one are you going to be most productive with? Unfortunately for most people, this is only Windows as it is all they know. (poor buggers).
Every OS has it's issues and Ubunutu will bring it's own problems as well.
I really suggest that you use Ubuntu for a year and get to know it in detail. For example the only issues I had in school was Clickview and using Markbook. This has now largely been overcome with Virtual box et al.
Having used Ubuntu and Mac, I wouldn't go back to Windows in a million years. I prefer the Mac at the moment, but my next choice for non-apple hardware is certainly Ubuntu and would happily go back to it if I had to.

Scott Rippon said...

That's an interesting question. How do you go about defining/assessing what is superior? I've been using Ubuntu as my primary operating system for the last 3-4 years and I really like it. I know from a philisophical perspective Ubuntu clearly wins in the freedom stakes. But if I was to be perfectly honest, I think there would be a number of Windows supporters that would argue that Windows is superior with greater:

- commercial software support,
- games support,
- hardware support,
- user base from which to get help from,
- usability (???),
- etc.

What about the numbers game? Does having 87.75% marketshare compared to 0.99% marketshare for GNU/Linux make Windows superior?

< / devils advocate >


Bill Kerr said...

hi scott,

As well as your link there is a good article on the trends in market share here

It seems to me that there are now many factors working against Microsoft, eg. ARM is coming to netbooks , I expect the trend will continue

Simon mentioned that games support was still a big factor working in the favour of Windows

Chris Harvey said...

Another nice post Bill.

Ive been using GNU/Linux for over 10 years and I agree with your network manager that it is true that Ubuntu is superior.

Whats more important is the pedagogical, philosophical and practical reasons. Microsoft Windows is secret software, its anti-educational, you're forbidden from learning how it works and teachers agree not to share it with their students and each other. Its not a very good learning resource anyway. I don't really understand why some teachers are more interested in training than they are in education.

From a practical perspective doing something like teaching your students about word processors is usually restricted to training them to use proprietary products unless of course you install open source word processors on windows but in reality a young friend of mine in year 8, his first year in high school was trained to use microsoft word etc for the 4th time in his academic life.

"Free software is the single greatest technical library on earth" -- Eben Moglen

jackmo said...

The only reason I would use windows is for games, for everything else Ubuntu is just as good or superior.

When you have to consider the OS and Office are both free, and you don't want kids playing games in schools anyway, it's pretty hard to go past.

Everyone also knows how to use windows anyway, by letting kids learn linux when they are young you will be educating them on a whole new platform of computing that they may not encounter until they're older and set in their ways.

shirro said...

I am secretly looking forward to the day when my toddler grows up, gets to school and screams "Give me freedom or give me death" in the face of software oppression.

No system is superior. They are just different. Teachers and administrators need some education. They have to be able to accommodate differences instead of forcing conformity. Otherwise they are going to be in for a shock when the inevitable happens and the world changes.

The Wife and I are both happy full time Ubuntu users. Been using it since 4.10

Codfather said...

I have always thought that the Elephant in the room for educators with Windows v Linux is their own salaries. If your local LEA or Government department didn't have to waste millions of pounds every year on Windows software, and all the things you have to buy to go with it, the more money there would be for pay.

I have also strongly felt that indoctrinating children with just a single companies view on computing is just wrong. Surely every effort should be made to show them and introduce them to all forms of computing and then they can make a reasoned choice at the end of it.

Anonymous said...

"is ubuntu superior?"

the title itself is incorrect.

it paints you as a fanboy rather then someone who is really interest for a good discussion.

try using the term Linux instead :D

feranick said...

Scott, regarding the fact that Windows may be superior in few areas, let me disagree:

- commercial software support,
MS doesn't offer consumer grade support, which is relegated to the OEM. Besides, Canonical offers full commercial support for Ubuntu too.

- games support,
Yes, Windows is obviously superior here. But weren't we talking about education?

- hardware support
It depends. If you buy PCs with linux preinstalled (Dell?), it is certified to run well your hardware. Buggy drivers have existed in Windows for a long time.

- user base from which to get help from,
No. Linux (and Ubuntu in particular) has a vast variety of community based support, from forums to bug tracking. I always found the answer to any of my questions with little searching. On the opposite side, any time I was looking for something for Windows, it all end up having to do some sort of black magic, fiddling with registry with mixed results.

- usability (???),
If you are a long time Windows user, anything else, (including a move to Vista of 7, or from Office 2003 to 2007) will appear as shockingly different in terms of usability. That doesn't mean Windows is superior in usability criteria. In fact the opposite is true.

- etc.
Windows is superior in marketing. When you see on TV commercial claiming that Windows is the most cost effective solution (as compared to Macs), people may actually believe that.

What the OSS community should do is to provide tools for system administrator to be able to provide full complete customized installations of any type of distribution with the needed software to hand out to students. They would have the same software at home and at school....

lefty.crupps said...

Linux is a superior OS, IMHO, but the GNOME desktop used on Ubuntu turns me away from that distro, and I'd say its equal to Windows in that regard. Still much more secure, obviously, but not so useful for actually doing things...

Now a Linux distro with KDE4 on the desktop, that is certainly superior, in my opinion.

Catherine said...

How fantastic that your network manager entertains Linux. I have found that at my university its either use windows or you are denied access to the online resources. I hope things in the UK change soon.

Scott Rippon said...


"greater commercial software support"

Sorry should have described this differently. Was not talking about the support a company gives for particular software. I was trying to say that I feel that while there is a lot of really excellent software available for GNU/Linux there is probably more, especially applications developed by companies, for the Windows.

"Yes, Windows is obviously superior here. But weren't we talking about education?"

I didn't think that the network manager, that Bill quotes, gave those particular reasons because he felt Ubuntu was superior for education. I got the impression that he was expressing an opinion that he felt Ubuntu was a superior platform period.

If I was just discussing what is the better platform for education I'd probably wouldn't have bothered raising those points. Obviously questions around pedagogy and the platforms support for learning would be more important to assess which platform is "superior".

"great user base from which to get help from"

I'm not suggesting that there isn't quite strong/vibrant communities supporting Ubuntu and other GNU/Linux distros. What I was trying to say is that because there are a lot lot more people using Windows it is much more likely that your average user will have a friend that is also using Windows and could help them over the phone, in person, etc.

I think I'd have to do some thinking about the question about which platform is superior to troubleshoot and fix. I've had hair-pulling troubles with both.

"greater usability (???)

I work in the usability field. There is an international standards (ISO 9241-11) which states that usability is the "extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use". It should be possible to perform usability tests with users to see which platform has the greater usability.

I put the question marks at the end of this one because I haven't really found any big usability studies comparing the usability of the two platforms. I have a sneaking suspicion that Windows might win this one.

"Windows is superior in marketing."

No disagreement here on that one. I often think quite a bit about this one and how a community can compete against a company that has such a big marketing budget.


Bill Kerr said...

Don't read too much into my post. It would have been better if I had avoided the "superior" word. The important issue is that Ubuntu has improved significantly relative to alternatives.

I thought it was worth pointing out that a very good network manager who has looked at various Linux distros for several years and decided not to use them has now changed his mind. This might encourage others to do likewise, to take another look or maybe a first look.

I'm biased to FOSS for ideological reasons, I like many of the implications of the positions put by Stallman, Moglen, Sugar Labs and others. I also happen to like the Shuttleworth approach because I think he understands what "normal" users want and works hard to achieve that. I'm just declaring some biases here. One day I might try to argue this from a researched position but don't hold your breath - too many things on my plate.

This particular post was pretty much pragmatic, mainly a report from a network manager that Ubuntu has improved significantly in its performance.

Scott Rippon said...


It's always really great to hear positive stories of people discovering/rediscovering <insert GNU/Linux distro here> and being impressed with it :D

I have similar biases to yourself and try really hard to evangelize GNU/Linux and free software the best I can.

I thought your blog post was interesting because it raises some key questions for me. Including:

- What criteria do/should we use to assess whether an OS is better/superior to another? Do certain criteria have a higher priority than others?

- Are the people evangelizing that platform being genuinely honest about their reporting? What evidence is brought to back it up?

- And does having the "superior" OS even matter? Apart from bragging rights is it possible to have an "inferior" OS that has a massive market share or a "superior" OS which has a much smaller share?


Anonymous said...

There are two (three) things holding Linux back.
Games/Programs for windows, package formats and hardware support.

Hopefully wine will be better in adding windows api than win 7, this will really push people over the edge.

The second is a little trickier, package format. It needs to be standardized to make it as easy as possible for developers. The current package managers are great, i love them. But developers would probably prefer managing their own software, preferably in one format. Isn't it the spirit of free software that you have freedom? Why don't make that freedom for developers easier?

Hardware support is still not as good as windows. Good thing nowadays more and more hardware vendors think about Linux and Linux drivers. The new staging driver tree and other improvements at the Linux kernel development process will help as well.

Go Linux, go improve these points and there will be no point in having windows!

Magice said...

Well, excuse me, but ANYTHING is better than Windows, including, but not exclusively, BSD, GNU/Linux (ANY flavor), OS/2, you-name-it. Switching away from Windows is like THE best way to improve one's productivity.

True Ubuntu is superior to Windows, but it is also superior to Mac OS. Surprised? You should not be. Mac OS is nowhere are customizable as GNU/Linux. As an example, I am writing this comment under Enlightenment 16 window manager (instead of default GNOME). Granted, it has less eye candy, but then I can switch to Enlightenment 17 for more eye candy, or XFCE, or KDE, or you-name-it. All of these window managers are extremely flexible and powerful.

Furthermore, GNU/Linux (or any serious Unix, for that matter; Mac OS is nowhere as serious as GNU/Linux) has a bit steep learning curve, but once you get used to it, you can accelerate extremely fast. It makes micro-scripting trivial. It provides you with all you need to patch your own system. Installing software is made secure and trivial. Etc. (I cannot imagine my life now without Yum/Apt, Perl, gcc, etc.). Mac OS and Windows never ever give you these powers. They want to keep you stupid, because only stupid people use their product effectively.

Thus, go for GNU/Linux (Ubuntu flavor if you like)!

P/S: Ubuntu, in its turn, is far inferior to other GNU/Linux distros like Debian, Fedora, etc. I am using Fedora, btw

Chris said...


"P/S: Ubuntu, in its turn, is far inferior to other GNU/Linux distros like Debian, Fedora, etc. I am using Fedora, btw"

I beg to differ: it's not what the distro brings you but what you expect of the distro. Ubuntu is a nice an friendly distro, Fedora is a bit more cutting edge (with all risks included), Suse is bloated but very nice if you have the hardware for it...

My point is: you like Fedora for your reasons, I like ubuntu because it just works.

But I have to agree that anything other than windows is better!