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Ubuntu vs. Windows 8: Which Is Better Overall?

It's much easier to find a system with Windows 8 pre-installed, but Ubuntu offers a better interface and better apps.
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Thanks in part to mixed reactions to Windows 8, a growing number of disenfranchised Windows users are giving Ubuntu a second look. In this article, I'll be offering my own comparison between Ubuntu and Windows, explaining where each has its strengths and which OS offers something better overall.

Market Advantage

In most areas, computers are readily available to purchase from a variety of outlets—big box stores to specialized resellers. One significant advantage Windows has over Ubuntu is in the sheer number of computers pre-installed with the Windows operating system.

Even with the tremendous growth Ubuntu has experienced over the past couple of years, Windows remains the market leader in terms of brick and mortar stores. Why is this you ask? My guess is that Windows, and the myriad of software products that can be up-sold with it, make brick-and-mortar stores more money. After all, when was the last time you went to a big box store to purchase open source software? Exactly, it doesn't happen because the software is available for free elsewhere online.

The real problem is that in order to get a PC with Ubuntu pre-installed, you're looking exclusively at online retailers. And to make matters worse, these PCs with Ubuntu pre-installed are available via vendor-specific storefronts only, rarely from online shopping sites like Amazon. Because of this challenge, the purchaser of the Ubuntu PC must either rely on a Google query or know specifically which PC vendor they wish to go with.

Thus, Ubuntu loses out on the adoption side of things—all because Windows has managed to maintain such a firm grasp on brick-and-mortar store availability. And that puts Ubuntu squarely behind Windows in terms of a market advantage.

Cost to Operate

Ubuntu is available to the masses free of charge, while upgrading your copy of Windows on an existing PC will come at a financial cost. Where things become less clear, price-wise, is when you consider many people are going to find themselves purchasing new computers, which, as detailed above, come with Windows already installed.

So the basic breakdown is this—if you're buying a new computer, then the cost of the operating system is a moot point. This applies to both Windows and Ubuntu. If instead, you're going to be installing the operating system onto an existing PC, then Ubuntu is the clear winner here as Windows ranges in price from costly to ridiculous.

Default Apps of Note

One of the most annoying things about Windows is that you don't get an office suite out of the box. Unless you've made arrangements with your PC vendor ahead of time to purchase Microsoft Office, you're left to locate an office suite on your own. By contrast, Ubuntu offers LibreOffice by default. This means as soon as Ubuntu is installed, you're ready to get to work without any extra delay.

The next application that matters to most people is the default email application. Both Windows and Ubuntu offer default email clients right out of the box. Ubuntu 13.04 offers Thunderbird, which according to Mozilla, will be supported through 2013. Back on the Windows front, the Windows 8 email client is built heavily into both its live tiles and to the operating system itself. This means unlike Ubuntu, Windows users are likely to find themselves sticking with this tool as it's already "baked in" with the OS.

When comparing Thunderbird with the Windows 8 email client, there is one important difference to be aware of. Thunderbird supports POP email, while Windows 8's client doesn't. These days, this is less of an issue than it used to be. But for some legacy POP email users, it could be a deal breaker. So thanks to Thunderbird, Ubuntu wins in email client support if you're a POP user. Otherwise, for the rest of us, it's really a matter of which user experience is preferred.

Next up, we have cloud services. On Windows, this means SkyDrive. For Ubuntu fans, this is going to be UbuntuOne. On both platforms, the cloud service is nicely tied into the operating system to provide a seamless experience. Where things differ is that SkyDrive is very "file focused," honing in heavily on Microsoft Office, whereas Ubuntu does not. Both SkyDrive and UbuntuOne offer solutions for streaming music; however, UbuntuOne differs in that they offer a store for purchasing music.

Now, attempting to determine which platform is ahead here really comes down to your priorities. If you're willing to forgo the tight integration Windows offers with Office365 and SkyDrive, then you may find that Google Drive is more than enough to meet your workplace needs in the cloud. And since Google's solution is completely free, there’s something to be said for avoiding the Microsoft office cloud solution. Why pay for a service if you can get it free?


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Tags: open source, operating system, Cloud, Microsoft, Ubuntu, apps, Windows 8, Office, app store, OS, interface


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