These days, anyone who believes that they need a command line to work in GNU/Linux is in for a surprise. Not that the BASH shell isn't a powerful and surprisingly easy to use command line, but, after years of playing catch-up, GNU/Linux is now a match for the latest version of Windows on the desktop.
In fact, in many ways, GNU/Linux is more than a match for Windows Vista. In some cases, Vista can equal GNU/Linux if you are willing to delve deeply into the registry or install additional software, but here are seven ways that GNU/Linux outperforms Vista on first boot.
Vista has one desktop. This fact is so ingrained in Windows users that the very concept of an alternative desktop is often hard for them to imagine. Yet GNU/Linux offers at least a dozen. Besides the popular GNOME, KDE, and Xfce desktops available in most distributions, you can also install ones like LXDE, ROX, or keyboard driven ones like dwm or ratpoison.
With many desktops, you also have several dozen choices for the window manager -- the application that controls the appearance and position on the desktop. With each window manager, you get a different look, feel, and performance, and you can use many, such as IceWM or FluxBox, as stripped down graphical environments.
Not every window manager is compatible with every desktop, but, if you mix and match them, the number of possible choices must be well over a hundred. The result is a desktop for every conceivable taste, even before you start to customize.
A typical GNU/Linux distribution not only installs with a dozen themes compared to Vista's default two, but allows customizations that Vista lacks completely. For example, unlike Vista's taskbar, the panel on most GNU/Linux desktop can be resized vertically or horizontally, or given a background image. In addition, you can position elements on the panel in any order that you like, or add additional panels if you choose. Going further afield, in both GNOME and KDE, you can download install replacement panels.
Similarly, in GNU/Linux, you can usually customize the whole main menu, not just part of it, as in Vista. Although you can find one or two features in Vista that are harder to do in GNU/Linux, such as changing mouse cursors, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the GNU/Linux desktop has more customizations than Vista's.
Mostly, too, the customizations are easier to make. For instance, instead of going through a combo box and changing the font for every aspect of the desktop, the way you must in Vista, the major GNU/Linux desktops contain a single dialog for setting fonts. GNU/Linux are strong believers in working their own way, and the options available and their ease of use reflect that belief.
When you use Vista, you get an operating system and a few utilities like a defragger and a backup tool, and audio-visual players, and a time-limited version of MS Office. Your computer manufacturer may add several other utilities, usually games or setup and configuration tools. To add more would look like Microsoft was competing with business partners, which is why it backed off adding to Vista as simple a tool as a PDF writer.
When you use GNU/Linux, the operating system is only a small part of what you install -- perhaps a third or a quarter of the space that the installation takes on your hard drive. The rest of the space is taken up by other software -- although not defraggers or anti-virus software because, generally speaking, GNU/Linux has no need for them. This software includes programs like OpenOffice.org, the free alternative to MS Office, the desktop publisher Scribus, and the graphic editor The GIMP, all of which are included at no extra cost and can mostly hold their own against equivalent proprietary programs.
As a bonus, GNU/Linux installs all these things in less than half the space needed for Vista: a Vista install of over 20 gigabytes is common, while a 10 gigabyte GNU/Linux install includes every imaginable category of software, and often several programs for the same function.