Head-to-Head Desktop Comparison: Ubuntu 12.10 vs. OS X Mountain Lion

See how the two operating systems compare from a casual user's perspective with regards to installation, software and hardware.
Posted January 21, 2013

Matt Hartley

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Over the years, many people have speculated about when Ubuntu will be ready for the casual computer user. Some individuals have compared Linux distributions to other operating systems, such as OS X.

In this article, I will be offering a unique comparison between Ubuntu 12.10 and OS X Mountain Lion. Since I have access to both operating systems in my home office, I was able to take the time to narrow down where each operating system excels and where improvement is still needed. I have also attempted to do so without bias or platform-specific hype.

To begin, let's jump right in and start by comparing the processes for obtaining the operating system.

Obtaining the Operating System

For the sake of this article, I did a clean installation of both Ubuntu and OS X on existing hardware. OS X was installed on a Mac, and Ubuntu, on a PC. Downloading and installing OS X Mountain Lion was a new experience for me, since you need to fulfill one of these requirements to get a copy of the operating system:

  • You must have access to a Mac running OS X to purchase and install Mountain Lion from the app store.


  • You must purchase a new Mac with Mountain Lion pre-installed.

There is nothing wrong with obtaining Mountain Lion in this fashion. However, the lack of optical media for installation could be a serious downside for those broadband Internet users who happen to be restricted by bandwidth caps. How big of an issue is this? If you rely on cable Internet for home use here in the States, odds are excellent that downloading an operating system is going to cut into your bandwidth allotment.

Now some of you might be thinking this isn't a big deal because everything you need is going to be included in the 4 GB+ installer, right? No, not even close. You will also need to install select printer drivers (likely downloading them) and apply the latest patches and updates. If, however, you don't have bandwidth caps, this isn't a big deal, and Mountain Lion $20 price tag is widely considered to be a great deal.

Flipping the switch over to the Ubuntu 12.10 installation, users are presented with two very different ways of obtaining Ubuntu:

  • Download the ISO file, burn it to a DVD or apply it to a USB flash drive for $0.


  • Purchase a DVD for $7.99 from Canonical.

Winner: Because OS X has stopped making physical media available, Ubuntu is the clear winner here. Let's put it this way—if you install a new hard drive in a PC and need to reinstall Ubuntu, you simply use the bootable DVD and re-install.

With Mountain Lion, however, you need to either have a working OS X install or bootable startup media if you're installing to a new hard drive. Perhaps this isn't an issue for everyone, but it's enough to give me pause.

Installation of the Operating System

If you're performing an installation of Mountain Lion, odds are, you're either upgrading an older OS X release or you've purchased a new Mac that came with this operating system release.

For users of older releases of OS X, Mountain Lion is available through the app store, as discussed previously. Once downloaded, Mountain Lion allows you to either run an upgrade install or do a clean installation instead. For most people, an upgrade installation is going to be the best choice. This allows you to update easily your existing OS X installation without any hassles whatsoever. The actual installation happens after your Mac reboots. The update installation allows you to keep pre-existing data such as applications and settings.

One area that bothers me, however, is in trying to install Mountain Lion onto a Mac containing Leopard. As you may have discovered, this isn't allowed. You're required to upgrade to Snow Leopard first, and then you can upgrade to Mountain Lion.

So what about a clean installation? You could potentially perform a clean installation of Mountain Lion. However, the casual user would be way out of their league trying to do a clean installation. While this may be a simple approach for you and me, the casual Mac user would be mystified trying to follow such an installation guide.

Performing an installation of Ubuntu is possible in one of two ways: You can either perform an upgrade install from an existing Ubuntu installation, or you can boot from Ubuntu media and create a new clean installation. One glaring red mark against Ubuntu is that you must upgrade over the Internet, as CD upgrades are no longer supported. As discussed above, updating one's operating system over the Web can affect you if you're dealing with severe bandwidth caps from your ISP.

Despite the limitations on upgrading Ubuntu, performing a clean installation is a snap with compatible PC hardware. Following the directions above on obtaining Ubuntu, you simply boot the media selected and begin the installation process. The actual Ubuntu clean installation process mirrors OS X's upgrade installation method in simplicity. However, like OS X, there are limitations as to which version of Ubuntu can be seamlessly updated without a clean installation. Only a previous release of Ubuntu or a LTS release is upgradable to the latest release.

Winner: I think both operating systems need to stop their dependency on the Web for upgrade installations. Ubuntu wins with regard to a clean installation thanks to easily obtainable media from the Canonical store mentioned in the previous section above. OS X, by contrast, requires a bit more effort to perform a clean installation.

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Tags: open source, Linux, operating system, software, Ubuntu, hardware, desktop, OS X Mountain Lion

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