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16 November 2008
Just Imagine, the latest version of your favourite operating system has become available. You click on a button which says "Upgrade", and your computer downloads the latest version and installs it.
Okay this may be hard to imagine, so lets see how a couple of different operating systems compare:
I've been using Microsoft Windows since version 3.0 way back in 1991. From experience I can say that Windows has never even come close to this list, and certainly not the upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista. So I think it's unlikely that the next version of Windows will be able to do much beter.
Here is how Windows does on the list.
Microsoft doesn't give Windows away for free. Even if your computer came with Windows installed for "free", you have already paid for it bundled in the cost of the PC. In fact in many cases you even get charged a Windows License fee if you don't want it.
Unless you bought Windows XP in the last couple of months before Windows Vista was released then you will have to buy a new license.
Whenever Windows has gone through a major upgrade (e.g. 3.11 to 95 / ME to 2000 / XP to Vista) then software that ran OK before will not run, forcing you to pay for an upgrade. The XP to Vista is the worst that I've experienced with over 50% of the software I'd bought refusing to run including: Games ; CD burning software and graphics software.
Similar to the problems with software there is often hardware that no longer works as the drivers are not supported. I have seen this happen to scanners and printers and recently a bluetooth adapter that doesn't work any more.
As mentioned already you often have to pay to upgrade your software as it stops working when you upgrade to Vista, so it falls down there. Windows will not upgrade any of the components not including in the Windows operating system.
Each major new version of Windows has increased the minimum hardware required to run. Unless you have very recent hardware you may have to upgrade the amount of memory and/or the processor etc.
As each new Windows version has been released it has put more strain on the computer meaning that to keep the same performance. This has been most noticeable with Windows Vista. I bought a new PC with Windows Vista, which has so much more processing capacity. The result was that despite this high powered processor the PC runs painfully slow. I hate to think what it would be like running on my old PC.
I have been using Linux since about 1997 during which time I've tried several different distributions. Recently I've settled on Ubuntu Linux, partly due to it's package management and how easy it is to upgrade. The following is based on the latest upgrade from Ubuntu Linux 8.04 to 8.10. Ubuntu uses a 6 monthly upgrade cycle which is far more frequent than Windows 5 yearly versions.
To upgrade the operating system was just a case of clicking on the "upgrade" button, all the updates were downloaded from the Internet and were then installed. So far I've been unable to find anything that doesn't work fine.
With Linux, not only do you know have to pay for the upgrade, but you don't have to have paid for the older version. Linux is free in every way possible, you can even sell it on if you want (with a few rules to protect the freedom of future developers).
If you don't have broadband you could ask a Linux friend for a copy (most of whom would be willing to provide that without even asking for the cost of the CD back) - this is perfectly legal, unlike if someone copied licensed software.
If you don't know any friends with Linux you can even get the disk posted to you for free direct from Ubuntu.
If you do want to part with some money, you can always buy Linux complete with official support for much less than the Windows equivalent.
All the software that comes with the distribution is checked and if necessary updated to make sure it still works. Therefore there should be few surprises of software suddenly not working because of an upgrade.
Note: This applies to Open Source Linux Software. This also applies to most proprietary Linux software as well. There are just a few issues with software that requires a custom Kernel.
Hardware support tends to get better rather than worse. Occasionally a device driver may stop being developed, which is normally because the hardware is so obsolete that the developers don't have the device to test it any more. Even then it may be possible to compile the driver yourself and keep it working.
Upgrading Ubuntu doesn't just upgrade the core operating system, but also any software provided by Ubuntu. This includes an Office Suite, Graphics Software, games and much more.
Note: In this case OpenOffice.org (the most popular free Office suite) was upgraded, but not to the latest 3.0 release. This was due to the latest version coming too late to properly test in the distribution. There is information on how to upgrade Openoffice.org to 3.0 on Ubuntu, or I will provide details of an even easier method in a future post.
Incremental upgrades of Linux still run on the same hardware as much earlier releases. Some of the latest versions of the software does need a more powerful processor or more memory, but there are lots of alternatives to keep you computer working at a reasonable speed on what most would consider ancient hardware. I still have Linux working on an old Pentium 3 with 256MB of RAM.
I have not noticed any performance decrease since upgrading. My new laptop (mid-range purchased last year) struggles with Vista, but flies when running Ubuntu. I even have the latest 3D desktop software installed, but that can be easily skipped to help improve performance on older machines.
When it comes to simple upgrades Ubuntu Linux beats Microsoft Windows hands down.
Just a couple of years ago I used to run mainly Windows except for my webserver, which has always been on Linux. Since suffering the pain of moving to Windows Vista I have now moved over to almost only using Linux at home.
There are some things that I still need to use Windows for as I like the Video editing software that is available for Windows, but the speed that Vista runs at is painful and I'm glad to get back into Ubuntu. Unfortunately not all software is available for Linux, although some Windows software (including a few games) can run under Linux using Wine or crossover Office / crossover Games. When installing Linux you can easily install it alongside Windows so that you can switch between the two by rebooting the computer.
If you haven't tried Linux before, or perhaps tried it in the past when it was still "just for geeks", then you should give it a go. It costs nothing to try, comes crammed with lots of software and is very easy to upgrade to the latest version.