% fortune -ae paul murphy

More on: Linux vs Windows

Last week's discussions on using Linux to catch Peter Principled bosses between rocks and hard places included a comment from ARyKaXaN in which he points out that Wintel's majority market position makes it the standard against which most people judge other products and then concludes that as long "as *users* aren't willing to accept that only windows behaves as windows" other OS/GUI combinations will face uphill struggles for acceptance.

He right, of course - and part of what he's thinking reflects comments we see all the time: comments to the effect that Windows is defined by its GUI and the ease of use this provides. With that in mind I thought I'd repeat my entire initial response, cleaned up and extended, here.

From an objective technology perspective I'd say that any of the four major Unix GUIs beat the Windows GUI hands down. Pick any multi-part set of technical or performance criteria you would be willing to defend in public and you'll find that three of the four are about as good as Windows and the fourth one is much better.

Consider, for example, the home user stuff where MacOS X is years ahead of Windows while KDE and Gnome are edging into the same ballpack; compare on sysadmin and programming tasks and CDE wins by a significant margin while the other three are all competitive with the Windows way. Have a mixed set of criteria? both KDE and Gnome will dominate Windows with MacOS X and CDE in the game.

Try it: make a list of objective criteria for judging the suitability for use of a GUI - but omit windows compatibility as obviously unfair - and you'll find that Windows will come far behind the Unix leader and roughly comparable to at least two of the other three.

Objectively, where Windows is ahead is in:

1- mind share; and,

2- shallow integration.

Compare OpenOffice to Ms Office, for example, and the MS product looks more integrated but actually isn't - Microsoft handles integration outside the core applications and file structures while Openoffice does it in the file structure and applications.

Similarly, if you compare the entire install process for a web server like Apache on Unix to IIS on Windows the MS product set looks more consistent and is clearly easier to integrate for simple applications - but falls apart for more complex tasks the Unix options handle with ease.

In that response I didn't suggest that the data might support a more subtle conclusion, but I want to now: that Windows is objectively ahead of Linux (and Solaris and BSD) only in areas where Unix attempts to imitate Windows for marketing purposes - and that everywhere else it's not even a contest.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.