It can be tricky to compare Linux vs.Windows as they are very different systems. Linux supports entirely different operations—Linux OS can be used on servers and lightweight devices, whereas Windows OS lends itself more readily to end-user machines.

Still, the difference between the two systems can also make a Linux vs. Windows comparison easier. Depending on your situation, it may be immediately obvious which operating system is better for you.

Let’s take a deeper look.

person working on Windows 11 computer on the couch

A brief history of Linux operating systems 

Linux is an open-source operating system that was first released in 1991. Linus Torvalds, a university student in Finland, developed it as an alternative to the then-popular Unix operating system. Linux has always been free and open-source; everyone has access to the source and can use it however they please. The Linux Foundation now supports it.

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To be specific, Linux isn’t an operating system in and of itself. Rather, Torvalds created what is known as the Linux kernel. The Linux kernel is what Linux operating systems are built on. Each version of Linux is called a “distribution.”

The benefits of Linux

The drawbacks of Linux:  

Is Linux the same as Unix? 

Linux is based on the Linux kernel, whereas Unix is based on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) kernel. They are very similar file systems, and most users will be able to move almost seamlessly between both environments. But Linux is much more popular than Unix.

Is Linux an operating system? 

Linux is not an operating system. It is based on the Linux kernel, which Linux operating systems are built on. Each version of Linux is called a “distribution.” There are many different distributions of Linux, each with its own set of features and benefits.

What are the most popular Linux distributions? 

The most popular Linux distributions are Ubuntu, Debian, and Mint. There are many others, but these are the most commonly used. Primarily, the differences are how the systems are configured and what software is pre-installed. 

Each distribution has its strengths and weaknesses, but they’re all built on Linux. An example is Ubuntu vs. Arch Linux. Ubuntu is designed to be very easy to use. Arch Linux, by comparison, is designed for power users who want to customize every aspect of their OS.

Is Linux used only via the command line? 

No, Linux can also be used through a graphical user interface (GUI), which is more user-friendly. Many distributions of Linux come with a GUI pre-installed. openSUSE is one of the more popular GUI-based Linux systems. But a Linux user can always switch back to the command-line for better control.

The history of Windows operating system 

Windows was first released in 1985 by Microsoft. It was designed as an alternative to the then-popular DOS operating system. Windows has always been a proprietary system—Microsoft has always held the copyright and charged users for licenses. 

In recent years, versions of Microsoft Windows have been released for free. The cost may not be obvious to a Windows user because many computers sold come with Windows out of the box. Windows offers an operating system experience more similar to macOS than Linux.

The benefits of Windows: 

The drawbacks of Windows: 

Is Windows good for servers?

Historically, it’s been common knowledge that Linux is for servers and Windows is for users. But in the last decade, Windows has made significant leaps in its server technology, and it’s quickly gaining popularity and supremacy in that arena. Windows has many features that make it a good choice for servers, although Linux servers are still generally more reliable.

If reliability and stability in a system aren’t absolutely essential, then many companies find that Windows systems are easier to use and administer. There is also an advantage to using Windows for a business server because so many employees rely upon the Microsoft ecosystem. 

What are the most popular versions of Windows? 

The most popular versions of Windows are Windows 10 and Windows 7. Windows 11 is the newest version but has not yet reached widespread adoption. It likely will as it continues to roll out. Microsoft has been moving toward a continuous release paradigm, through which new releases are automatically rolled out to current customers without cost. This not only keeps the systems safer but encourages adoption. 

Is Windows 11 free?

Before, a notable difference between Windows and Linux was that Windows was never free. There are still licenses for most Windows products, but you can get Windows 11 for free. It is a free upgrade from Windows 10 and can be downloaded via the Microsoft website.

The major differences between Linux and Windows 

First and foremost, Linux is open-source, while Windows is not. This means that the code that makes up Linux is publicly available for anyone to see, modify, and redistribute. Windows is closed source, meaning Microsoft holds the copyright and does not release the code to the community. 

Linux is known to be lightweight, high-performing, and stable in terms of use. The number of viruses released on the Linux system can be counted on one hand, whereas Windows encounters hundreds of new viruses every day. On the other hand, Windows is considered to be vastly easier to use.

Linux vs. Windows: servers 

Linux servers have been the industry standard for many years. They are known to be more reliable and require less maintenance than Windows servers. However, Windows is quickly gaining ground in this area, with its latest server versions offering features and performance that rival or exceed Linux servers.

Linux vs. Windows: performance 

Linux is known to outperform Windows in many cases, especially when it comes to running servers or devices that need to be optimized for speed. However, Windows can be just as fast as Linux with the right hardware and software. This partly depends on what is being done with the system. In IoT devices, Linux will almost always be preferred because it’s so lightweight and secure.

Linux vs. Windows: software 

Linux has a much larger selection of base tools available for it than Windows. Still, these generally come in the form of packages that are not very easy for the average user to install and configure. Windows has a larger selection of easy-to-use end-user tools; the most common software tools in the marketplace are more likely to be supported by Windows.

However, there’s a confounding factor. As more systems move to the cloud, the distinction between Windows and Linux platforms becomes less of a challenge. Cloud applications can be utilized in the same way on any platform, which means any SaaS solution can be used on Linux as well as Windows.

Linux vs. Windows: security 

Linux is considered to be more secure than Windows, mainly because it’s much harder for viruses and malware to infect Linux systems. In addition, the open-source nature of Linux allows users to be more proactive in their security by inspecting the code and looking for potential vulnerabilities. Windows has a larger attack surface due to its closed source nature and the fact that it is more widely used.

Linux vs. Windows: customizability 

Linux is highly customizable, while Windows is not. Linux users can change or add any feature they want, which is why it’s the preferred platform for many system administrators. In fact, an administrator could make their own Linux distribution if they wanted to (and many have).

Windows is always going to require configuration to get it to work the way that someone wants it to work. Often, that configuration still isn’t going to extensively change the way that Windows works.

Linux vs. Windows: video games

Video games are an area in which Windows simply excels. The vast majority of video games are released for Windows rather than for Linux. Most gamers will need to emulate Windows on a Linux machine to play games. They usually can’t use any advanced video card features when they do this. For gamers, the choice is always going to be Windows.

This may change in the future as emulators become better. But for now, it makes more sense to use a Windows machine for games. The same can also be said for macOS.

Linux vs. Windows: ease of use 

Windows is considered to be much easier to use. The average person can use a Windows machine without any training or prior experience. On the other hand, Linux can be difficult for the average user to learn and requires more technical knowledge.

This may change in the future as distributions like Ubuntu become more popular. But for now, Windows is the easier option.

Linux vs. Windows: support

Linux support is based on a community atmosphere of learning; it’s expected that you will take the initiative to find answers rather than being hand-held or taught. Because Windows is a commercial product, it has paid customer support available—it’s more likely that you can get technical support on the line. 

This isn’t always true; there are commercial versions of Linux that come with commercial-grade support. But it’s generally the case that you will support your own installation of Linux.

Linux vs. Windows: careers

It’s hard to make a general statement about which platform offers better career opportunities. It really depends on what you’re interested in doing.

If you’re interested in system administration or web development, Linux is the way to go. If you want to work in the video gaming industry or be a software engineer, Windows will be the better option. 

Linux developers and administrators tend to make more because they’re rarer and because the skill ceiling is higher. But Windows developers and administrators tend to have an easier time finding positions because Windows is used more frequently.

Linux vs. Windows: popularity

In terms of raw installs, Linux likely wins; it’s on many lightweight devices and IoT solutions. In terms of actual usage, Windows wins; not only is it used by most end-users, but it’s also used on a lot of servers today.

Popularity is about more than just “What do people like more?” A more popular system has more documentation and a larger, more active community to help. If you post a question about an obscure Linux distribution, you may struggle to get an answer. If you post a question about a problem with Microsoft Windows 11, it’s more likely that someone will be able to help you quickly.

At the same time, there’s a reason why Linux is used on so many lightweight devices. There are certain situations in which Linux is the clear and obvious first choice, primarily situations in which security and stability are of paramount performance. If you are a developer for medical devices, for instance, you are more likely to use a modification of the Linux kernel than you are to use a version of Windows.

The bottom line: who wins in Linux vs. Windows?

This is a difficult question to answer, as it largely depends on the individual’s needs and preferences. Linux has some clear advantages over Windows in terms of performance, security, and customizability, while Windows has the edge in terms of ease of use.

Your best bet is to learn more about each system and its use cases. If you find that you need something stable and you aren’t afraid of a sharp learning curve, Linux is better. If you find that you want something user-friendly that you aren’t going to have many problems with, the best option is Windows.
So, what now? Take a look at some other Linux distributions, learn a little more about Linux, or compare Linux with two big options: Arch Linux vs. Ubuntu and Ubuntu vs. Windows.

Page Last Updated: March 2022

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