Full access vs no access
Access to source code is probably THE most significant difference between Linux and Windows. The fact that Linux is under the GNU Public License ensures that users (of all types) can access (and modify) code up to the kernel that forms the basis of the Linux operating system. Want to take a look at the Windows code? Good luck. Unless you are a member of a handpicked group (and many of them an elite group), you will never see the code that makes up the Windows operating system.
License freedom vs license restriction
With access to the code, we have the difference between licenses. I’m sure every IT professional could talk about hours of PC software licensing. Let’s just look at the key aspects of licensing. With a GPL-licensed Linux operating system, you are free to modify and use this software, even to republish or sell it (as long as you make the code available). Also, with the GPL, you can download a single copy of a Linux distribution (or application) and install it on as many machines as you want. With the Microsoft license, you cannot do any of these things. You are limited to the number of licenses you buy, so if you buy 10 licenses, you can legally install this operating system (or application) only on 10 machines.
Online support provided by user groups vs. paid support
This is a point that scares most businesses. But it really is not necessary. With Linux, you get support from a huge community, through forums, search engines, and lots of specialized websites. And of course, if you feel the need, you can buy support contracts from one of the big Linux companies (eg Red Hat or Novell).
It is true that, when you use the community support inherent in Linux, you waste quite a bit of time. You might have some problem, post on a mailing list or on a forum, and within ten minutes you could be overwhelmed with suggestions. Or these suggestions could take several hours to arrive. Sometimes it seems to just happen. However, generally speaking, most problems with Linux have already been encountered, and are documented. So there is a good chance that you will find your solution fairly quickly.
On the front side, support for Windows. Yes, you can take the same path with Microsoft and trust users to find solutions. There are just as many help sites for Windows as there are for Linux. And you can buy support from Microsoft itself. Most business leaders are easy prey to the safety net provided by a support contract. But most of the people in charge did not have to call on the said support contract.
Full vs. partial hardware support
One point that gradually tends to disappear is material support. Years ago, if you wanted to install Linux on a machine, you had to make sure you selected each part correctly, otherwise your installation wouldn’t have worked 100%. You can take a PC (or a laptop) and there is every chance that one or more Linux distributions will install and run almost 100%. But there are always exceptions. For example, the hibernate/suspend function remains problematic on many laptops, although it has improved a lot.
With Windows, you know that almost all hardware will work with the operating system. Of course, sometimes you find yourself spending most of the day looking for the right drivers for that hardware for which you no longer have the installation disc. But you can go buy this Ethernet card, knowing that it will work on your machine (as long as you have or find the drivers). You can also rest assured that when you buy this incredibly powerful graphics card, you will probably be able to get the most out of it.
Command-line vs no command line
No matter what happened to the Linux operating system and that the graphical desktop environment is now so extraordinary, the command line will always be a precious tool for those who need to manage their machine. Nothing will ever replace the favorite text editor, ssh, and any given command-line tool. It can’t be imagined that administering a Linux machine without the command line. But for the basic user, it is different. You could run a Linux machine for years without ever touching the command line. Same for Windows. You can still use the command line in Windows, but very far from the possibilities in Linux. Additionally, Microsoft tends to hide the prompt to use the command line from its users. Without going to Run and typing in cmd (or command, or whatever now), the user won’t even know the command-line tool exists. And if a user manages to get to the Windows command line, what could they really do with it?
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