In this article we will compare Windows vs Linux Operating Systems with their Pros and Cons.
While mainstream users have long argued over whether macOS or Windows is the better operating system for years, Linux has long been considered to be a strange and eccentric cousin of the two best suited for pro users with a comprehensive knowledge of the command line interface.
That’s no longer the case though. The countless versions of Linux available today allow practically anyone to find a distribution that’s tailored to their specific needs as a computer user, but Microsoft continues to sell a familiar and generally well-polished product for PC/Laptop owners with the latest edition: Windows 11.
Both Windows and Linux have been an ever-present force in personal computers for over 30 years, and they’ve both had their ups and downs throughout their various iterations.
Both Windows and Linux have their own distinct use cases and their own specific advantages.
But if you’re weighing the pros and cons of a computer Operating System (between Windows and Linux), here are the facts you need to know.
Table of Contents
The General: Windows vs. Linux
Publicity has a big part to play in the relative popularity and comparative obscurity of Windows and Linux respectively — and while those reputations might not be entirely earned, there are still some dramatic differences between the operating systems.
And no matter what the primary purpose of your computer is, which one you pick is going to impact your daily operations with it.
The latest version of Microsoft’s operating system is Windows 11, and it continues the ongoing trend of charging users to install it on their computers.
But Microsoft’s entrenched footholds in the industry means that cost is often minimal — and many users can actually get access to Windows 11 at no additional cost.
Most new laptops and desktop PCs that aren’t from Apple come with Windows 11 already installed — and if your computer came with Windows 10 (or even an earlier version of the operating system), you can upgrade to the latest version of Windows for free.
The cost of a license will be an issue for most people looking to build their computers from scratch, but the typical consumer buying a prebuilt machine at a retailer won’t have to worry about any upfront cost.
The Home version of Windows 10 retails for a little under $150 and can be upgraded for free, while a license for Windows 11 Professional can be added to your computer for $200. But both are regularly on sale for much deeper discounts.
Windows is only available in a Home and Professional version, but there are hundreds of different types of Linux distributions on the market and actively being maintained.
The one thing that almost all of these distributions have in common is that they’re free to use by anyone.
The exceptions are rare, and they usually come in the form of optional paid distributions with additional features (usually for having professional support) or a donation-based or pay-what-you-can model.
Building and maintaining distributions is hard work, and paying what you can for a version of Linux is generally encouraged because each version of the operating system needs to be maintained and improved through the direct involvement of volunteers.
This is the double-edged sword that is open-source design. While the accessibility of the project — and the general philosophy behind most of these products — necessitates a free model, the amount of funding that comes from optional spending is a requirement for funding improvements to that distribution.
There’s no need to pay for every distro that you try out — but if you find yourself using the same version of Linux for an extended period of time, you might want to think about paying something forward.
Security is an area that demonstrates being the biggest dog on the block isn’t always an advantage.
Because of Windows’ ubiquity — and particularly because of how expansive its install base is — it’s a very large target for hackers and other malicious actors.
More than three out of every four personal computers in use today are running on Windows.
By contrast, Linux accounts for roughly 2.5%. Viruses and other forms of cyber attacks are generally driven by profit — and that means that the grift goes where the money is. 83% of malware in 2020 was directed at Windows computers.
But the biggest Linux-shaped target for malicious actors doesn’t take the form of desktop and laptop distributions like Ubuntu.
Instead, malware built for Linux devices has found purchase in the Internet of Things (IoT).
As more and more internet-connected devices enter the ecosystem — and as they continue to run on the stable and effective Linux format — they’ll only become more lucrative targets for malware.
2021 saw a 35% jump in Linux-focused malware from the prior year, and it’s likely that those numbers will only grow.
It’s still relatively unlikely that your Linux machine will be targeted by a malware attack or other malicious interference, but it’s definitely still a possibility.
Part of Windows’ increased vulnerability is definitely a curse of being too popular, but that too easily discounts the very real security advantages that Linux can deliver.
Functional design decisions made at the root of the Linux kernel put them in stiff counterpoint to Windows.
The philosophy behind privileges is perhaps the most important — with Windows giving users root access by default and Linux taking an opposite tact.
It’s an approach that’s generally better suited to security, but it also minimizes the impact of an attack by limiting a role’s inherent access to resources.
And the crowd-sourced nature of Linux lends a distinct advantage too. Having a huge community of people actively monitoring the codebase allows for a more vigilant approach to flaws that even the financial resources of a company like Microsoft can’t fully compensate for.
3. Supported Software and Applications
The goal of most software developers is to get their product in the hands of as many people as possible, so it makes sense that Windows dramatically outweighs Linux in terms of what software is commercially available.
In terms of raw numbers, Windows offers more software than Linux by a wide margin — and Windows is sure to have a version of the most popular software for any given category.
None of Adobe’s products are designed to natively work on Linux systems, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change any time soon.
In a lot of cases, this is simply an instance of third-party software developers simply not having the resources (or not wanting to use the resources) to make their software compatible with Linux.
But there are some circumstances where Microsoft’s first-party solutions are either too highly-regarded or too ubiquitous to ignore.
While the Microsoft Office suite has experienced some setbacks thanks to the rise of the free, cloud-based Google Workspaces, it still remains one of the most popular and recognized professional software suites in the world.
And WinZip still remains arguably the most straightforward and popular choice for zipping and unzipping files and folders.
For many, the decision to pick a Windows rather than Linux machine comes down to one word: gaming.
Windows has always been the default release for PC gaming, and practically any game that’s not console-exclusive is going to find its way on PC before either Mac or Linux.
If you’re a gamer who wants to be confident that they can play any game on the horizon, a PC with Windows (and a beefy set of hardware) is the most surefire approach.
It’s unlikely that Linux will find parity with Windows in the gaming space any time soon, but the situation is far less dire for gamers than it was even a few years ago. Valve has a big part to play in this.
As the company behind popular PC gaming platform Steam, they have an investment in ensuring as many people as possible have access to games.
And their ProtonDB project allows 80% of their most popular games to play in Linux right out of the box.
That still leaves a pretty wide gap between the games available on Linux and Windows machines, but Linux is a remarkably flexible operating system.
Wine is a software layer that lets Steam machines emulate Windows and even macOS software. Though Wine is imperfect and requires an extra layer of effort, it can do a decent job of emulating a great deal of otherwise blocked software.
And the fact is that while Linux doesn’t have access to some of the most popular software around, it has reasonable alternatives to most commercial products.
From GIMP to 7-Zip to Firefox to Thunderbird, most Linux distributions come equipped with software that promises the same or similar features to their Windows counterparts.
And the better part is that Linux software tends to be free by default, while most Windows software requires a paid license. And power users can really make the most of what Linux has to offer.
Thanks to a robust command line and tools like brew, you can easily set up a variety of tools and software straight through the CLI rather than having to make use of a software storefront.
4. Hardware Requirements
Linux is unfortunately saddled with a variety of hardware disadvantages in addition to their software deficiency.
But this is another case where the brief summary of the situation doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the same way that many commercial software developers aren’t enthusiastic to convert their products for Linux, most hardware manufacturers aren’t in a rush to get Linux drivers out the door.
Fortunately, this is another case where Linux’s open source design really helps it out. While some hardware may never get official Linux drivers from the manufacturer, there’s usually someone out there working on unofficial drivers for practically any piece of hardware (even for Chromebooks).
It will often take a bit longer, and the unofficial driver might not come with all the features of the official build, but chances are that there will be a solution sooner rather than later for any hardware issue that you’re having.
Linux is the easy winner when it comes to the actual technical requirements to run its operating system.
All of the bells and whistles that come with Windows tend to affect performance in a pretty major way — and the lean, elegant, and partitioned format of Linux helps it perform at peak efficiency.
Linux typically runs faster and smoother than Windows 10 or 11, and its performance doesn’t tend to degrade over time like it does with a Windows machine.
Cruft simply doesn’t build up in the same way when you’re running a Linux distro. In fact, many versions of Linux are lightweight enough that you can run them directly off of a flash drive.
With relatively little effort, an ordinary thumb drive can be partitioned into a hard drive with persistent storage and memory and then boot to it from any computer that you have access to.
It’s similarly quite easy to set up separate partitions and install both Linux and Windows on the same computer — or even have multiple different versions of Linux running on a single machine.
The comparative lack of drivers is definitely a setback — but Linux can generally make do with less hardware requirements than a Windows machine and perform significantly better even while at a disadvantage.
5. Learning Curve
For most people who have any experience with PCs, Windows will come with very little if any learning curve.
The operating system’s ubiquity ensures that the average person knows their way around Windows even taking iterative design changes into consideration — and the Windows Office suite in particularly stands out as software that’s retained a clear and recognizable sense user interface even as it’s evolved throughout the years.
Windows was explicitly designed to appeal to the mass market consumer, and you can’t understate the importance of the Windows GUI (graphical user interface) in popularizing PCs for a wider audience.
Linux by contrast was created as a hobby by developer Linus Torvalds. For most of its history, it’s been mostly used by IT professionals, systems administrators, and hobbyists rather than the average consumer, but the steepness of Linux’s learning curve is really contingent on what distribution you use.
Hundreds of Linux distros are available, with each typically being created for a specific use case.
And since the Linux kernel is open source and completely free to use, there’s no reason for enterprises, developers, and hobbyists to not spin up their own bespoke version of the operating system for their particular use case.
Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux distros largely because it was designed from the start to be as accessible as possible.
The user interface closely resembles the designs of Windows and macOS, and it comes pre-installed with a whole suite of software that covers most of the fundamentals and a dedicated storefront you can use to shop for more software.
Setup couldn’t be easier either. Ubuntu can be installed on your machine by simply plugging in the startup disk or flash drive and then following the on-screen instructions.
All of the things that you need to do on a regular basis can be accomplished using the graphical interface in Ubuntu, but the full access of the terminal is waiting there for users who want to dig a little deeper and flex their skills as an operating system user.
There’s even a specialized version of this distro known as Ubuntu Studio which is tailored to the needs of digital creatives.
Ubuntu isn’t the only beginner-friendly distro out there either. Linux Mint, Zorin, and Elementary are just three distros that employ user-friendly graphical interfaces — and any of them could be used as a stepping stone towards a more complex distro like the ultra-sleek Arch Linux or a specialized distro like the security-focused Kali Linux.
Pros and Cons of Windows OS
Windows may be the most popular operating system, but it’s not a definitive winner in this battle.
Here are the main pros and cons you should keep in mind when considering Microsoft Windows as your operating system.
1) Superior variety of native software
2) The widest gaming support of any operating system
3) A beginner-friendly interface many users are already familiar with
4) Quality driver support ensures most hardware has plug-and-play functionality
1) Costs upwards of $100 for Windows Home Edition
2) Inferior security and privacy when compared to Linux
3) Is the target of over 80% of malware
4) Requires payment for most software and apps
Pros and Cons of Linux OS
1) Open source and completely free in all distro formats
2) The best security and privacy design around
3) Infrequently targeted by malware
4) Exceptional performance even when using outdated hardware
1) High learning curve, contingent on the distro used
2) Requires more research and technical skill to troubleshoot
3) Offers support for less commercial software and apps than Windows
4) Low compatibility for gaming, particularly the latest AAA games