Let us get this clear from the start! This is NOT your run of the mill Linux vs. Windows "which is better than the other" comparison. Think of this as an aggregation of thoughts from users with varying years of experience, all bundled into one clean, up to date package. And with speed being the theme of the month, we are also throwing in some bonus stats from some speed tests we conducted.
Do you have ten minutes?
Our approach to what you - the user's think was pretty straightforward. We asked a whole bunch of user's who had been exposed to the two computing environments what their thoughts were on certain aspects of each OS and asked for a vote on which they thought was a winner (or a tie). This questionnaire received a fairly good response as well.
We found that all users who participated in the feedback had a minimum of 6 years of Windows experience and the "'nix experience ranged from 10 days to 14 years! Users were then categorized based on number of years of computer related experience and we brought on the onslaught.
Let’s take it from the top where almost everyone thought one edged out the other. 88% of users agreed that Linux provides better default programs post installation and frankly, we agree. Then again, there are two sides to every story. Though Linux users may have the benefit of better post install applications like an image editor, PDF reader, email client, Bittorrent client, office suite and Firefox as the browser, Windows boasts the best 3rd party support with powerful applications like the Adobe / Corel suite, a more powerful Microsoft Office (if you have the money) suite and here's the trump card - GAMES! Linux has simply not seen the plethora of games that are available at the Windows' users disposal, which deters many from considering the open source alternative.
65% of the users that voted either Windows or Linux in the customization section felt that though Windows had a much better overall audio visual appeal, the customization options that Linux software like Compiz Fusion and TweakUI offered were better. Some users reported that giving so many choices was confusing. Networking was another place where users felt Windows was easier when it came to setting up of a LAN, printer and overall functionality with 74% of the votes going Windows' way.
System maintenance was strictly dominated by Linux (81% of votes were in favor of Linux) where users mostly agreed that the lack of too many Linux based malware when combined with the file system (ext4) not requiring defragmenting made their lives a lot easier. But maintenance did not cover the aspect of troubleshooting where users (65% to be exact) felt that resolving a problem by themselves in Windows was a much simpler task when compared to Linux, simply because they were familiar with the innards of the OS like the registry. Hardware support (rather lack of it) was another problem faced by Linux adopters especially the ones running legacy hardware. Windows picked this one up due to the simple fact that hardware vendors write Windows drivers but don't always do the same for Linux, leaving the open source community to put their heads together and make the driver available to users looking for compatibility. Though this is not such a rampant problem now with newer hardware, it is a point to note if you plan on running Linux on old hardware (sound drivers get special mention for the problems they face on Linux).
Points of contention
By votes, 46% of the people thought that Windows had a simpler installer whereas 35% of the votes went to Linux, with the remaining 19% saying that they are both in equal footing. A user in the forum felt very strongly about the Windows installer. “... it's HORRIBLE. It wipes out the boot loader of a previously installed Linux OS." Though we don't share his views on the former, he did bring up a valid point for those considering a dual boot (there are simple workarounds to restore your boot sequence). Some other users were defending Linux in saying that it could even be installed inside of Windows (true) but what deterred most was the fact that Linux was confusing because it offered too many choices (is that a bad thing?) in the file system, swap space etc., so we guess we should not even bother trying to explain the benefits of using a separate root (/) and home (/home).
The ability to search for and install new software also had the users pretty much splitting their opinion. Users of Ubuntu were right to point out the ease of using the Software Center whereas the counter argument of the ease with which Windows accomplishes this task was fairly compelling as well. File management was another such criterion with users going both ways equally on tasks such as creation, deletion, search and copying. The ability to gain help from manuals or online forums also was a fair contest as both platforms are very well documented and have very active communities participating in the aid of someone facing a problem they can't get around.
We did a fresh install of Microsoft Windows 7, Ubuntu and Mint on a PC and here are the install times of the 3 operating systems.
Windows 7 Ultimate Edition: 17m 15s
Ubuntu 10.10: 19m 35s
Mint: 23m 46s
Considering you will need to perform additional installs on your operating system of choice, we recommend you add an additional 30-60 minutes for the updating and install time.
In our opinion, don't be bias or too hasty to dismiss either of these operating systems. They follow different models and the open system has its pros and cons as does a closed one. Give both a fair try and then decide based upon which one suits your needs best. More importantly, keep an open mind and don't be swayed by opinions of other user's. You never know, maybe your ideal config would be a dual boot?