A Retired Microsoft OS Engineer’s Comparison of Linux with Windows

David Plummer is a retired Microsoft operating systems engineer, “going back to the MS-DOS and Windows 95 days.” (He adds that in the early ’90s he’d fixed a few handle leaks in the early source code of Linux, “and sent my changes off to Linus at Rutgers.”)

This weekend on YouTube he shared his thoughts on “the classic confrontation: Windows versus Linux,” promising an “epic operating systems face-off.” Some highlights: On Usability: “Linux’s itself lacks a proper user interface beyond the command line. That command line can be incredibly powerful, particularly if you’re adept with Bash or Zsh or similar, but you can’t really describe it as particularly usable. Of course most distributions do come with a desktop user interface of some kind if you prefer, but as a bit of a shell designer myself, if I might be so bold, they’re generally pretty terrible. At least the Mint distribution looks pretty nice.

“Windows, on the other hand, includes by default a desktop shell interface that, if you set aside the entirely subjective design aesthetics, is professionally designed, usability tested and takes into consideration the varying levels of accessibility required by people with different limitations. In terms of usability, particularly if you do include accessibility in that metric, Windows comes out ahead…”

On Updates: “Windows users are well served by a dedicated Windows Update team at Microsoft, but the process has occasionally had its hiccups and growing pains. It’s very easy to update a Linux system, and while there’s no professional team sitting by the big red phone ready to respond to Day Zero exploits, the updates do come out with reasonable alacrity, and in some cases you can even update the kernel without rebooting.

“Keep in mind, however, that Linux is a monolithic kernel, which means that it’s all one big happy kernel. Almost everything is in there. If they hadn’t started to add that ability a few years back, you’d be rebooting for every driver install. The reality is that some parts of the Linux kernel are just going to require a reboot, just as some parts of the Windows system are going to as well. I think we can likely all agree, however, that Windows software is hardly selective about rebooting the system, and you’re asked to do it far too often.

“While we’re on the topic of upgrades, we can’t overlook the fact that upgrades are generally free in the Open Source world, unless you’re using a pre-built distribution from a vendor. To it’s credit, though, I don’t remember the last time Microsoft actually charged for an operating system upgrade if you were just a normal end user or enthusiast. Still, this point goes to Linux.”
Plummer also says he agrees with that argument that open source software is more open to security exploits, “simply because, all else equal, it’s easy to figure out where the bugs are to exploit in the first place,” while proprietary software has professional test organizations hunting for bugs. “I think it’s a bit of a fallacy to rely on the ‘many eyeballs’ approach…”

Yet he still ultimately concludes Linux is more secure simply because the vast universe of Windows makes it a much more attractive target. Especially since most Windows users retain full administrator privileges…