Ubuntu vs. Windows 7 on the business desktop

Microsoft Windows may be the de facto standard desktop operating system in business environments, but high costs, restrictive licences and constant security issues are leading an increasing number of companies to consider open source alternatives — as Kat Orphanides explains.

Of these, Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution is regarded as one of the most fully developed operating systems and for this head-to-head, we've compared the current Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot') to Windows 7. In particular, we're interested in its interface and software capabilities from an end-user's perspective, plus the ease of installation, security and maintenance considerations for administrators.

Installation

In an ideal world, an operating system should be ready to use as soon as it's installed, but that's seldom the case.

GRUB Bootloader

With the partition table set up accordingly, whether manually or automatically by Ubuntu, installation conveniently continues in the background while other system settings are configured, but it's also possible to create a slipstreamed installation disk that requires no user interaction.

Configuration

Graphics cards tend to be the most common device to require manual driver installation. Basic graphics functionality is offered by default in both Windows and Ubuntu, but more sophisticated features, such as 3D or audio over HDMI support, require the appropriate proprietary driver. For Ubuntu, these are available from its Software Centre and they're always worth installing, even if a graphics cards more advanced features aren't required.

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Proprietary video driver installation was reasonably easy on our test system with an AMD Radeon HD 6990 graphics card, but we were initially unable to configure the test PC's two monitor set-up using AMD's Catalyst Control Centre.

This was remedied with judicious use of the command line ("sudo aticonfig --initial -f", if anyone is wondering), but these sorts of solutions are considerably more complex that most Windows users will ever have to deal with.

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