Windows vs Linux: What's the best operating system?

Windows vs Linux: Performance

Although Microsoft's flagship operating system is known for many things, it isn’t widely renowned for being lightweight and quick at the sight of a few other platforms. It can, in many machines, seem bloated and sluggish, and must be properly maintained or it’ll end up feeling too slow and out-of-date.

Linux, on the other hand, is known to be much quicker, largely due to the core of Linux being less demanding than that of Windows, with efficiency gains that some distros have provided, over time, to the performance levels. Some distros have taken these efficiencies a step further by binning a few of the flashier elements of the user interface (UI). This may create an unappealing, yet rapid experience for power users. It also means that Linux might be ideal for those with older machines that might not be able to handle the latest software.

Although you might be able to strip back Windows to the most basic elements to ensure your machine runs as smoothly as possible, Linux holds the advantage if efficiency is what you’re looking for.

Windows vs Linux: User-friendliness

On the flip side, Windows clearly offers a much better user experience than Linux systems generally, despite its reputation as being a little more sluggish.

A screenshot of the Windows 11 Widgets pane

(Image credit: Microsoft)

This is mostly because Windows has been iterated upon and refined over decades, with certain elements becoming staples of the IT industry. These UI elements, such as those which comprise navigation and layout, have become absorbed into other systems and inspired other UI designers. As such, many users are able to operate Windows intuitively, without needing to learn anything.

Unfortunately for Linux, it can’t rely on a long history of design and iteration, and the UI in most distros might seem overly complicated for beginners hoping to try out this alternative OS in light of its performance advantages. The more you use Linux, however, the easier it becomes to navigate, whereas Windows might become more complicated the deeper you dig, especially for surface-level users.

Microsoft, to its credit, has spent the past few years simplifying the more confusing and labyrinthine elements of its software and generally making it much more accessible for entry-level users that aren't necessarily computer literate.

This is especially evident in Windows 10's settings menu, which boils down some of the most common and crucial control panel tasks and lays them out under clear and concise headings. It's a lot more straightforward for the layperson, and the control panel's still available for power users to tinker with.

Windows vs Linux: Which operating system is better?

Windows remains the most popular operating system on the planet, and that vast market share means most users will likely have at least some experience with it - in fact in many cases, Windows will be the only operating system they have ever used. It's a refined system with many years of development under its belt, with the latest iteration, Windows 11, receiving constant security updates and utility upgrades, and is the platform of choice for a whole host of software suites.

Simply put, Windows remains the simplest choice for most businesses, and will likely be the best choice for many, given it's far more user-friendly than Linux.

Does that mean businesses should avoid Linux? Not quite.

The operating system is built using open source technology, meaning it's maintained by its community. That, theoretically, means that software bugs could be discovered and fixed far quicker on Linux than on Windows, and new features can be developed and tested by users directly. The platform is also more flexible, and more customisable than Windows, meaning businesses can switch their platforms on the fly if they wish, provided they have the technical expertise to do so.

When it comes to functionality, there isn't much that a Linux machine can do that a Windows PC can't. The 'distro' nature of Linux means that businesses can either employ people with the skills to build an entirely bespoke system, or find a distro that matches their needs, and so some may find Windows far more restrictive in that sense. Building a bespoke Linux system will give you far greater control over your systems, offering much better utilisation of storage hardware, better customisation, and improved security in some cases.

If you're a small firm that works primarily in software, Linux is likely to be a good fit, as the free availability will reduce overheads, and set-up won't be too complicated to manage. It also has a reputation as a tool for coding, and a large, active community of developers. However, larger deployments will be much more complicated. Replacing the computers of hundreds of employees is likely to cause chaos, particularly if they're not familiar with Linux. It's possible this can be avoided with a Windows-style distro but, without a very capable and well-integrated IT department, many companies will struggle.

Given the flexibility of multiple distros, the non-existent asking price and the heightened security, Linux is our overall favourite - assuming you've got the patience to adapt to a new system.

Windows, however, remains the winner in terms of pure convenience. It's simple, familiar, and guaranteed to be compatible with virtually all software; for busy companies, that could well be more valuable in the long run.

Connor Jones
News and Analysis Editor

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.