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Regular Meeting of the
Los Angeles Chapter of ACM

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Linux vs. Windows"

Panel of Experts

(Note that this meeting is on the second Wednesday of the month!)

You hear it on the News and read about it in papers and magazines. The Operating System struggle. The leading OS for the PC is Microsoft® Windows. Linux has made strides in this area. Linux, however, has the reputation of needing a computer science degree to setup. Windows on the other hand can be installed by an eight year old. (With adult supervision of course.)

  • Can Linux distributors make a Linux install user friendly?
  • What are the comparative stabilities of the two platforms?
  • Is Windows more vulnerable to virus attack than Linux?
  • What are the comparable update frequencies?
  • How hard is it to perform an update to the product?
  • What is the comparable level of support for the two products?
  • How do the two platforms stack up with regards to user satisfaction?

These questions and others will be addressed.


LA ACM Chapter Meeting
Held Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The presentation was "Linux vs. Windows." This was a regular meeting of the Los Angeles Chapter of ACM. We failed to get a pro-Windows speaker so the presentation was given by Gareth J. Greenaway a longtime Linux advocate who is very active in the LA Linux community. The audience was composed of either Linux enthusiastic advocates or Windows users who weren’t really all that happy with Microsoft products. The speaker was late because of heavy traffic, but the audience had a round table discussion before the meeting. There were some comments about the positive aspects of Framemaker, and its strong database integration and support was noted. There was a comment that everyone hated Microsoft. I said that I didn't hate Microsoft and was not ready to move to Linux on my home desktop. There was a reply that I should be. There were comments that vim, an improved version of the UNIX vi editor on LINUX, was very good. Vim was recommended as a time saver with many good qualities which can be set up to provide a very detailed history of undos in a document. Should vim be used by everyone? It was likened to email programs and Outlook that secretaries and other non-technical people have learned how to use. There were comments that it was a bit hard to get used to vi and vim, but that then it is easy to use. Word Perfect was given high marks as a word processor compared to Word. It was regarded as unfortunate that the prevalence and marketing of Microsoft Office has reduced the number of people who use Word Perfect. A number of problems that have occurred using Word and things like surprising font changes when a file was moved from one location to another were described. At this point the speaker arrived and set up for his presentation.

Linux started out as a hobby. Linux was released to the public on August 25, 1991. It was released under the GNU (GNU’s Not Unix) license that is "Free as in speech not as in beer." It is a matter of liberty, not price. You can modify and sell it, but the product has to have the same ability to be modified and released under the GNU license conditions. Linus Torvolds started to develop an operating system which is no small feat and released it through Usenet. The original name of his operating system was something like Virel, but he was told that since it was a version of Unix it had to have a ux at the end so the Lin of his first name was added and the result was Linux. You can modify Linux and sell it but you have to follow the rules of the GPL (GNU Public License). GNU had many system tools but no kernel. Linus Torvolds made a Usenet posting that said, "Hello everyone out there using minix – I'm doing a (free) operating system (Just a hobby) won't be big and professional like GNU." He didn’t expect many people to use it. GNU plus the Linux kernel equals the GNU/Linux operating system. Richard Stallman, the man behind GNU, was at first reluctant to describe Linux as the kernel of GNU but later gave in. The number of Linux users who recently were listed as registered users is 140,729 people, but the estimated number of total users is 29 million. Check the user count on As you can see, most users are not registered users. (My check of the counter was 140,501 – maybe someone dropped off-Seems to happen, yesterday there were 140,502 registered users listed).

Is installing Linux friendly, well how does it compare to Windows? Is Windows easy to install? How many Windows users actually install Windows themselves not using a recovery disk? It isn't too hard but has a number of steps. In the past a Linux installation was very difficult, required using 40+ floppy install disks with an additional 20 if you wanted to set up the graphic interface. Configuring the Graphic User Interface (GUI) by hand was not an easy process. However, the future of installing Linux is made easier by using Fedora/Red Hat, Suse, or Mandrake. Fedora/Red Hat are basically the same but Fedora free and Red Hat a commercial version. They provide a friendly GUI install from start to finish for most situations and provide friendly text with clear, concise questions which aids the installation.

Installing additional software and updates is simple. There are many packages available that can be switched in and out easily. Package management makes it obvious what software is being updated and security updates are easy. With open source software when a bug is found many times the fix is available on-line the next day. There are tools for installing, removing and updating software; apt and yum. The front end tool for them is named synaptic. Apt and yum are front ends to other software.

A big advantage of Linux is stability and system uptime. It is not unheard of for a Linux machine server or desktop to not require a reboot for years. It is very rare for "services" or applications to crash the system. Upgrades and software updates are done without rebooting except for changes to the kernel. Security requirements needing kernel changes are almost non-existent. Most modifications required of the kernel are to handle new hardware.

Is Windows more vulnerable to viruses? The short answer is yes. Why? Linux shares various Unix systems concepts of users and permissions as to what they can and cannot do. You don't need administrative rights to use the system. There is inherent security in Linux.

Is Linux ready? Yes. Free support for Linux? A local LA Linux Users Group is found at You can also find much help for Linux problems by using Google to find groups that will assist you. Free support for Windows? You can get that at Microsoft has control of fixes required to their software and that is a big difference from Open Source software.

Commercial support for Linux can be found at Red Hat, Linspire, Xandres, Mandrake, and Suse/Novell. Linux users have many user interface (UI) choices: Linux-KDC, Gnome, XFCE and many others. There is much choice for Linux users; you are not tied to an interface as you are in Windows. Price: No licenses, no fees. Members of the audience described good experiences at installing the UI of their choice on Linux. There is an extraordinary amount of free software available for Linux, much of it either equivalent or better than the corresponding costly Microsoft software.

What are the hurdles to changing from Windows? People have moved from Microsoft Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, Windows 2000 to Windows XP, and will have to move from Windows XP to Vista sometime in the future. Why not move from Windows to Linux? People tend to want to use things they already know how to use and are not comfortable with change, either change from one version of Windows to another or change to another system. Microsoft tries to provide relatively easy upgrades from at least the last version, but there are frequently nasty surprises to users who find that things supported in previous versions are not supported in Windows XP. How much additional difficulty would occur if the change was from Windows to Linux? Is shifting from Windows to Linux more difficult than changing from one version of Windows to another? Emulators can be used to run existing software applications for Windows or even to run Windows itself. Open Office can handle most Windows files. There are some problems with spread sheets and password protected files. There are advantages to using Open Source formats that are not tied to Microsoft proprietary formats.

There was a discussion about the difficulties of making certain in organizations that you were complying with the requirements of commercial software. This can be a real headache even if your intentions are good and insuring compliance can be costly. This is a problem you don’t have with Open Source software. There was a discussion about how Linux ran much better on lower speed CPU’s than did Windows. The audience was asked how many people had desktop machines at home that were less than 2 ghz (gigahertz) and at progressively lower speeds down to one person at 400 mhz (megahertz). (I couldn’t remember the speed of my desktop CPU at home, but checked it later and found it was 3.2 ghz.). The message was that you can run Linux on old machines that Windows XP would choke on.

Mr. Greenaway announced an upcoming Linux SCALE(Southern California Linux Expo) conference on February 11 and 12, 2006 at the Radisson LAX. Information can be obtained at There are special rates for students that can be obtained using an STDNT functional code (This information is available at the website). User Group organizations are issued special codes to get a discount for the conference. The Los Angeles Chapter of ACM has been assigned the code LAACM. SCALE is a volunteer run event. There are tutorials for people who are just getting started with Linux.

A major source of information about Linux is found at This site has numerous links to a large number of Linux organizations. However, I note that as of January 14, 2006 the dates for the SCALE conference at that website are one day off from that given at the SCALE site so take the link to that site to get the newest information about the conference. Mr. Greenaway said his group is found at which is the Simi-Conejo user group.

This was the end of Mr. Greenaway’s excellent presentation. Usually I don't make long personal comments about a topic presented at a meeting, but there are two reasons for breaking from this procedure.

1. Should I move to Linux from Windows XP on my home desktop?

2. Nobody who came to the meeting had anything good to say about either Microsoft or Windows.

The basic answer to question 1 is that if I am happy with what I have and it is running satisfactorily for me, there is no compelling reason to change. Change choices can wait until sometime down the line when Microsoft comes out with their new "Vista", or whatever Microsoft will name it. Typically after some period of time Microsoft will stop supporting earlier operating systems and you eventually get forced into a change, especially if you buy a new computer. I stayed with Windows 98 and its modest upgrades and patches from 2000 to 2004 without much trouble (the usual constant rebooting with system crashes, you learn to live with it). Someplace along the line I had a hard drive problem, replaced it, and began to worry about how long the rest of my aging and increasingly obsolete hardware was going to last. Quoting from the comic strip "Mother Goose and Grimm", "Computer years are 7 dog years." I purchased a brand new HP Pavilion computer with Windows XP installed. Most things worked nicely, but not everything. My Adelphia cable connection was up and operational with no problems almost immediately. A good thing too, because a lot of my other software packages needed online help to work properly. The old LaserJet 1100A came up and printed fine, but the scanner no longer worked. After some prolonged online search at Microsoft and HP I learned that the scanner was no longer supported by either party in Windows XP. I bought an Office 2003 package that mostly worked with the older files. Small problem. I bought Office Professional so I could have the Access database software and it didn't work at all initially. A quick visit to the Microsoft website FAQ said that I should de-install the "gift" trial version of Office 2003 loaded on the machine by HP and then things would work and indeed they did. Access, however, would not produce mailing labels until a series of changes were made to queries and reports using information from the Microsoft website. There were a number of other problems, but eventually everything I really need is up and running. And, Windows XP does not crash as often as my old Windows 98. Still does sometimes, though, and when it won't accept inputs from either the keyboard or the mouse it is time for a hard reboot.

I still am faced with the fear of the unknown of going from a known quantity, my software up and running on Windows XP to the unknowns of a new operating system. Also back in the prehistoric era of the 1990's I was on software development teams using UNIX. I recognized it as a wonderful development system, and was happy to use it at work. I also had the feeling that I did not want this system on my home desk top computer. There was a rudimentary GUI but there were a lot of things that were better done by command line text inputs. I took UNIX courses and learned how to use it, but I never learned to love it. Since retiring in 1992 I have done nothing with it and am now completely stale. I also was not convinced at hearing that vim was vastly superior to vi, because vi is not my idea of a user friendly word processing system. Although I was still working when Linux arrived in 1991 I didn't hear much about it until later. In discussions after the meeting I was told that if I wanted to test Linux without committing myself to it I could do a search on Google and get a disk version of Linux to check things out. There are several places to look. One that had a great deal of information was Further down at that website at there were detailed instructions on how to download and burn a CD. I saw a recommendation somewhere that it is a good idea to either have a high-speed internet connection when you do the download or get a friend with one to burn it for you. From what I read, Puppy sounds like a good place to start if you want to test out Linux, but I would recommend checking with a Linux User Group (Something I have not done yet) before going ahead. What will keep me from doing this? Well, inertia and unwillingness to spend the time, which I assume will be considerable, to go through the process of checking out a new system that I don't really need now. After all, I have other activities competing for my time such as LA-ACM, some other organizations, income tax, and those great time wasters Minesweeper and Solitaire.

However, there are companies that believe that Microsoft is a better fit for them and provides a cheaper TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). I looked at the Enterprise Server Zone featuring the Windows Server System at (After all, if Microsoft doesn't believe in Microsoft, who does?)

Go to and link to Case Studies.

Radio Shack claims to have saved millions of dollars by choosing Windows over Linux. Rayovac also claims savings from using Windows. A quote from Rayovac "It may interesting from a technical perspective, but Linux isn't acceptable from a business perspective. I need a proven IT environment I am sure we can support."

I seem to have heard some of this before. Does anyone out there still remember the days when the word was "Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM"?

This was another of the regularly scheduled meetings of the Los Angeles Chapter of ACM. Our next regular meeting will be held on February 8, 2006.

This was fourth meeting of the LA Chapter year and was attended by about 18 persons.
Mike Walsh, LA ACM Secretary 


On January 11th, Windows versus Linux. Proponents of each Operating System will give a talk about their perspective OS. An exciting exchange is bound to follow.
Come and join the discussion!

This month's meeting will be held at Loyola Marymount University, University Hall, Room 1767 (Executive Dining Room), One LMU Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90045-2659 (310) 338-2700.

Directions to LMU & the Meeting Location:

The Schedule for this Meeting is

5:00 p.m.  Networking/Food

6:00 p.m.  Program

7:30 p.m.  Council Meeting

9:30 p.m.  Adjourn

No resevations are required for this meeting. You are welcome to join us for a no host dinner in Room 1767. Food can be bought in the Cafeteria. Look for the ACM Banner.

If you have any questions about the meeting, call Mike Walsh at (818)785-5056, or send email to Mike Walsh .

For membership information, contact Mike Walsh, (818)785-5056 or follow this link.

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