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Is Windows REALLY cheaper than Linux?

I have seen a lot of ads and opinion columns lately that talk about mainstream computer companies selling Linux powered systems. For instance, Dell sells Ubuntu and Lenovo sells SUSE. What is staggering to me is the price. The Dell laptop sells for $45 less than the same Dell laptop selling Vista. The Lenovo, according to this news article, sells for only $20 less. So the question is: Would the average Windows consumer want to save a few dollars and [perhaps] have a frustrating experience with Linux? Would the money saved be worth it if one had to learn a completely different OS (Operating System)? Obviously, the answer would be a definite, 'No'. But is this really the case? Is there really only a few dollars difference between these systems and user experiences?

To answer that, let's look a little deeper and see if we can make an educated decision. I will focus on the Dell systems that sell Vista or Ubuntu.First, the hardware is exactly the same. I custom configured each system just to make sure. Therefore, we need to realize that we would not be skimping on our hardware choices. The Window's laptops don't come with superior hardware. This should be a big eye-opener -- Linux can and does run on the same hardware as Windows. Virtually gone are the days of dreadful hardware problems. I state 'virtually' because some hardware issues still linger. But this isn't just an issue for Linux. Not by a long shot. No matter what Microsoft may tell us (or our local sales associate), there are plenty of issues with Windows and hardware. Be rest assured, then, if the system comes from Dell (or any other company) with Linux pre-installed, it will work with the hardware. Guaranteed.

The price difference, then, has to be the software. Is the difference between these two really just $45? I don't think so. Vista Home Premium alone costs about $240. Ubuntu is FREE. So if the hardware is the same and the OSes have a difference of $240, how can there only be a $45 difference between the two systems? I don't know either. It seems like someone is not being honest here. Either, Microsoft is really over pricing their software at the consumer level, or the hardware manufactures are not pricing their systems correctly. Another side of this is that Microsoft is giving the computer manufactures a huge price break. Why would that happen? What would be the motivation? Simply put, to keep people from buying the other system. If I have always used Windows, and the latest version is only $45 more than this Linux stuff, why would I want to switch? Here are a few reasons why a switch might be advantageous.

First, Vista is a completely different OS from XP. There are some major changes for no other reason than just to change them. These changes are supposed to make it easier on the user but I haven't found that to be the case. Things that are important for configuration (like network settings) are buried deep within the system. So, if one is used to making necessary changes to the system, there will be a learning curve.

Second, if we decided to get Microsoft Office (all that's on the system is a trial version), it will cost an additional $400-$500 dollars. And this new Office has also changed. From my experiences, most people just don't like it. Again, these changes are supposed to help the user be more productive but it just seems to frustrate them. Another learning curve.

Third, Windows give the user a false sense of security. What I mean by that is Vista comes with an antivirus app and subscription (which, if we bought it as a stand alone app, would cost us an additional $50), plus a antispyware app (Windows Defender). The antivirus subscription runs out in a year so we would have to renew it. Or, after the subscription runs out, we could uninstall it and install a free antivirus app like AVG Free Edition. However, most of my customers have problems with viruses and/or spyware. Since their computers come with these apps already installed, they are lulled into thinking everything is alright. They don't have to worry about an antivirus app because it has been included, right? Wrong. Most of the time, when I work on someone's system, the antivirus app has expired and the customer doesn't have a clue. 'Sure I have an antivirus program', they'll say. But when I look at it, it will be a couple of years old! Thus, the reason they called me.

But, there are free alternatives even for Windows. And yet, for some reason, people who purchase Windows based computers don't like 'free' software. They are suspicious of it. They believe that it will be inferior to the purchased apps one can get for Windows. This is, really, just a lack of education. There are plenty of good, free apps out there for Windows. It might just take a little time to find them. But remember this, most retailers aren't going to tell you about free software. In fact, they will even degrade free software. Thus, continuing the cycle.

However, with Ubuntu...well...that's a different ball game entirely. First of all, as I noted above, Ubuntu is free. It doesn't cost you one red cent. And, according to their website, it will always be free. Furthermore, Ubuntu comes with a great 'Add/Remove...' applet. Kind of like Window's 'Add or Remove Programs' in the Control Panel but much more powerful. See, with Windows, the 'add' part of that applet is for adding it through the use of a different source like a CD. For example, I go and purchase Microsoft Office, I can then use that 'Add or Remove' applet to install it. However, a lot of the time, the 'Add or Remove' applet will state something like, 'This can't be added through Add or Remove programs. Please use the installer application on the CD.' But in Ubuntu, the 'Add/Remove...' applet does just what it states. We launch that applet and it scans an Internet 'warehouse' (particular for the OS) for all the thousands applications we can install. All free of charge. It will even have the apps currently on our computer already selected. To add a new application, we just select it and then click the 'Apply' button. The app will be installed and then we can close the 'Add/Remove...' applet. To uninstall an app, yep, you guessed it, we just unselect it, click the 'Apply' button, and it will uninstall the app. It's just that darn easy.

As an added bonus to this setup (one location for the OS and all the applications) is that of 'Automatic Updates'. We're familiar with this in Windows. We will sometimes get an update message in the system tray telling us to install the latest Microsoft updates. Well, there is the same thing in Ubuntu as well. But with an added advantage. Not only does this update check the OS, it also checks all of the apps on the system. So, let's say that there is an update to the image editor application, GIMP (GIMP is very, very similar to Photoshop), we don't have to go to the manufactures web site and download it and then install it like we would with Vista. The Automatic Updates for Ubuntu will let us know when GIMP needs to be updated. All we have to do is click on the 'Apply' button and it will install the update. Another great thing about this is that the update has already gone through vigorous testing to make sure it would work with the Ubuntu and not crash it.

Another thing to remember is that Ubuntu (and Linux as a whole), does not get viruses or spyware. Therefore we wouldn't have to worry about those apps. We could just run our systems without worrying about them crashing because of some malicious code.

As another plus, Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice.org. OO.o is a full productivity suite very similar to Microsoft Office 2003. In fact, it can open, edit, and save files in Microsoft's file format, including their new 2007 format. Microsoft Office, however, can neither open nor edit nor save files in OpenOffice.org's default format, the new Open Document Format (ODF). My point here is that Microsoft is compatible with a lot of documents out there (a lot of government office are moving to this new format) but OpenOffice.org is. And it, too, is free.

Now, granted, there will be a learning curve with Ubuntu. But, like I stated above, there will be a learning curve with Vista and Office 2007, too. In my opinion, there is a greater learning curve moving to the new Microsoft products. I have seen it time and time again.

One last thing.  Most of the time, Ubuntu can be installed and used on a lot older hardware.  I currently am running it on a 5-year old laptop.  That's right, 5-years old.  That is something that can't be done with Vista.  Vista has to have the latest and greatest hardware just to function -- forget all of the cool visualization (in the biz, this is called 'eye-candy'.  Ubuntu had this before Vista).  Therefore, to get the longest life from your hardware, Linux is the way to go.

To summarize, the Linux systems come pre-installed with a host of applications (office suite, photo management and editing, music players, PDF readers, etc.), easy updates for all the software, no viruses, no spyware, works longer on your existing hardware (has a longer lifespan), etc. And it only costs $45 cheaper? Well, not really. If we add Microsoft Office, then the difference becomes $450-$550. Add to that the headache of the lack of security (viruses, spyware, security openings, etc.), and a new, frustratingly different user interface and the Linux systems almost sell themselves.  Heck, with the money saved on a Linux laptop, one could almost by two!

Peace be with you.

OD

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