As with most things in life, we tend to focus a disproportionate amount of energy on why things are different instead of what they share in common. We often write about things like new Windows 10 features you’ll love or reasons why you should switch to Linux.
But maybe we’re all doing ourselves a big disservice. Instead of nitpicking how Linux has this or Windows lacks that, perhaps we should celebrate that both operating systems are robust, effective, and feature complete. In the end, the differences don’t really matter.
Here are 10 big-picture similarities shared by Windows and Linux.
1. User Accounts
Just as I like to run separate Chrome profiles, I prefer to keep separate operating system user accounts. It may be slightly cumbersome, but it just seems like a smart move to me, especially for organization and productivity. One account for personal stuff, one for work, and one for administration.
And both Windows and Linux provide lots of control over user accounts.
On Windows, it’s incredibly easy to manage multiple accounts, to lock down accounts for security, and to maintain an administrator account. One could argue that the User Account Control feature is annoying, but it’s important for security and only a mild inconvenience at worst. Linux can do all of the same, plus a bit more. They’re both great.
2. Alt + Tab
People like to point at Windows and cry about how this feature or that feature was stolen from Linux or Mac. But here’s one feature that Microsoft actually pioneered way back in 1985 with Windows 1.0: the Alt + Tab switcher.
It was called “CoolSwitch” back then, eventually being renamed to “Task Switcher” in Windows 95 and “Windows Flip” in Windows Vista. So useful was this feature that various Linux desktop environments, including KDE and GNOME, incorporated their own versions of it.
Can you imagine using a modern computer without the Alt + Tab shortcut? What a nightmare that’d be!
3. Task View
Windows and Linux “steal” features from each other all the time. If Alt + Tab is an example of Windows to Linux, then Task View (and Virtual Desktops below) is an example of Linux to Windows.
With the release of a compositing window manager called Compiz in 2006, Linux users gained all kinds of cool window management features — like the ability to spread all open windows on the screen and quickly switch between them with a click. The Mac equivalent is Mission Control (formerly Dashboard and Exposé).
Windows 10 finally introduced something similar in the Task View feature. Using the Windows key + Tab shortcut (or three-finger up-swipe on tablets), you can get a bird’s eye view of all open windows. It’s indispensable when you have dozens of active apps.
4. Virtual Desktops
A “virtual desktop” lets you keep separate sets of open windows in separate spaces to minimize clutter and maximize organization. For example, I keep three virtual desktops: one for email and music, one for work and research, and one for leisure activities. In other words, a virtual desktop is essentially a workspace.
Linux first implemented virtual desktop functionality in 1990 whereas Microsoft stubbornly overlooked it for many years before finally adding it to Windows 10 in 2015. It only took 25 years to catch up, but now both operating systems are well-equipped for heavy-duty productivity.
5. Cross-Platform Software
One of the biggest differences between Windows and Linux is software availability. A lot of business apps and commercial games only run on Windows. On the other hand, Linux also has a bunch of exclusive apps. But for many users, these exclusive apps don’t matter.
As someone who regularly uses Windows, Linux, and Mac, I can confidently say that 95 percent of the apps I use are available on all three platforms: VLC, LibreOffice, Spotify, Visual Studio Code, all major web browsers, etc. Many apps also have web versions (e.g. OneNote) that work across platforms. And for the rare app that’s only available on one platform, finding an alternative is easy enough.
Ultimately, this means that my experiences on Windows and Linux are virtually identical as far as apps go.
6. Task Automation
Task automation is an important part of every power user’s kit. Not only does it free up time and energy for other stuff, but setting up an automated task can be a fun and satisfying mental exercise. And even though “task automation” sounds like more of a Linux thing, Windows is pretty good at it too.
On Linux, you’ll most likely want to use Cron. Cron is a background system service that periodically checks for scheduled tasks (called “cron jobs”) and runs them at the right times. Though some command line proficiency is recommended, there are tools to help you create cron jobs without the command line. See our guide to using Cron and Crontab.
On Windows, you’ll most likely want to use Task Scheduler. It’s entirely graphical and every task setup runs you through a wizard, so it’s very easy to use even if you aren’t tech-savvy.
7. Bash and PowerShell
I think we’re heading into an era where “Linux versus Windows” will no longer be a thing for most people. Not only is cross-platform software on the rise (see Commonality #5 above), but it seems like the developers behind each operating system are growing more open to cooperation.
One huge example of this is how PowerShell can be used on Linux and Bash can be used on Windows 10. They both have their pros and cons, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to choose between them anymore. You can use both!
Another big example: Microsoft open sourced the .NET Framework in 2014, making it easier to create cross-platform apps.
8. Servers and Desktops
To most people, Linux is more of a server operating system while Windows is more of a desktop operating system. Actually, both can be used for both. I know several “casual” users who only email and write papers on Ubuntu, and Windows has long offered “server” versions.
Windows Server has been around since 2003 and releases a new upgrade about once every four years. The latest version as of this writing is Windows Server 2016. And even though Windows has a reputation for being unstable or crash-prone, Windows Server is notably stable. You’d be surprised at how many businesses run on it.
9. Security Vulnerabilities
Two big cyber security myths need to die: first, Windows is more secure than you think, and second, Linux is less secure than you think.
Of course Linux is generally safer than Windows, but my point is that Linux isn’t perfect and Windows is no longer the malware-ridden hunk of junk that it once was.
We have to remember that Windows still makes up over 90 percent of the desktop market, so malware creators mainly target Windows users. More malware in the wild, more chances for an infection. That being said, it’s possible to be a Windows user and never catch malware.
10. 32-Bit and 64-Bit Versions
Both Windows and Linux come in 32-bit and 64-bit options. An older machine can get by on the 32-bit version, but any machine with more than 4 GB of RAM needs to run a 64-bit version in order to make full use of all that memory. To learn more about why, see our explanation of 64-bit computing.
Other reasons to use a 64-bit system include faster processing and faster memory mapping, but the downsides include requiring a 64-bit CPU and potential incompatibilities with 32-bit drivers and 32-bit software. Fortunately, the downsides become less noticeable with every year.
Getting Caught Up in the Differences
Long story short, both Windows and Linux are more than good enough to do what you need them to do. Neither is deficient, neither is strictly better than the other. The only thing that truly matters is which one you’re more comfortable using.
If you do want to compare them, see our overview of the key differences between Windows and Linux. Also consider these signs that you may be happier on Linux. But most of all, remember that you can run both operating systems side-by-side, either through dual-booting or virtualization.
What do you think: Windows or Linux? Isn’t it time we stop arguing about how they’re different and be happy that they both exist? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credits: Kotomiti Okuma/Shutterstock