Two new operating system versions are scheduled for release soon: Ubuntu 12.04 and Windows 8. Since beta, trial versions of both operating systems are freely available for download, I thought it would be interesting to give both a try and see how they compare to each other.
This is an informal review based on everyday usage. I focus on usability to get an idea of what is in store for these operating systems and to answer a very important question for each one: “Is this something I would want to use?”
Three operating systems are tested:
Ubuntu 12.04 beta1 (32-bit), Ubuntu 12.04 beta1 (64-bit), and Windows 8 Consumer Preview (32-bit). While this is primarily a 32-bit comparison, I included Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit just to see how its 64-bit requirements would compare with the 32-bit versions.
Here are my results…
Since these are beta versions, it would be useless to install them on production systems. After all, I intend to delete them as soon as possible. So, to be fair to both operating systems, each is installed in its own virtual machine using identical virtual settings in VirtualBox 4.1.8 running on an Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit host.
Surprisingly, VirtualBox 4.1.8 already knows about Windows 8, so it automatically fills in default settings for Windows 8. I was surprised to see that Windows 8 wants 1G of memory and 20G of virtual hard drive space whereas Windows XP and Windows 7 need less. This feels like Vista all over again.
On the other hand, Ubuntu 12.04 beta1 required fewer virtual resources: Only 512M of memory and 8G of virtual hard drive space. Just like previous versions. Linux has a reputation of being less demanding with its hardware requirements, and it still shows. This is always welcome in my book since I dislike the necessity and expense of buying new hardware to run the latest, greatest OS.
I left all settings to their defaults but enabled 3D acceleration where possible.
Both operating systems were installed one at a time without anything extra running on the host in order to time the installation process with a good, old-fashioned stopwatch starting from the point where installation took over after user entry was complete.
For Ubuntu 12.04, timing began after clicking the “Install Now” button on the Install dialog because user entry is performed while Ubuntu installs. For Windows 8, timing began at the step 2 “Installing Windows” phase.
For both, timing ended when the login screen first appeared. In Windows 8, I paused the timing for the user entry steps found on the Personalization page.
Which installed in less time? All were about the same, but Ubuntu 12.04 (32-bit) took the lead at 7 minutes 1 second, followed by Ubuntu 12.04 (64-bit) at 7 minutes and 22 seconds while Windows 8 took 8 minutes and 33 seconds. Not really a big difference.
With all operating systems fully installed, up, and running, the first thing I like to do is find out how much memory and hard drive space a fresh installation consumes.
|OS||ISO Size||Install Time||Memory Usage||HD Space|
|Ubuntu 12.04 beta1 (64-bit)||700M||7m 21s||309M||2.3G|
|Ubuntu 12.04 beta1 (32-bit)||702M||7m 01s||208M||2.2G|
|Windows 8 consumer preview (32-bit)||2.5G||8m 33s||340M||6.66G|
With this out of the way, I next wanted to find out how easy both operating systems were to figure out without consulting help or reading any manuals. Let’s begin.
Ubuntu 12.04 Thoughts
Immediately, I thought, “This is a nice-looking login screen. Easy to understand and attractive in its design.” After logging in, the familiar Unity desktop appeared. It looks like the previous version 11. Windows and menus were as snappy and responsive as always while consuming fewer system resources than Windows 8.
The 64-bit and 32-bit versions look identical and function the same, so I treated them as one for this test.
I noticed that the 32-bit version required less memory than the 64-bit version. Of course, this was measured immediately upon login with no extra running programs or processes.
Linux kernel 3.2.0-17-generic and Firefox 11 are the new default versions.
On the surface, there is not much to add to Ubuntu. If you are already familiar with Ubuntu 11 and know your way around the Unity GUI, then you will feel right at home with Ubuntu 12.04. You can immediately pick up and go with what you know, unlike Windows 8.
However, if you dislike Unity and Ubuntu 11, then you might experience the same dislikes with Ubuntu 12.04 as I did. Unity is the kind of system you will either like or dislike, and each user has his own opinion. Though, I have to admit, I always liked how the icons “jiggle” in the sidebar to grab my attention. Nice touch!
On the plus side, I did not have to fumble through the interface to shut down the computer like I did with Windows 8. The power icon is located in the upper right-hand corner where I expected to find it in Ubuntu, so I clicked it, chose the Shutdown option, and Ubuntu shut itself down. Simple.
The Big Question
Q. “Is this something I want to use?”
A. Not really, but the newer kernel and LTS (long-term support) make it worth considering.
Windows 8 Thoughts
Since Windows 8 is where I spent most of my time, I have more to say about it. Short answer: Windows 8 was a surprise, but not in a good way.
I believe an operating system should be so well laid out and intuitive, that a newbie can figure out the essentials without having to read the manual. That’s just good design, and that was the approach I took to testing both Ubuntu 12.04 and Windows 8. Operating systems that are logical and easy to grasp upon first glance win points in my book, which is why I switched to Ubuntu years ago.
I have never seen any screenshots of Windows 8 until now, so imagine my surprise upon seeing the Windows 8 entry point for the first time. I quickly asked, “What is this? Where is the desktop?”
Instead of a desktop, I was presented with colorful tiles of varying sizes that, after a few moments of head-scratching, must represent shortcuts to applications. One was labeled “Desktop,” so I clicked that, and, Lo and Behold!, the desktop appeared!
The desktop looks like that of Windows 7. Immediately, I was impressed that the Windows 8 Aero effects worked in VirtualBox 4.1.8. This means that the title bars have a fuzzy, see-through, blur effect. They appear solid blue in Vista and Windows 7 running in VirtualBox 4.1.8, so this was a pleasant surprise. The VirtualBox Guest Additions do not install fully in Windows 8, but this was not a problem. I also liked the default light blue theme of Windows 8. It felt clean and refreshing compared to Ubuntu’s dark purple default theme.
The first thing I wanted to do in Windows 8 was browse through the installed programs, such as Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player, to find out their versions. Hm, how do I do that? I immediately encountered a tiny problem…
There was no Start menu!
This was an unexpected surprise. The Start menu, Windows button, or whatever you want to call it is missing from the taskbar. It’s gone. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just search the Internet for a registry trick to bring it back.”
No good. The missing Start menu is an intentional design feature in order to use the “puzzle page” (my name for the colorful tiles that appear after logging in). There is no way (I could find) to bring the Start menu back, and posted registry tricks did not work…at least for me.
So, the big question is, “How do I open programs?”
After some trial and error, I found out! From the desktop, first, press the Windows key on the keyboard. The puzzle page appears. Next, start typing the name of the program you want to open. Another page appears listing programs with matching names.
My first impression: “What? This is just like the Dash in Unity!”
When the program appears after you have typed enough characters, click its icon, and the program will open in the desktop. Not very convenient, in my opinion.
This raises some questions at first glance: “If I do not know what a program is called, how can I open it? What if I forget its name? How can I simply browse through available programs just to see what is on the computer?”
This is the same reason why I did not care for Unity in Ubuntu. The GUI got in the way of using the computer. Running a program by remembering its name is not the most user-friendly method. (Yes, there are other ways, but I want a simple choice. The menus in GNOME 2 provide that simple choice.)
Windows 8 does the same thing as Unity and has similar issues, at least it does for me. True, you can browse through programs by categories, but it could be better.
How Do I Shutdown?
Now, how hard can this be? Believe it or not, I fiddled for minutes searching for the shutdown option. Since the Start menu is gone, there is no apparent shutdown menu.
So, how do you shutdown? After much trial and error, I found a way by pressing the Windows key on the keyboard, clicking the user icon on the puzzle page, clicking “Sign Out” from the menu, pressing the letter “a” on the keyboard to make the login screen appear, clicking the power icon in the lower right-hand corner, and then clicking “Shut down” from the menu. Windows 8 then shut down. Whew!
I thought this might be me, so I searched online for a better way, but it seems others were experiencing the same frustration. Why must this be so hidden? Most of us are coming from operating systems where the shutdown process is self-apparent. Ubuntu, for example, has an obvious shutdown button in the top panel by default. Past versions of Windows have a shutdown option easily accessible from the Start menu. This is what people are already familiar with, so why change what works? At least make the change obvious.
Probably the biggest inconvenience I experienced with the new Windows 8 interface is its full-screen, do-one-thing-at-a-time default. For example, when searching for a program, the desktop disappears and the screen fills with the Apps window. Since I usually have a number of projects going on, I like to be able to view what is open on the desktop while choosing a new program to open, so I found this to be an inconvenient nuisance. Other applications operate in the same full-screen style whether they be Photos or Reader to name a few.
There are other points to mention about Windows 8, such as the various applications, the improved Task Manager, and the Office look and feel of Windows Explorer, but this is a consumer evaluation version not meant for prime time, so there is little need to delve further.
After finally grasping the system known as Windows 8, I found myself relying upon the keyboard (especially the Windows key) more than ever because the easiest tasks, such as opening programs and shutting down the computer, require more effort than what I am using now. Why bother upgrading to this? On the other hand, this is a beta version, so maybe these issues will be resolved.
The Big Question
Q. “Is this something I want to use?”
The Linux world has always been on the cutting edge of technology, and ideas seen in Linux often show up in Windows years later. I see this again with Windows 8. Just like Vista included ideas eerily similar to Compiz, Windows 8 includes ideas eerily similar to Unity and, therefore, feels more like a copycat operating system than one with truly innovative ideas. Windows is looking and behaving more and more like Linux with each successive version. It seems as if Windows sees how slick-looking and popular the Linux GUIs are becoming and wants to get in on the action too. (Check out Linux Mint and OpenSuse for examples.)
Ubuntu 12.04 feels more like a refinement on Unity and the version 11s. While Ubuntu 12.04 did feel somewhat easier to use than both Ubuntu 11 and Windows 8, and while the updated software and kernel are good to see, Ubuntu 12.04 is still afflicted with the Unity and GNOME 3 GUIs from which there is no easy escape for those who prefer the plain simplicity of GNOME 2. The same gripes I had with Ubuntu 11 and Unity are still present in Ubuntu 12.04.
Both Ubuntu 12.04 and Windows 8 suffer from interface over-simplification. This might be fine for new users shy about computers, but for those, like myself, who enjoy tinkering under the hood, it becomes annoying because the interface gets in the way of actually using the computer. It feels like I am playing with plastic toys to build a house instead of using professional power tools.
On the other hand, it boils down to what you are already familiar with. Both Unity and Windows 8 require time to learn compared to previous versions. Their GUIs do things differently compared to GNOME 2 and past Windows versions, so whichever you choose, you will need to relearn the steps to achieve the same results.
After reviewing both of these operating systems, three conclusions are clear:
- Ubuntu 12.04 is easier to pick up and use than Windows 8.
- Ubuntu 10.10 was the last great Ubuntu release while Windows XP was the last great Windows release.
- If using Ubuntu 10.10 or Windows XP, then there is little need to upgrade to any of the newer versions, which, in my opinion, are both inferior. Ubuntu 10.10 and Windows XP do everything I need and do it well without the hassle of “new and improved” GUIs.
Now that I have had a chance to get a feel for these new operating systems, my initial excitement has dissipated, and I find myself hoping that Ubuntu 13 and Windows 9 will be improved by returning to their roots. What I am using now runs surprisingly well — and even faster — even if it is older. I like to see improvements and new ideas, but not to the point where they negate usability and obstruct computer usage.
Yes, both operating systems tested were beta, pre-release versions subject to change, but if the final releases are going to be like this, then I will stick with my trusty Ubuntu 10.10 and Windows XP.