I love operating systems. They are the most wonderful pieces of software that has ever been put together. What you use daily interfaces with your hardware. Every button press causes the OS to send a message to the hardware, and then to read the response from the hardware to provide you with the correct feedback.
Most Operating systems are very good these days. A modern OS can do most of the things its direct competitor does, some do certain things better than others, and some are very specified in their use.
Where the largest focus is today, is the Desktop Computer. Primary focus for the Desktop Computer should be ease of use, or so you’d hope. I take five Operating Systems and compare them using six tasks that most users will need to do at least once a week. Here is how they did.
This test is not about hardware compatibility. In fact, I have shied away from doing in-depth hardware support comparisons for my reviews for a few reasons. One, it is expensive to keep around a wide variety of hardware configurations for testing. Two, no matter how wide the selection of hardware you test on, you will always get one configuration that just won’t work that you have not tested. Third, most modern Operating Systems generally work well with anything hardware wise that is available today. I think the “will it work with my hardware” has been generally answered in the affirmative a few years ago already.
The tests will simply count the number of steps needed to complete each task. I wanted to add another criteria for each test, but I will comment on why I did not at the end of the article. Where there is more than one way of doing something I will score on the shortest way, since that is possibly the method a regular user will adapt. Clicking “Apply” or “Done” counts as a step.
I decided against testing on tasks that are done using add-on software suites such as word processing or adding a mail account. There you are beginning to compare software that is not part of the core OS, so I steered away from that.
For the network tests I assumed a DHCP enabled network. In my experience, most end users never fiddle with their IP Address settings and moving between access points generally makes use of DHCP enabled networks.
For scoring, I simply adopted a grand-prix style points system. The OS that does the best in a particular test scores 4/4, and the OS that does worst scores 0/4. That keeps the point allocation rather simple. Ties are allowed. In every test the amount of steps will be noted in brackets, then the individual score will be in bold , and then the aggregate score next to each OS’s name.
A note on the scoring, if there are two first places in a test, there is no second, and the rest place from third downwards. Where there are four bests, they all get first place, and the other dude gets last place, hence 0.
To recap, first in every test gets 4, second 3, third 2, fourth 1, last 0.
I decided on Six common tasks that every user probably would want to do at least once a week, some of them more than that. They are, in no order of importance:
Joining a Wireless Network
Checking Connection Information (IP Address, Gateway, etc.)
Setting a Network Proxy
Joining a Wired Network
Changing Your Desktop Background
Changing Your Desktop Theme
The Guinea Pigs
I chose the Operating Systems based on the diversity of User Interface, and not on OS Architecture. They are:
Ubuntu – Gnome
Kubuntu – KDE
Linux Mint – Tweaked Gnome
PCLinuxOS – Tweaked KDE
I eventually decided against testing Mac-OS, simply because you cannot install it on your PC. Hardware lock-in essentially disqualifies Mac-OS from this comparison.
Test 1 – Joining a Wireless Network.
Windows 7 (5 steps) 0 (Total 0)
Click on the networking icon in the taskbar, select a wireless network and click connect. Once you have entered the passkey you will be greeted by a popup that asks you to specify what kind of network this is, public, private or home.
Ubuntu (4 steps) 4 (Total 4)
Click on the networking Icon in the top panel, select a network and click connect. Dialog pops up to add the passkey.
Kubuntu (5 steps) 0 (Total 0)
Click on the networking icon. Select a wireless network. Connect, and enter passkey. First time you enter the passkey you will need to set up the KDE wallet, it seems that with Kubuntu you need to enter your wallet password every time you connect to a new network.
Linux Mint (4 steps) 4 (Total 4)
Much like Ubuntu, click on the networking icon, select a wireless network and click connect, enter passkey.
PCLinuxOS (5 steps) 0 (Total 0)
Click on the networking icon, Select your wireless network. Connect, and enter passkey. You might need to set up a wallet as well. Done.
Test 2 – Checking Connection Information
Windows 7 (6 steps) 0 (Total 0)
Right Click on Network Icon. Click on open network and sharing center, click on change adapter settings. Right click on the network, click on status, click on details.
Ubuntu (2 steps) 2 (Total 6)
To check connection information in Ubuntu, you right click on the network connection icon in the top panel, and click on “Connection Information.” Rather easier than Win7.
Kubuntu (1 step) 4 (Total 4)
For Kubuntu it is simply a matter of hovering over the network connection icon in the taskbar. So far the easiest.
Linux Mint (2 steps) 2 (Total 6)
Right-Click on the network icon in the panel, click on CONNECTION INFORMATION
PCLinuxOS (1 step) 4 (Total 4)
Like Kubuntu, you hover over the Networking Icon in the panel, and the information you need will pop up.
Test 3 – Setting Network Proxy
Windows 7 (7 steps) 2 (Total 2)
You have to do this in Internet Explorer. Open IE, click on TOOLS, INTERNET OPTIONS, CONNECTIONS, LAN SETTINGS, ADVANCED. You can do this from Chrome as well.
Ubuntu (6 steps) 3 (Total 9)
Click on SYSTEM > PREFERENCES > NETWORK PROXY. Enter details, click apply system wide. For some reason you need to enter your password twice, every time you change the proxy. You can set up multiple proxies. You have to select each manually every time you need to change though.
Kubuntu (8 steps) 0 (Total 4)
Click on the Main Menu > System. Scroll Down to NETWORK. When you hover over the network icon a pop-up dialog displays what you can set that takes some of the guess-work out of doing it. Ubuntu could do with more of these. Once in there you have to click through a few sub-menus to set the proxy, but a plus is that you do not need to type in your password when clicking apply. More clicks than Ubuntu, but the dialog helps.
Click on MENU, CONTROL CENTRE, INTERNET AND NETWORK, NETWORK PROXY. Click APPLY SYSTEM WIDE, and again like Ubuntu you need to enter your password twiceness.
PCLinuxOS (5 steps) 4 (Total 8)
a) Click on SYSTEM SETTINGS icon in panel, click on NETWORK AND CONNECTIONS, click on NETWORK SETTINGS, click on PROXY, click on MANUALLY SPECIFY PROXY SETTINGS radio button, click on SETUP. Enter details, done. (This way is 8 steps, in case you were wondering…)
b) Click on PCLinuxOS CONTROL CENTER Icon in taskbar, enter root password, select NETWORK & INTERNET (confusingly there is a NETWORK SERVICES option as well, two spaces above…) and set your proxy.
Test 4 – Joining a Wired Network
Windows 7 (2 steps) 0 (Total 2)
Plug in cable, Pop up to select network type (Home, Work or Public) done.
Ubuntu (1 step) 4 ( Total 13)
Take Network Cable, plug in. Wait for IP address. Done. No clickety-click.
Kubuntu (1 step) 4 (Total 8)
Same as Ubuntu. No Clicking.
Linux Mint (1 step) 4 (Total 12)
Same again. No click required.
PCLinuxOS (1 step) 4 (Total 12)
Also the same. No click or pop up menu asking you if you want to join the network, what kind of network it is blah-blah.
Test 5 – Changing Your Desktop Background
Windows 7 (5 steps) 0 (Total 2)
Right click on desktop, select personalize, click on backgrounds and change background, done.
Ubuntu (4 steps) 4 (Total 17)
Right-Click on desktop, click CHANGE DESKTOP BACKGROUND, select new or add one, done.
Kubuntu (4 steps) 4 (Total 12)
Kubuntu follows the normal mantra, right-click on desktop to change your background. Thing is, the item you need to click on is “Desktop Activity Settings.” Once you have that figured out (to my shame I had to Google, because for the life of me I could not find where to change my background simply because of the cryptic naming) you can select a background as per normal.
Linux Mint (4 steps) 4 (Total 16)
Right-Click on desktop, select CHANGE DESKTOP BACKGROUND, select new, done. ALTERNATIVE you could click on MENU, CONTROL CENTRE, LOOK AND FEEL and select background.
PCLinuxOS 4 (Total 16)
Right-Click on desktop, click on FOLDER VIEW ACTIVITIES, Change Wallpaper. Done.
Test 6 – Changing Your Desktop Theme
Windows 7 (4 steps) 4 (Total 6)
Right click on desktop, select personalize and select new theme. Done
Ubuntu (4 steps) 4 (Total 21)
CORRECT WAY: Click on SYSTEM – APPEARANCES and then choose a theme. ALTERNATIVE: Right click on desktop, select CHANGE DESKTOP BACKGROUND and when it opens you can click on THEME top left.
Kubuntu (5 steps) 0 (Total 12)
Click on the kde menu, SYSTEM and select APPEARANCE. From there you can do all of a myriad of things with your theme. Nice if you have the time, not so nice if all you want to do is change the theme.
Linux Mint (4 steps) 4 (Total 20)
You can do the right click on desktop, CHANGE DESKTOP BACKGROUND like with Ubuntu, OR you could click on MENU, CONTROL CENTER, LOOK AND FEEL, APPEARANCE.
PCLinuxOS (4 steps) 4 (Total 20)
Click on SYSTEM SETTINGS icon in panel, click on LOOK AND FEEL, work from there.
I honestly did not expect Windows 7 to fall behind so badly. I could probably fine grain the tests further, but then I would begin to react more on the impressions that I get from the OS rather than the simple ease of use, or lack of hoops to jump through.
Remember I said that I decided against adding another criteria to the tests? Well that criteria is help dialog. KDE4 does great in this area. Hover over almost any clickable button, and you will get a pop up telling you what that button does, or where it goes. Great work KDE4 team! Gnome and Windows 7 fail badly in this regard. I did not add it as a criteria because KDE would win every test hands down because of this feature, yet it fails when you grade it on complexity of tasks. Would it be more fair to include the pop-up helpers in my tests and let KDE4 (Kubuntu, PCLOS) win? No, because KDE is more complex to configure than the Gnome based distributions, but fares a lot better than Windows 7 in these tests.
Ubuntu, and the guys from Linux Mint, should really look at these pop-up helpers. They lower yet another barrier to desktop adoption for the unsure user.
As to the Win7 failure. To wit there are vast improvements over Win XP in it’s interface, like joining a wireless network. However, there are steps backwards too, like checking connection information – in XP you would right-click on the network icon, select STATUS, and click on SUPPORT. Three steps to view crucial information.
Aside from the extra layers added to what the user wants to do, and where it actually is, where and how it is placed is also a bit puzzling sometimes.
Windows 7 really deserves the bottom spot in this comparison.
There you have it. The rankings are as follows:
Ubuntu 21 points
PCLOS 20 points
Linux Mint 20 points
Windows 7 6 points
I am actually surprised that Ubuntu won, given the 4/5 Q-Ranking I gave Linux Mint in my review for The SaGeek MAG this month I full expected Mint to win. Linux Mint is a great little package though, and together with Ubuntu make up the most complete desktop Linux distributions in this test. Yes Windows has more market share than the others, but for most users the reasons to use it become less and less compelling.
Heck, if Google dumps Windows because it is a “security effort” that has to send some kind of message to the industry.
For more geek goodness check out The SaGeek MAG – free for you here.
UPDATE: Based on feedback on this post and the PCLOS review I have compiled a new set of review criteria, have a look at it here.