Welcome sportsfans! Well, you asked for it and here it is! Part one of desktop deathmatch! In today's fight, it's local favorite Gnome versus the big city bully ... Windows!
In this series we will be comparing a number of popular Linux desktop environments with their more er...'mainstream' counterparts. We will be comparing them in a number of areas, such as: installation, updating, speed, file management, customizability and the important one, screen saving.
Of course, the first thing that you have to do to compare software is to compare the installation processes.
Our windows machine will start off with a version of windows 95 and we will analyze the upgrade process to windows 2000. Our Linux box will have Red Hat 5.2 and we will upgrade it to the Helix Code Desktop.
After we went out and bought the windows CD, we just put the disc into the drive and autorun brought up a dialog box asking us if we want to upgrade our computer. Of course we said yes, and that started the installation process. We were asked quite a few more questions, of which not all the answers were obvious. Of course the toughest question was, "Do you want to upgrade to Windows98?" But after that, the windows installer was very clean and very professional. It becomes very clear very quickly how much money is behind Windows, and it appears to have been well spent.
The installation of Gnome is super-easy. We just went to the gnome website and typed in two commands, and then the installer was running. From that point it was extremely smooth sailing. Very professional, very clean, very easy. And when we were done, we just restarted the X Window System and we had a nice graphical Gnome Desktop login, we logged in and everything was set up for us. The Helix Code installer is definitely the cleanest and easiest to use free software installer we've seen.
The Winner: Gnome
Gnome. As clean and professional as Windows is, Gnome is just as pretty and its free. Furthermore, you can download it. We can go from 0 to Gnome in two commands. With Windows, we had to go to the local bit merchant, shell out our hard earned pennies, purchase a copy of windows, come home, read all the license information and finally install it. Gnome is a lot less of a headache to install. Two commands and you're done!
Once you get your environment installed and up to speed you have to be sure that you are keeping everything with your system new and current. Both systems have a method for accomplishing this.
Microsoft's tool is a component for Internet Explorer. This web based system will analyze your setup and after making a few selections, will download and update your system software. Something to note is that if you have Java and VBScripts turned off to avoid email-based virii, the updater will not work. Unfortunately, there is really no way around this and these languages must be turned on to use the tool. One of the downsides however, is that some components have to be downloaded without any other components, and most updates require a restart of some sort. This might mean that updating from a fresh install could take several hours. However, the updater is convenient in that it allows you to connect over the web to check for new updates. The one shining feature of the Microsoft product would have to be the critical update notification tool. If a security hole or stability problem area is found in the Microsoft product in question (unheard of, I know, but these things do happen), the operating system will pull up a "Critical Update Notification" box. This box alerts the user to the update and allows them to download it.
Helix Gnome Updater
The Helix updater is really quite slick. It uses a net connection to get the information, but it does not use technologies similar to the Microsoft one. If there are significant security holes in this technology, they have not yet been exposed. The helix updater looks and functions in a manner similar to the Microsoft one. The helix updater did manage to select all the packages without complaining, however, after it downloaded them all, it seemed to have a problem installing some of them. There were conflicts and unresolved dependencies. In this case, it did seem to be the fault of the Red hat Package Manager, however, the helix updater did not take the steps necessary to remedy the problem, the updater simply exited and had to be run again. That was disappointing.
I'd have to call this one a draw. Although the Microsoft tool might work slightly more predictably, the helix tool is built on a more solid footing, and is slightly more lightweight. In this case, both tools have quite a ways to go before they are truly good. As it stands both are functional, but neither one really makes my life that much easier.
The Speed Winner
Well, as much as I hate to say it. Windows does win hands down on the speed issue. Its just a far faster system that was developed earlier, so it has more modest expectations. Gnome is a powerful system, and therefore it needs a powerful system to run it. I realize that this is not really a huge issue, but the lack of speed in gnome is just disappointing at this point. Further, I realize that it IS a work in progress, and it will get better, but it is an issue for the time being.
I gotta give props to Microsoft's explorer. I know I will get the beatdown for this, but it kicks. It's really cool that a file manager can also act as a remote file manager (via ftp) and a file viewer (for images, music and webpages). That and its relatively fast, even if it is unstable as heck.
Gnome Midnight Commander
GMC is one of the most disappointing file managers that I have seen. It really just isn't very functional, and it makes things more cumbersome than just using the command line. That's a downside in this sort of thing. We really don't need something that is just a graphical front end to cd, ls, rm and mkdir.
This is a really great tool. It takes all the good parts of windows explorer and makes them run in Linux. It also extends this model by making the file manager able to do more than just manage files. We can manage files by the command line. I really like the idea of having a file manager that will let me browse my mp3's by bitrate. And with the structure of the program, it is easy enough to add capabilities like that for other types of files.
The Winner: Eazel Nautilus
I realize that this is not really a fair comparison, since Nautilus is not really a part of the Gnome, and since it is a next generation file manager, but boy is it ever cool. It seems to be everything that they have been talking about, with the potential to be even more. This is one program that is exciting in what it can do, and I truly look forward to seeing the finished product.
Pretty soon, from what I understand, we will be seeing meta-themeing from gnome relatively soon. This will be a system that will control themes in all the different parts of the gnome. This would obviously be a pretty cool thing, you could completely customize all the different aspects of you interface and keep them all matching. On top of this, most all components to the gnome have some sort of themeing interface, or use gtk. This combination will basically give the user complete control over his or her usage experience.
Uh, there's that appearance control panel.... But besides that, the only to change the user experience is to rip out and replace selected pieces of the OS.
The Winner: Gnome
Well, I suppose that you could rip out all of Windows and install Linux and then call that a theme, but beyond that, Gnome has quite the advantage over Windows in the customization area.
Well, that's about it for the side by side comparisons, let's see what our judges have to say-
And the winner is...
Basically what it boils down to is that the Gnome is a system that is better thought out than its competitors and at the end of the day is easier to use. If you don't agree with the way that Gnome does something in the interface, Gnome makes it relatively easy to change that part of the interface. Although it may be slower, speed has never been a major concern for anyone, the hardware will catch up. Windows simply seems to represent an outmoded model of software development. The feedback loop between users and developers is just too obscured. Gnome has a better feedback system, and it is therefore a better product. It will continue to grow and get better, and if Microsoft doesn't seriously re-evaluate their development model, Windows will be left choking on the dust of the Gnome project.