Linux vs Windows 8 (Part 4)

6/6/2013 6:01:52 PM

Cloud integration

Can Windows match Ubuntu’s expertise in this area?

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s first attempt to integrate cloud-based services with the desktop. This includes everything from streaming content from online services, such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, to syncing files from the local disks to online drives.

Ubuntu’s Messaging menu updates you on activity in all configured online accounts

Ubuntu’s Messaging menu updates you on activity in all configured online accounts

Ubuntu trumps Windows with its prior experience. The Ubuntu Messaging Menu has been around since early 2010. The menu is designed to facilitate communication, and gives you access to mail, chat and other communication apps. You can set your IM status across several messaging services, and access unread messages. It ties to various apps installed by default in Ubuntu, Empathy, Gwibber and thunderbird, as well as new web apps such as Gmail.

The People app in Windows 8 is the closest thing to Ubuntu’s Messaging Menu. The one major difference is that in addition to keeping track of all the notifications on the accounts you have added, the app acts as a universal contacts repository. So it’ll list all the people you follow on Twitter, along with the friends and family you interact with regularly; and there’s no way to separate them into logical groups. The good thing about the People app is that you can use it to connect with any contact, irrespective of the network they are on. It also lets you tweet, re-tweet, like, or comment on the latest content. However, the app places each individual tweet in its own tile, which is a major faux pas.

Online accounts

Using Ubuntu’s Online Accounts dialog, you can link your accounts on various popular services, including Facebook, Flickr, Gmail, Google Docs, Google+, Picasa, Twitter, AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo!

When you add an account, the dialog will show you the list of local apps the service will be integrated with. So if you add a Google account, the login information will be used by Empathy to pull in your IM contacts.

Ubuntu One offers 5GB of free storage

Ubuntu One offers 5GB of free storage

Similarly, when you add a Twitter account the Gwibber micro-blogging client will be populated with your Twitter feed. You will also be able to publish photos from Shotwell directly to a Picasa or Facebook album, or on Flickr, if you have added those accounts.

Best of all, you can now search for content on these online services from Dash. So the Search lens will also display documents on Google Docs; the Photos lens will show pictures from Facebook, Flickr and Picasa; and the Gwibber lens will let you search through public and private messages on all configured accounts.

Both Windows 8, with Microsoft’s SkyDrive, and Ubuntu, with Ubuntu One, allow users to store files and backups online. But Microsoft’s implementation is limited when compared with Ubuntu One. The Windows backup utility isn’t as integrated into the file manager as Ubuntu’s. You can set up Ubuntu One to back up and sync any folder on the computer. Plus, it can also revert individual files from an online backup.

Ubuntu One does a lot more than just back up files, and works on more platforms than Windows SkyDrive, including Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android. Ubuntu One has an excellent music store, and lets you share the music across all devices. When you buy a track, you get the ability to stream it to Android or iOS devices via the web. If you use the service on mobile phone, you can share your photos and files directly with services such as Facebook and Twitter.


How easy is it to create your ideal user experience?

This is one aspect where Windows 8 and Ubuntu differ considerably. Customization has always been a bit of a nuisance with Windows, and it’s even more annoying with Windows 8.

Tools such as Ubuntu-Tweak and Unsettings are popular for tweaking Unity

Tools such as Ubuntu-Tweak and Un-settings are popular for tweaking Unity

The new Windows 8 Start screen is a major source of annoyance for regular Windows users. Yet it isn’t a feature that you can turn off. Nor can you directly boot into the Desktop, which makes Windows 8 PCs unsuitable for situations where you need them to boot directly to an app, such as a point-of-sale workstation.

Out of the box, Windows 8 has too many tiles, and the live ones become jarring and irritating as soon as they are hooked into the respective online accounts and start pulling in content. Windows 8 does allow you to customize some aspects of the default environment. So you can alter the size of live tile icons, move them around or group them for easier access, and even unpin unnecessary ones, but that’s about it!

Ubuntu Unity, on the other hand, thanks to the very design of a Linux distribution, is much more flexible. If you don’t like it, you can easily replace it with another user interface, such as KDE, Gnome 3, Cinnamon, Mate, Xfce or LXDE, to name a few.

Is this charming?

The configuration options in Windows 8 are all over the place. Some can be found inside the Charms bar, which is tucked in the right-side of the screen, and has icons to access features such as hardware device controls, sharing and system settings. The number of settings you an access via the charms bar varies from interface to interface. So if you bring it up from the Windows 8 start screen you only get options to change the tiles. But when called from under the Desktop view, you get a lot options, including a link to the classic Control Panel.

If you think that’s confusing, thanks to the dual interfaces there are multiple ways for completing simple tasks such as updating the OS and its components. Surprisingly, Windows Update can’t update the new Windows 8 apps. To update these, you need to head to the Windows Store and then click on the Updates text if any are available.

The way to do it

By contrast, all of Ubuntu’s settings are bundled into the System Settings option, accessible via the cog and spanner icon in the Launcher. Or you can call for an individual setting using Dash. The System Settings categorize the various settings under three different heads.

All settings to customize Ubuntu are neatly housed under System Settings

All settings to customize Ubuntu are neatly housed under System Settings

The Personal head houses settings that every user can tweak as per their liking, and affect only their account. This includes minor tweaks such as wallpapers, the size of the icons on the Launcher, and the ability to auto-hide the Launcher and control the location and sensitivity of the hotspot that reveals it. You can also configure all your online accounts from here, as well as set up Ubuntu’s cloud storage service, Ubuntu One.

The Hardware head has different settings to tweak different hardware attached to the computer. Here, you can configure any devices attached to the computer, such as Bluetooth, a wireless network adapter or a printer, and configure Unity’s behavior across displays in a multi-monitor setup.

Finally, there’s the System head, which houses settings that affect the entire system and might need to be unlocked with administrator privileges. There are options to add and remove users, change software sources, customize accessibility options and also set up the Deja Dup backup tool.

While these settings should be enough for the average desktop user, there are several third-party customization tools for the power users, including the increasingly popular Ubuntu Tweak, and Un-settings.

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