What is the coolest thing you can do using Linux that you can’t do with Windows or on a Mac?

Someone asked me this recently. I don’t have just one answer. I compiled a list of things I thought of and emailed it to my friend…then I thought I would post it here for future reference. Feel free to add to the list! There is also a forums thread on the same topic, that I remembered as I complied my thoughts, so I stole some of the ideas posted there.

1. Upgrade to the newest version legally and without paying money
2. Have the latest version of the operating system run faster than the previous version on the same hardware
3. Easily install and run different graphical interfaces if I don’t like the default setup
4. Install twenty programs with one command
5. Have the system automatically update all my installed programs for me.
6. Install the same copy of my OS (Ubuntu) on multiple computers without worrying about license restrictions or activation keys
7. Give away copies of the operating system and other programs that run on it without breaking any laws, governmental or ethical or moral, because it was all intended to be used this way
8. Have full control over my computer hardware and know that there are no secret back doors in my software, put there by malicious software companies or governments
9. Run without using a virus scanner, adware/spyware protection, and not reboot my computer for months, even when I do keep up with all of the latest security updates
10. Run my computer without needing to defragment my hard drive, ever
11. Try out software, decide I don’t like it, uninstall it, and know that it didn’t leave little bits of stuff in a registry that can build up and slow down my machine
12. Make a major mistake that requires a complete reinstallation and be able to do it in less than an hour, because I put all of my data on a separate partition from the operating system and program files
13. Boot into a desktop with flash and effects as cool as Windows Vista on a three year old computer…in less than 40 seconds, including the time it takes me to type my username and password to login
14. Customize anything I want, legally, including my favorite programs. I can even track down the software developers to ask them questions, contribute ideas, and get involved in the actual design/software writing process if I want to
15. Have 4+ word processor windows open working on papers, listen to music, play with flashy desktop effects, have contact with a largely happy community and have firefox, instant messaging, and email clients all open at the same time, without ever having had to beg someone for a code to make my os work, and without the system running so slow it is useless
16. Use the command “dpkg –get-selections > pkg.list” to make a full, detailed list of all software I have installed, backup my /etc and /home directories on a separate partition, and you are able to recover your system any time, easily
17. Run multiple desktops simultaneously, or even allow multiple users to log in and use the computer simultaneously
18. Resize a hard disk partition without having to delete it and without losing the data on it
19. Use the same hardware for more than 5 years before it really needs to be replaced…I have some hardware that is nearly 10 years old, running Linux, and still useful
20. Browse the web while the OS is being installed!
21. Use almost any hardware and have a driver for it included with the operating system…eliminating the need to scour the internet to find the hardware manufacturer’s website to locate one
22. Get the source code for almost anything, including the OS kernel and most of my applications

I could go on, but that’s long enough. 🙂

190 thoughts on “What is the coolest thing you can do using Linux that you can’t do with Windows or on a Mac?

  1. yes i do agree with you LInux Ubuntu make us more secured and free in this world.Bravo my friend of your share.

  2. good list.

    I agree with you and i’d add a few more things, such as nice linux programs i got used to that don’t have a win or mac version ( quanta plus, amarok, kmail, etc).

    Still i have to disagree on something:
    "12. Make a major mistake that requires a complete reinstallation and be able to do it in less than an hour, because I put all of my data on a separate partition from the operating system and program files"
    And you CAN’T do that on a windows or mac? Weird, because that’s what I do with any OS i have… the main data goes on one partition, my data is stored on others… Windows takes a very short while to reinstall. The fact that it screws up my bootloader (which ubuntu also does, but other linux-es don’t)… well that’s another story…

  3. I’m not a Microsoft hater, but I like to see innovation and software that makes sense. Ubuntu makes a lot of sense for at least 80% of all computer users. Good job on illustrating some important features and differences in Ubuntu vs. Apple vs. Windows.

  4. I am really tired from all this crap about how well linux runs and how you should fix windows all the day. I do not know, may be this is true in another universe, but here where I live it is a bit different. I used linux for a year and I love it. However, I used windoes too – both XP and Vista on different machines. And I must tell that to this very day I have never had any problems with those mythological viruses, spyware and what not. Most apps work on both systems and there is no need to fix the OS all the day. And about the same goes for linux. Though at some points one needs to dig in to get some feature to work and as a consequence to spend more time on tweaking. Windows is still more simple in many ways.
    It is a myth that you do not need to defragment harddisk on linux as it fragments anyway. Not that much as on Windows, but it does, and OS becomes slower.
    And I do not see what the advantage of not rebooting a system is for a desktop. It makes sense for server, but not for desktop. As a matter of fact, I had to reboot my linux all the tiem due to kernel updates anyway. And may be more frequently than my XP box.
    And it is a myth tha linux is created just by community. The truth is that most part of the linux kernel is writen by the help of the big companies such as IBM, Novell and so on and it is all about really big money.
    Linux is good in many ways, but the fact is that still there are too many things that an average user can do on a windows or a mac. That’s why I still use Windows and have a respect for Linux.
    But the list is a fanboy crap and nothing more.

  5. @Eudoxus

    "And it is a myth tha linux is created just by community. The truth is that most part of the linux kernel is writen by the help of the big companies such as IBM, Novell and so on and it is all about really big money."

    But isn’t IBM, Novell part of the community, moreover _can_ IBM and Novell "contribute" to the development of the Windows kernel

    However I do agree with you that most people don’t care as long as they can read email, create documents, surf the web view photos.

  6. redbeard: "BTW Mac OSX was built off of a fork of Linux just so you know. It’s in wikipedia somewhere."

    Nope. It is a fork of BSD, which is an entirely different code line, different FOSS model and license. The both share the gnu suite though, and there is some pull from BSD into linux (ie ssh).

    Also, Wine is very cool, yes. I have gotten some pretty difficult programs and games to run. But very very few of them run "out of the box" or run identically. Usually there are an incomprehensible set of options of which dlls to choose and settings to tweak and fake drives and fake registry entries etc. NOT something most users are going to know how to do.

  7. Linux is the best OS for a basic non-gamer who surfs, mails, chats, wordprocesses and occasionally edits photos etc. You can easily survive without messing with the command line. I use Mac for heavy-weight music creation and image editing. I have noticed that OSX just beats other platforms in professional creative work. Until Linux has most of the major commercial software available, it will not succeed very well. Games are the most important factor, just check how the game industry has developed over the last 10 years. And then check their favorite platform. If you could 100% use all of the mass-entertaining and creative software on a Linux, it would definitely be the no. 1 OS. Until then…

  8. Unix-like operating systems offer more flexibility without the nonsense restrictions (baptized as features) that exist on Windows. I’m not sure whether most users will care to make use of this flexibility or be directly bothered by those restrictions, but those that are honestly attracted to the related technologies, most definitely will.

    I understand that most users prefer that their computer takes as many decisions for them as possible and bothers them with technicalities as little as possible, even at the cost of freedom, machine-time efficiency and flexibility. In other words, computers and IT are not in their hobby-list but merely a tool for a very specific job. Computers are on my hobby-list, so I can’t speak for those people -even though I can understand them using simple analogies.

    The list contains some nice examples of the flexibility provided by Unix-like systems. It also contains some subjective arguments that can be doubted. What can not be doubted is that Unix-like operating systems are more straightforward and allow their users to do more advanced things with less obstructions than windows.

    Basically, what Windows luck and GNU/Linux does not -besides freedom/openess-, is a serious non-programming interfaces that will allow their applications to interact, each being able to extend the functionality of the other. In *nix this interface is the shell and about every important application can utilize and be utilized by it. Windows severely luck both such an interface AND, most importantly, the CLI applications that would make use of it.

    So, quite obviously, there is a never-ending list of things that can be done easily in Unix-like OS, using freely available software and documentation, but can be done very difficultly or not at all in Windows. Of course, people that don’t really care about computers will not bother to implement them anyway, but, for those that DO care, they are there. 😉

    PS. Notice that I’m not referring specifically to GNU/Linux, there’s a whole lot of other free operating systems that can do as much as GNU/Linux, in some cases and ways better. The flexibility and no-nonsense approach is common to all of them. Also, there is a great difference between Windows and MacOS. MacOS, being based on BSD, has a great amount of the flexibility that is present on Unix-like OS.

  9. I’m an ‘ordinary’ Linux user (RedHat EL4). Can the author of this interesting article reply with some more details (only a sentence or two, and if possible the relevant URLs) on…

    4 (is it /bin/rpm?), 8, 10, 13, 18, 20 ?

    Many thanks in advance and regards…
    A Linux fan.

  10. Friends, in the real world we have more than a a single OS, but we also have different kind of users. We all can coexist together. Windows is for the dumb user, who has exhausted his intellectual capacity and is only able to continue doing the same exact task he has performed for years. Mac is oriented to users with a serious lack of self esteem, those guys are always in a hurry to show how different they are (no mater that now uses PCs hardware and a BSD ‘UNIX’ based operating system) -Maybe the only difference they have left it’s it’s stripe less apple-. But for a small group, those who enter a plane not to travel has simple bags of watter but takes control of it and guided safely to its destination is available Linux. Yes everything in Linux needs more effort the first time but when you have done it It rewards you with control and power.

    Recently my neighbor came to me with a brand new laptop and asked me if I can help him with an issue. I notice that we was running Windows Vista. I have to told him that I never used Vista and have no intention to do, so I can’t help. Few day latter he came again and tell me what he have to do to continue receiving my help, he have to change to and OS that I know. I recommend him using Debian Lenny with some Sid packages. He agrees and now runs on Debian. I realize, those windows lovers depend on us (the geeks) just don’t support them and let windows die. In a matter of fact, as advisor of server of the largest organizations in my country I have to say that in the past year (2007) I convinced 2 of the largest to change to Linux, with more that 25K PCs in those organizations now running Ubuntu or Debian, and at least 100 Servers running each and every service over SUSE or Debian Etch.

    And last but not less important is: Linux is everywhere.
    In every computer in the F22 Raptor.
    In the Global Aviation Traffic Management
    In the International Space Station
    In all BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz, Nissan recent models.
    In many other automobile brands, including several from USA.
    In almost ever screening technology used by TSA, has ETDs EDS etc.
    In many of the most powerful MRI and CT scanners in hospitals.
    And the list goes on even to some mobile phones.

    Windows is death, but haven’t realized of it yet.

  11. Author! Please learn more about the situations in win and mac worlds – you will notice, that 98% of your pros will vanish, because you are incorrect.

  12. I dual boot Windows and Linux. If 1 fails, I can use the other so all my files are safe. Usage wise, I use my windows for video games, Linux for everything else (tho I have some games there). I do play console games too. I’m not a Mac fan, it seems like a shittier more expensive annoying of linux with a very annoying gui. There gui pisses me off.

  13. Except point 1, the same for Mac OS X (if you want the cocoa interface… XNU is open source and you can run only X window on the top if you want) and AIX, HP-UX, SunOS, IRIX…

    With the point 1, the same for FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, DragonFly BSD, PCBSD, Haiku…

    GNU is out there, and Linux is just another Open Source kernel…

  14. I’m a developer, and develop primarily for the Mac, but also do a lot of coding on Windows and Linux, and from what I have encountered in my experience is that the 3 systems fundamentally are the same, just focusing on different things. Apple seens focused more on the design and ease-of-use (I will say security and stability, but these come more from its BSD and Unix origins). Microsoft seems more focused on reaching as many people as possible and (apparently) keeping up with both Apple and the Linux distros. Linux seems to vary with each distro. I’ve used SuSE, Ubuntu, Knopix and RedHat, all seem to focus on different aspects of end product.

    ALL the systems have their pros and cons. ALL the systems have their weaknesses and strengths. People will use what best suits their needs at that time.

    In my experience developing software; most people simply do not care for all the latest technologies. My mum does a lot of photography and illustration. If I was to tell her that she could switch to Linux and use GIMP with 64-Bit, or could hack Photoshop CS3 to run at 64-Bit on her MacBook Pro she wouldn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about nor really care. You can apply the same logic to most things, I use my car a lot to get around, but do I know how it works? Hell no. Do I want to? Nope.

    Anyway, this is just my experience. Thats not to say its what everyone else has experienced.

    But for me, if you want a truly comprehensive setup, you’ll be using all 3 side by side taking advantage of what each does best, and not go around claiming your personal favorite is the best at everything.

  15. Because this post was linked on Digg.com, the site went down for a while. I put up a static html page for about 24 hours to get my server back up and running…sorry if you wanted to comment during that time and were unable to do so. In less than 48 hours, this page had over 145,000 hits!

    Now that this is off of the Digg front page, feel free to give it a digg if you are so inclined. digg.com/linux_unix/Doing…

    I was particularly amused that the post got labeled as "potentially inaccurate." Thanks for brightening my day! I had a smile over that for hours.

    I will address one comment…I know that all of these do not apply equally to the Mac and Windows platform. That is why I used the word "or" in the title. These are things that can be done using Linux that cannot be done by one or the other. Sorry that I didn’t express that as clearly as I could have done.

  16. thing you can do on linux that you cannot do on windows:
    work and play with your computer while experiencing true software freedom. (as in free speech and beer)

    so suck on that!
    windows loving sheep… baa baaaa.

    another thing u can do, insult windoze lovers with blogs before going off to play Savage! <actually i feel like some quakewars>. i guess you can do that from windows as well but you see the thing is, I dont support jo’

  17. i use Linux , and i pleased with it. i use windows in the office, and i’m displeased with it. So it just a matter of taste..

  18. The coolest thing about linux is ubuntu. There are basically no problems. You dont get virus’ and non-geeks (like me…im only a geek in training) can use it easier than with windows. Oh and unlike windows, you can set-up a dual-boot so you can have unlike with windows, where they restrict what you can do with your computer. I am actually going to remove my windows partition and go completely to ubuntu.

  19. wow, my DISHONEST BLOG POST meter just went off the scale…

    …with another futile "my OS is better than yours" wankfest.

    yes, there are innumerable ways that Linux is better, and lets ignore the reality of Windows’ almost decades-long momentum & marketing muscle & brand recognition, but if you’re gonna compare, AT LEAST DO IT HONESTLY. _many_ of the features you make out as being unique to Linux are imminently available, albeit often for a cost, for Windows.

    Linux zealots have been clinging to this hoary old "when the revolution comes" chestnut for years, but it’s far from taking the domestic or business-client-PC world by storm, for obvious (to most other than Linux zealots) reasons, but most of all because you all live in denial of the fact that – like it or not – capitalism rules most of the world.

  20. i got to agree with one guy who posted above or maybe more, i’ve tried to see whats the thing about linux, so i’ve tried like 3 distros already and still cant find a reason to use them, ive tried ubuntu, suse and mandriva and yeah they pretty and easy to use but idk… didnt found a good reason to keep them, btw had to search for like 3 hours how to get my gfx card to work + that fx thing i dont remember the name.. i had to install all those repositories(i think thats the name) thing i would never be able to figure out by myself.. but i guess thats why the linux community is there for… but yeah maybe when a newer version comes out ill give it a try again.. Excuse me for my bad english

  21. I have been a Windows user from the start. I am very comfortable with it. Over the years I have done a lot of reading about the progress of (GNU)/Linux with interest but never had the opportunity to try it out. A few years ago I did try it, but being a newbie I had problems understanding it and many of the cryptic program names and all of their switches.

    Last year I finally bought a Gateway duel core laptop and decided to give it another try after reading how much Ubuntu had gained in popularity. Everything worked great "out of the box" except for my wireless card. I switched over to Mint Linux. Same problem. I could see the card, I could see the wireless network, I just could not connect. Since I left Windows XP Media edition on the laptop (after all, I paid for it with the laptop) if I needed to connect someplace wirelessly, I would switch over to XP.

    THen I goofed up my Mint Linux partition and had to reinstall the OS. I gave Ubuntu 7.10 another chance and to my amazement the wireless card that had not worked properly before, now began to connect like it should.

    Now I have a partition that does almost everything I need it to do (there is still one web site I have to access which is spcifically written to be used only with MS IE. For that site I have installed IE4Linux but the sight still does not display everything properly. For that one site I do not mind using my XP partition.

    For everything else I do, I can use Ubuntu. I have the 3D desktop that can whirl the cube, paint fire on the screen (still can not figure out how that is useful except that it is just cool to do), I watch DVD’s, I burn CD/DVD’s I watch video’s on the internet, I have email, I do my spreadsheets that I can save in MS compatible format to communicate with others that have not expanded their horizon of options (I usually am cheeky and send the first file in .ods format, "Oh, your MS Excel can not read that international format standard? OK, I will send it to you in a format you can read with EXCEL. He, he, he!)

    I also give free tech support to all of my personal friends (it will cost you a meal at your house). For every one of them that I have moved over to Linux, I have no more problems with tech support. I set up the computer, I show them the menu, set up a few bookmarks in Firefox, set up their IM on MSN using Pigeon or GAIM, make sure they can play movies and MP#’s and they are as happy as pie. No more calls because they did not update their virus definitions or anti spyware programs and their computer is working weird or not at all, no more problems at all.

    I find that many computer users (mostly Windows users because there are just more of them) do not know how to copy a file or install a program on their computer unless there is a pop up window that asks" Do you want to install this program? Yes/No?"

    They are no more competent using Linux than with Windows. Computers are just their tool to communicate with their friends/family using email or typing a letter. They may have a DVD burner in their computer but can not understand how to use it other than as a CD/DVD player.

    Why do so many people then buy a PC with Windows? That is mostly because that is all that is available in the stores. This is changing. Walmart could not keep the Linux PC’s they were selling before Christmas in stock. They sold out twice in record time. Sears is now getting into the Linux/PC market. Dell is now offering computers preloaded with Linux.

    What is happening in the world? The US military just announced that they are going to move completely away from Microsoft and go exclusively with Linux. NASA uses it, the CIA uses it, the French Police force is using it. More and more, governments and government agencies are dumping Windows and going with Linux. More and more companies are offering computers preloaded with Linux. More and more devices are going with Linux as their OS of choice. More and more and more…….

    Will Microsoft be dislodged from their "King on the Mountain" position overnight? I think not. It will be interesting to see the balance of power in 10 years from now though.

    The Linux march goes on, steady as she goes……

  22. People, people, people! Does it really matter? You buy a PC, you decide Vista is not for you, you install XP or Linux. You buy a mac, you decide Mac OSX is not for you, you install Vista, XP and Linux because you can’t decide. At the end of the day, we all have a choice of what OS we use, we are not stuck on one vs the other. I use MAc OS X becuase I like it. I could install XP, Vista or Linux on my iMac, buy why? I like using Mac OSX at home, XP at work. Does that mean I prefer one or the other? At work, I am required to use XP but I choose Mac OSX at home.

    And remember Mac OSX and Linux are based on the same UNIX kernel – They are (in theory) from the same blood family 🙂

  23. The coolest thing you can do using Linux that you can’t do with Windows is to make your Linux screensaver show random parts of the Linux kernel source code. Really cool 🙂

  24. Congratulations!!

    Me parece genial, imagino que no te importa si hago una traducción/adaptación al castellano en mi web.

  25. That’s really great list. It shows many added value we can get by using Linux. I never used Linux before. But this list can be my consideration to start using Linux. Thans for the info.

  26. Question for those who boasts of never finding a virus on their windows machine:

    Can you plug in your friend’s USB stick into your computer
    without any second thought!?

  27. There’s something I really like about the linux install process that windows just gets wrong and that’s that you can install and be up to date in just one boot.

    Last time I checked, it took about 5 boots with windows before the install would be up to date with the current service packs.

    It’s nice how all that happens in just one boot with windows.

  28. sanju: We are not BOASTING that we have never found a visus on our Windows XP boxes. We are merely stating the situation as we see it. Furthermore, it is only said in response to some of the more ridiculous rants that have been posted here. How can you with a straight face accuse us of boasting of that fact after:

    the arrogant (and silly) MCGROGG: I absolutely guarantee that if you’ve been using that box regularly for internet access, you’ll find a whole slew of junk installed on it that you had no idea was there

    the superficial SARAH: Ubuntu doesn’t get virus’ and non-geeks can use it easier than with windows.

    just plain wrong ROHAN: In Linux you just don’t (get viruses); Rohan, see the post re the storm botnet

    This whole blog is just one big (at times irrational) *nix BOAST

    PS. Sanju: In 99.99% of cases the only way you can get a virus on your computer is if you, the user, runs an executable of some sort (yeh, I know Word macros, script files etc). If USB’s present a danger, turn off autorun.

  29. valkyria: I think he means that when you have your home folder on another partition you also have all you applications data. So when you reinstall you don’t have to configure IM, Mail, background picture etc. It just looks and works the same as it did before you reinstalled, without any configuration.

  30. How about being able to play mp3’s, do modern word processing and internet on a 200 mhz computer?

  31. In GNU/Linux.
    1, Setting up as many client PC’s to my server as I want.
    2, Turning a very old PC into a state of the art firewall.
    3, Not having to use propriety CODECS.
    4, Not having to pay licensing fees.
    5, Using O.D.F. on an open-source platform.
    6, Not having to constantly update the OS with service packs that are over 100MB (This is more like upgrading the OS.)
    7, Being able to run an old dual PII 350MHz PC as a Video/Music media server.
    8, E.T.C.

  32. Oh and buy an ASUS Eee Sub-Notebook that’s a little bigger than a DVD case with Linux on it for £299.00 or less if you hunt around.

    It has WIFI, Ethernet, Open Office and loads more.

  33. This reason are not valid for me.

    I don’t use computer for install program, defrag, still free of virus, animated flash, GUI, not be monitored, still in law, and other, ALL OF this list is useless. (write an computer engineer) I don’t know a person that have a car for work in maintence in this, and know thousands and thousands of buy a car for use to travel.

    I use my computer for work, I use my computer for comunicate, I use for entertainment, I don’t use my computer for configurate and loss time. Linux by what good reason is better than windows and other OS??? or other OS free or open code?

    Linux not make me my work, Linux not make me comunicate with persons, and don’t make fun, linux is the better way to loss time in configurate, still working in OS, …

  34. I don’t think anyone is saying GNU/Linux is better than Microsoft Windows OS’s. It’s horses for courses. GNU/Linux is superior in many ways over Microsoft Windows IMO but in many others it’s not. You pay your money you take your choice…. Or not LOL

  35. Ayenack is good that you wrote.
    But the post is "what is the coolest thing you can do using Linux…"

    And in this scenario, all of this list is so bored, nothing is COOL, or your point of view of cool is still in front of computer doing nothing usefull or fun, all of this list is for person that work mantienence computer, nothing for that person that use the computer.

    Cool is defrag or not defrag, cool is still in law or not still in law, cool is have a computer old o new, cool is upgrade OS??? what know of "cool"?

  36. Well I don’t work as an Computer Engineer. It’s just semantics to pick the word "cool" the word could have been best, most fun or whatever. And yes I do enjoy computers and technology in general but, I also enjoy a world of other things.

    It’s perfectly possible to do constructive and fun things in front of a computer also like, using Skype to talk to members of my family or keep in contact with a friend in India or Australia or my brother who works and lives in Thailand, I can pay bills contact utilities without having to waste time on the phone and of course post here. I think all of these things are pretty cool.

    And of course all these things can be done on Ubuntu as well as Microsoft Windows.

  37. Well, yes, Windows is the place for gamers. But guess what? Some of us use our computers for USEFUL things, and data integrity and longevity of the system is important to us. For those who ask why Linux isn’t popular in business, I ask this: why do ALL the major websites use Apache LAMP? Because it’s Linux and it just works. For the serious computer user, there is no other choice.

    If Windows is so "bad ass," why is it that 90% of all viruses and spyware will only work on Windows machines running Internet Explorer?

    In short, for anyone who really cares about computing, Linux is the way. Period. If all you want to do is screw around and play games, fine. Use a "regular" OS. If you want to do any real work with a computer you need to leave the crowds and use Linux.

    Oh yeah, one last thing. If Linux sicks so much, why is it that the mew Mac OS is based off Unix? What does that say about it’s security and stability?

  38. Dindle said:
    "Basically, your list comes down only to the fact that Linux is free."

    And, funnily enough, he’s right. We can argue about features for all eternity and will never get anywhere because every popular operating system has "cool features". The important thing is the underlying ethics of _free_ (as in freedom; call it open source if you really want to) software.

    Free software means we are not at the mercy of a monopolistic corporation, and we are not locked into malicious features.

    Modern proprietary operating systems are wolves in sheep’s clothing; they may appear to have "cool" features, but the underlying technologies and use of proprietary formats are against the interests of the consumer.

    Forget the features, because that argument won’t go anywhere. Consider the ethics of proprietary versus free software, and think about the impact your choice of software today has on society in the future.

    If you haven’t heard of free as in freedom before, check out http://www.gnu.org

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