Linux: You Get What You Paid For (When You Bought Windows)

If you've been an Open Source advocate for any significant amount of time, you've no doubt heard someone say, with a sneer in their voice, "You get what you pay for". Let it be noted, I really hate that cliche. It does make me think, however, about what you really get when you purchase the license to use a commercial operating system like Windows or OSX. Here are some things the operating systems themselves offer for the money:

What Windows & OSX Provide

  • Consistent interface
  • Standard API interfaces
  • System updates, at least for a significant amount of time
  • Rudimentary applications (Safari, IE, Wordpad, Textedit)
  • Tech support (often additional cost though)

There are many other "features" that get attributed to Windows and OSX, but I don't think it's fair they get all the credit. Sure, there are more drivers and more commercial software available -- but that's really the doing of vendors, not the OS manufacturers. With the advent of Vista and its hornet's nest of problems, really the only thing Microsoft has going for them is market share. And cash.

What happens when hardware vendors start installing OEM versions of Linux on more hardware? It's already begun, and although it's happening slowly, it is happening. Think about the advantages OEM vendors have when they choose Linux:

Linux Advantages for OEMs

  • I assumed it was obvious Linux offers everything from the above list, but there was confusion, so please note that I do understand Linux offers everything listed above. Except maybe a consistent interface, but that's another article altogether
  • Free, enterprise grade software bundles
  • No need for bundled crapware trial software to offset licensing costs of the OS
  • Virus & Spyware resistance.
  • Compiz? :)

There are some issues regarding the installation of proprietary codecs, Flash, MP3 support, etc -- but I'm sure that could be easily scripted into the initial setup process. I know that installing a fully functional Linux OS is no longer difficult.

I'm excited about the future of Linux. Yes, the competition has mountains of cash. Yes, they have an astronomical installed user base. Yes they work hard to protect their interests in proprietary hardware support. But we're patient. We're smart. We have nothing to lose, and what we do have, we're giving away.

It's a good time to be a Linux user.


Shawn Powers is an Associate Editor for Linux Journal. You might find him chatting on the IRC channel, or Twitter


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that it was only support on

prefabrik's picture

that it was only support on Vista with 2007 after I posted my comment and by that point, it was too late to remove my comment.

2006 was a huge year for the

kabin's picture

2006 was a huge year for the MP3 player market. This past year, we saw advancements in digital music players that had never been seen before. Technology companies really started to branch out this year and take some risk. New form-factors and capabilities we

Cupertino this year besides

konteyner's picture

Cupertino this year besides loads and loads of rumors. The much anticipated 6th Gen iPod is what everyone really wants to see, but few (if any) actually have. The only advancements the iPod saw this year were a brighter screen and the introduction of iPod games. Definitely not the most adventurous year for Apple but since it holds such a strangle hold on the MP3 player market, it had to be on the list.


konteyner's picture

linux for humanity


prefabrik's picture

Now as far as virtualization goes I have no idea how MSNow as far as virtualization goes I have no idea how MS

good article. but i wanted to

Anonymous's picture

good article.

but i wanted to add, that iv'e never heard anyone say "you get what you pay for" in an attempt to diss linux.

i honestly couldnt imagine someone uttering such a dumb sentance.
maybe i keep myself protected from idiots.

If you can't pay, help is on the way!

Anonymous's picture

Please donate your old boxes to a church-group or some needy student in these hard times! To comply with the law, and with Microsoft's leasing policy, you can now replace Microsoft OS with the free (download from the net) Ubuntu OS, which can be set to erase the hard drive of all traces of the illegal to give away Microsoft system and your private information, before donation! Now, explain to your lucky recipient that all the manuals they will ever need are available for free on the internet! Just ask for them in Google! OpenOffice, which is installed already is plenty adequate for homework assignments and with a little exploring, everything else can work well too! Happy commuting!

Linux Newb and was pleasantly surprised with what I paid

Lencarv's picture

I just put the new Unbutu on my 6 year old winxp laptop and I all I can say is wow. I wanted more life out of my old computer and not happy with Vista on my work computer. My friend kept telling me to try Linux. So I did. The install went without a hitch. Downloaded it, burnt it, and installed it. After following some directions online to get my wireless card working, I was online and sending emails in minutes.
I am really surprised at how well it went. I had heard from others that I would need to know how to use the terminal and the corresponding commands and syntax but I did not. The biggest issue is knowing how to navigate the software, and how to get things done. I have only used windows so I expect there to be a learning curve. But everything I have needed to do from loading a different media player to customizing my program preferences and layout was quite easy.
Saved myself some cash and actually feel good about myself for being able to do a Linux install!

shawn's powers

fatray's picture

"...Vista and it's hornet's nest of problems"

Possessive its has no apostrophe.
Hornets' nest, more than one hornet.

Ass Editor indeed.


Shawn Powers's picture

That's one of my biggest pet peeves too!

Thanks, I'll go kick myself now. :)

Shawn Powers is an Associate Editor for Linux Journal. You might find him chatting on the IRC channel, or Twitter


goblin's picture

If "You Get What You Paid For", then all the TCO reports that Microsoft has crafted to show that Linux costs more than Windows, are a proof that Linux is in fact better than Windows.

Then please tell me...

goblin's picture

"You Get What You Paid For"

I hate that one too. So I answer it by asking:
"Really? Then please tell me this: Do you get lousy sex, or are you paying for it?"

You get what you pay for

massenz's picture


if it's sex you're after, please note a hooker has a much lower TCO than a wife :-)

But, I fear, we're going off-topic here....

I just choked on my coffee!

Anonymous's picture

I just choked on my coffee! :D

The main difference between Windows and Linux.

LockDeltz's picture

What Windows and OSX provide that Linux doesn't is FULL compatibility with hardware and software. Installing codecs and drivers on Linux is a PAIN in the ass, but with Windows it's so easy. wITH Linux you have to go through trail and error just to get some of the basics things done, like getting your sound to work or playing MPEG-4 files, something thats automatic with Windows. NVIDIA and ATI drivers are the biggest issues with Linux. You never get full compatibility with ATI or NVIDIA drivers. You have to wait for updates from just to get 3D affects when you can get that instantly on Windows. I just bought an EVGA 8600GT and the CD that includes the drivers are meant for Windows. I wish I could install the NVIDIA drivers for Linux by just popping in the CD. Windows has like over 92% of the OS market and that number isn't going to change anytime soon, why? Because you have companies like Red Hat (which is a multi-million dollar company) that refuse to have an OS that automatically installs drivers and codecs. They prefer users to go through trail and error just setting up the most basics things in an operating system, which I don't find necessary. I used Ubuntu and my sound wasn't working and it was running sluggish. So now I'm currently using Fedora and I find it much more stable than Ubuntu, but I had to go through so much trail and error just to install everything, and Fedora is still not working as I would like it to, especially compared to Windows. I would love to be using Windows right now, but I have an issue my comp (it's an HP) that won't allow me connect to the internet using XP, so in the mean time I'm using Fedora. And don't get me wrong I like Linux, but it needs to seriously improve on it's user friendless if it ever wants to compete with Windows in the mainstream. But the article is right about one thing though, you get what you pay for with Windows, and I say it's worth it. Oh and the tech support for Linux sucks, going on forums to solve that issue you have with the BIOS or your motherboard. The horrible thing is you sometimes never get the issues solved, such as utilizing your graphics driver, that was never an issue on Windows. And thats just the hardware issues because their is plenty of software issues with Linux too.

Your opinions are outdated and incorrect.

Warmotor's picture

Red Hat has never been geared toward the desktop market, although you can get it to work for that purpose with some effort. Modern distros built for that purpose (Ubuntu has done a great job, MEPIS is also a good example) work with 3D drivers and propietary codecs either out of the box, or after clicking a simple box stating that you're ok using non-OSS software for those purposes. In this way it's even easier to get this hardware working to its full potential because of the superior package management system on modern distros, which will automatically update installed software and drivers - instead of manually going out and downloading them yourself.

And as far as tech support, I'll take a 5-minute google search and help from the awesome Linux community over a MS support call to a flunkie reading me a script any day of the week.

If the market share is indeed 92%, I wouldn't expect it to stay that way for long. Of's top 10 selling computers, only 3 are running Windows. I realize that Apple makes up for a larger share in that number than Linux, but people seem to forget that the growing popularity of OSX can be attributed in part to its common roots with modern Linux.

I'm fine with the current state of user bases though, I'm happy being included in the smaller group who do what they do for the love of software instead of cold, bloated capitalist ideals and blind, uninformed brand loyalty. Also, I make my living writing code for Windows platforms - but at the end of the day, on my machine, I'm all about Linux.

I realize that Apple makes

JasonK's picture

I realize that Apple makes up for a larger share in that number than Linux, but people seem to forget that the growing popularity of OSX can be attributed in part to its common roots with modern Linux.

Apple's popularity has nothing to do with that. Do you think your average Mac hipster espouses the virtues of their BSD-derived OS? Apples popularity has to do with just that: popularity. They have artfully acquired a rabid following among the fashion-conscious, which is why there is now the cult of Mac.

but I have an issue my comp ?

Anonymous's picture

Don't you mean that Windows XP has the problem ?
If something doesn't work with Linux it's a Linux problem.
So ... , if something doesn't work with Windows then it MUST be a windows problem !

Whiny whiny whiny

Anonymous's picture

Wow, I have just read to the end of your post and you come across as a whiny newb.

First, you complain about playing MPEG4 files or getting full compatability from graphics cards, which you get 'instantly' in Windows. Well, companies have to pay for a license for MPEG4 for the rights to distribute/use it, and Linux companies don't want to bear the cost. If you want the capabilities then there are companies who will sell you the codecs so you will be 'legal'.

As for the graphics cards, well that is the fault of Nvidia and ATI for not making the drivers. This is not the fault of Linux. Same applies to Broadcom. They do not actually have to release any drivers, just the specs. Actually, if you bothered to follow any news then you would realise that the drivers provided by them (Nvidia, ATI and Broadcom) are fairly poor - even for Windows - because they just don't want to spend the resources on them.

If Fedora is not working for you then why continue with it? If Windows works then use it. Nobody is strong arming you into anything. You have this thing called choice you know. I actually use Fedora and have only one minor problem with the latest copy. It is so minor that I can live with it until I find a fix. Apart from this extremely minor problem I use Fedora on three machines 65% (100% at home) of the time, and it has saved my bacon more than once when Windows was clearly not up to the job.

With regards to paying for Windows and it being worth it - sorry, don't agree. For a start, if I need to reinstall the OS it takes a minimum of 6 hours out of my day whereas Fedora took 2. Fedora runs better, is newer. Windows XP is 7 years old, Vista just not worth the effort. Windows crashes more often, is sluggish, and is such a pain in the arse with all of its wizards and the like. I feel that I have no control. I am currently trying to sort out a problem on a colleagues Windows machine which is proving difficult because there are no logs or sensible errors for me to start from. In Linux I could sort the problem out in minutes.

With regards to Tech Support I take it you haven't had to deal with Microsoft, HP, Dell, Acer etc, tech support? I have and I can tell you that I have had more luck with Linux tech forums than I have had dealing with the idiots at these other companies. The quality of tech support is so poor that I avoid them if I can, posting to forums rather than ring the tech support companies up. In fact, I have had so much bullshit from HP tech support that someone from HP Europe personally called me apologizing, giving us a 100% refund on the product immediately.

And why would you go to tech support forums for Linux just to solve a problem with your BIOS or Motherboard? This is not a Linux problem and this makes it sound like you do not know what you are talking about.

That is how I will end this post. I do not believe you know what you are talking about. Your post is too inconsistent and full of factual errors. Maybe you have used Linux, but I doubt if you have used it for long.

Why I'm using Linux

LockDeltz's picture

I have an HP comp with an AMD processor and received the XP SP3 bug when installing Windows XP SP3. I reformatted my comp with XP but I can't connect to the internet without the HP drivers which I will soon get in the mail. And I'm a linux newb who's very interested in Linux so what? Is it my fault that I don't know the whole UNIX command line, that I have to use just to install the latest NVIDIA drivers? As for my rant, well this article talks about the difference in OEMS between Linux, Windows, and OS X. And from my experience their is a big difference. I'm no computer expert, (such as yourself) but why do I need to be one just to install software and drivers? I like Linux and no one is strong arming me to use it, I never implied that, but I feel Linux is only for the tech savvy and experts. I'm not one yet, but I hope to be one soon.

Dude, are you serious?

MikeD's picture

"Is it my fault that I don't know the whole UNIX command line, that I have to use just to install the latest NVIDIA drivers? ...but why do I need to be one just to install software and drivers?"

I agree that you shouldn't have to be an expert on the Unix command line to install drivers in Linux. (And you don't need to be an expert, even for Fedora.)

But before you say Linux is inferior for not doing things the "Windows" way, the least you could do is learn how Linux does things. Try learning how to use the package manager to install/uninstall software and drivers. (In Fedora, yum or yumex will work, among others.) Try learning what a repository is and how to use it. (In Fedora, you need livna for proprietary drivers.) I know Fedora doesn't make getting the basics as obvious as other distros, but that's the culture that creates Fedora. If you don't like it (I didn't) and want to keep using Linux try a different distro.

When you learn the Linux basics (Google the terms mentioned above - yum, yumex, livna - or check the Fedora help files) then you can really compare Linux to Windows and you'll be better able to make an informed choice of which is best for you.

You don't need to be an expert to enjoy Linux, but there are a few basics that you need to learn. You've probably been a Windows user for so long that you take the basics associated with Windows for granted and now expect all systems to work the same. There is a better way, which is why Linux is making so many headlines now.

Potential financial saving for hardware manufacturers

Anonymous's picture

I didn't realise until a couple of years ago that hardware vendors have to pay Microsoft $50K plus (as it was then) to get their hardware drivers certified.
A lot of money to be saved there too.

The importance of a consistent interface

unarmedman's picture

"I assumed it was obvious Linux offers everything from the above list, but there was confusion, so please note that I do understand Linux offers everything listed above. Except maybe a consistent interface, but that's another article altogether"

I just wanted to comment that I agree a consistent interface is the primary difference between commercial Operating Systems and open-source Linux.

The extendability of Linux is a great feature for PC power-users, but the casual home or office user does not understand the cost in time for this, and more importantly, they don't care.

A majority of computer users need to be productive in their environments, and having an OS that looks and feels the same on each machine they use is indispensable to this end.

I do agree too that with increased vendor integration with Linux (Lenovo + Novell, the Eee PC) you will find more users able to actually use Linux instead of just tinker with it.

Yes, You Get What You Pay For

Lawrence D'Oliveiro's picture

I'd say the cliché is true.

Look at what typically happens with closed-source software: you pay lots for the software, which typically does what it says on the tin. But if you hit any problems, you have to call the support line, which you get for "free". And what, typically, is the quality of that support line?

Commonly, it's crap. You will get some drone who only knows how to walk you through a script, and is stuck if your problem doesn't fit neatly into existing categories.

With open-source software, you get the software at no cost, but if you want real support (beyond the self-help level available in the community), then you have to pay for it. And what's the quality of paid support like? It's a lot better, because obviously if it wasn't, nobody would pay for it.

Microsoft Free support?!! You must be joking!

zcat's picture

When you buy windows, you get -no- free support at all from Microsoft beyond the sometimes-helpful Microsoft Knowledge Base. There are two ways to pay for support, either per call or a support contract, which costs money.

And the paid support you get from Microsoft is exactly as you describe, some guy in Bangalore following a script and/or searching MSKB. if you want real support you pay somebody other than Microsoft.

When you pay for support from Red Hat or Novell or Canonical, you get somebody who actually knows what you're talking about and can fix the problem, or knows how to file a bug upstream so that the problem will be fixed. You can also pay for support from local IT companies and get about the same level of support they'd provide for Windows.

You can also get free support from IRC or web forums. I don't know about other Linux distributions but Ubuntu's IRC channel provides very good support, both quick scripted answers to frequently asked questions, via the channel bot, and in-depth problem solving from people who really know their stuff. Packagers and developers also hang out on IRC and there's a fair chance the person who eventually answers your question will be someone who's contributed to the software.

The Windows IRC support is not so far behind.. it's certainly a lot better than Microsoft's paid-for phone support.

Oversimplified, and pretty much wrong.

Richie 's picture

I have a few questions based on your bullet points:

  • What is inconsistent about Gnome or KDE; or heck, xfce?
  • What is nonstandard about GTK+, OpenGL, and the myriad other APIs which Linux supports?
  • When did Debian, Canonical, Red Hat, CentOS, Novell, and the like stop offering updates "for a significant amount of time"?
  • (This one is mixed with your point about "crapware".) Stacked next to TextEdit on Mac, how would you rate nedit or gedit? What's stopping Windows and Mac owners from installing OpenOffice? How do I uninstall gedit or kedit "crapware"? Why would I need to? And why would I need to uninstall Textedit or Wordpad?
  • When did Linux support become free? I'm not talking about the forums, because these exist for Mac and Windows. You're talking about paid support. So, let's talk paid support: Red Hat. Novell. Canonical. They're not free.
  • To reiterate, what's stopping Windows and Mac users installing "free, enterprise grade software bundles"? And where are these exactly? Last time I checked OpenOffice couldn't do pivot tables. Where's my full-on scheduling app?
  • (We've dealt with "crapware".)
  • When did you last use Windows or Mac? I've never had a virus on Windows and I use it daily. That's not an idle brag. I install random packages from the Internet (and back in the day, I downloaded my share of pr0n). And get this: no virus checkers. Conversely, with a lack of common sense operating Linux, you expose yourself to getting hacked. It doesn't happen anywhere as frequently as with Windows, but it can, and does, happen. Google it.
  • Compiz is an advantage compared to what? Quartz? Aero? What's the difference exactly?

Same old FUD, but it usually comes the other way. I used to blabber on like this about C=64s and Amigas, but then I grew up.

I'm a Linux fan like the rest of us, but come on. You can't get away with this kind of crap. (You started it! "Crapware", remember?)

Seriously, Linux has many strong points when compared to Windows or Mac OS X. I wish you'd listed one.

Rich. does do pivot

Marc's picture does do pivot tables. The feature is called Data Pilot.

So, I guess by your reasoning, since you have never caught a virus, antivirus applications are useless? Isn't that like saying you don't need home insurance since you've never had a fire?

Alright, so I picked a bad

Richie's picture

Alright, so I picked a bad example. The Photoshop/GIMP argument has been done to death. Pretend I was talking about, say, perspective cloning.

Viruses: You're putting words in my mouth *and* making a bad analogy. Antivirus apps aren't useless, but I'd rather have one on my mail server than on the desktop, thanks. Your analogy would work better if you talked about smoke detectors -- you *do* change the batteries in yours, don't you? -- but then belongings and data have absolutely no equivalence. You insure belongings; you back-up data. But while a data restore returns things to their previous state, you can never get the sentimental value or the peace of mind back with an insurance payout.


Shawn Powers's picture


I think you misunderstood part of what I was getting at, so I updated the list a bit. I'll respond to a couple other of your comments though:

Crapware: When I mentioned the crapware that offsets the cost of Windows, I was referring to trial software, weird multimedia software, and 3rd party programs that come pre-installed and are mostly worthless. Those 3rd party companies give OEM vendors money to pre-install the stuff, which offsets some of the cost associated with the Windows licenses. That's a big reason computers bundled with Linux aren't significantly cheaper than the same models with Windows. There's no pre-installed crapware to drive down the price.

Viruses: If you are using Windows without any malware protection, and you have no issues with spyware and/or viruses -- you are in the minority. That's the reason Microsoft builds in the "WARNING YOU HAVE NO ANTIVIRUS INSTALLED" messages.

Compiz: The difference? It's cooler, and it's free.

Shawn Powers is an Associate Editor for Linux Journal. You might find him chatting on the IRC channel, or Twitter


Richie's picture

Shawn. Thanks for clearing up your confusion of "crapware" and "rudimentary applications". As you've only answered the weaker points in my argument, I'll assume you agree with the other points. Is that fair?

What you get...

Alan's picture

What you really get, fundamentally, is the right to use software written by some stingy person who didn't want you using it without dinging you for the privilege. It really all boils down to that. Whether or not the software is so great that it's worth the indignity is up to you.

MS Tax Etc

FredR's picture

I've often wondered, if I purchased a machine with an OS on it, am I wasting that license? In other words, I can go to the local electronics retail store right now and pick up a Lenovo laptop for about $600, open box. It has Vista on it. I don't know if they've achieved the holy grail and "locked" a particular license to that machine, but I can then bring that machine home and put Ubuntu on it. Is the Vista license gone forever? Does MS only care that they have my money for that particular license? And with the deals with OEMs and whatnot, we know sometimes that's only about $50. Is that money worth more to them than to never have a repeat customer (for office and other applications) or the lack of my piece of market share?

It may be worth more to me to pay the $50 and waste the license.

I read a really good article the other day on virtualization. The author was afraid that vendor licensing would "choke this evolving market?". (To find the article, google "Will virtualization licensing, support and pricing complexity choke this evolving market?").

The answer to that question lies directly in what circles you hang out in. Take a look at the answers and you'll find that this person didn't take into account the abundance of free virtualization.

This person may have reworded their question "What can I do to get away from the vendors who are scaring me, and be free of their opression?"

Engineers typically understand the relationship between tools and their effective cost.

-- FLR or flrichar is a superfan of Linux Journal, and goofs around in the LJ IRC Channel

As I understand it, if you

Anonymous's picture

As I understand it, if you buy a laptop or desktop, there should be, either in the packaging or somewhere on the hardware, a Vista Serial #. On my laptop there was a sticker on the bottom that had the serial, anyway.

That number is tied somehow to the hardware of your computer. Every time you go online with Windows (assuming your still using Windows anyway) to check for updates, Microsoft performs a series of tests to make sure your hardware matches the specs attached to the serial number. If it does, your copy of Windows is marked "Genuine" and all is good.

If not, you need to contact MS and wrangle with a tech support person to find out why.

If you build/upgrade your computer a lot, I think you can also call MS and have them transfer your old liscence to the new PC I guess the short answer is No, your not wasting a liscence if you buy a laptop, wipe it, drop Linux on it and later decide to run Windows.

Now as far as virtualization goes I have no idea how MS deals with that but I doubt it's very nicely.

The answer is really simple

Gianmarco's picture

The answer is really simple what you get is the most expensive set of fonts on the market :D

thank you

Prefabrik ev's picture

thank you very much. nice document.

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