Linux vs. Windows: What's the difference in 2022?

For users who are looking to try something new, or who are tired of their Mac OS or Windows operating systems, now just might be the time to switch to something else. The Mac OS system currently uses a UNIX core, which would make switching from Mac OS to Linux a fairly smooth transition. Windows users, on the other hand, will need to make some adjustments.

The following tutorial will compare the Linux operating system to Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft Windows vs. Linux File System

Microsoft Windows files are stored on different data drives (C: D: E:). On Linux, beginning with the root directory, files are organized in a tree structure. This directory is the beginning of the file system. It branches out further across a variety of other subdirectories. The root directory is designated with a forward slash (/).

Key Differences
  • Linux, an open-source operating system, can change source code as required, while Windows OS doesn’t have access to source code, as it is a commercial operating system.
  • Linux can detect bugs and fix them easier because of its stellar security, while Windows’ large userbase can be easily attacked by hackers.
  • Windows runs slowly, especially with older hardware, while Linux runs significantly faster.
  • With Windows operating systems, printers, CD-ROMs, and hard drives, are considered devices. Linux peripherals, including printers, CD-ROMs, and hard drives are considered files.
  • Windows uses data drives (C: D: E:) and folders to store files. Linux uses a tree structure beginning with the root directory to keep files organized.
  • There can be two files in the same directory with the same name in Linux. In Windows, users cannot have two files in the same folder with the exact same name.
  • In Microsoft Windows, program and system files are almost always stored in the C: drive, while program and system files on Linux can be found in different directories.
File Types

Everything is considered a file in UNIX and Linux. The keyboard, mouse, and printer are files, files are files, and directories are files.

General Files

Also known as Ordinary Files, General Files can contain simply text, or programs, videos, and images. These files can be in Binary or ASCII format, as they are the most commonly used files on Linux.

Directory Files

Directory Files are like a warehouse that can be used for other types of files. Users can have a subdirectory (a directory within a directory). Files can also be taken as folders found inside of the user’s Microsoft Windows operating system.

Device Files

Devices such as hard drives, CD-ROMs, and printers use drive letters like H: or G: in Windows. For instance, if there are three primary partitions in the first SATA hard drive, they would be numbered and named /dev/sda1, /dev/sda2, and /dev/sda3. Notice that all of the device files are included in the /dev/ directory.

All file types, including devices, give users permission to execute (run), edit, or read them, which makes this one of Linux’s most powerful features. Permissions can be changed so that access restrictions can be applied to different types of users.

Windows Users vs. Linux Users

In Linux, there are three different types of users:

  • Regular Users
  • (Root) Administrative Users
  • Service Users
Regular Users

Regular user accounts are created when a user installs Ubuntu on their system. All folders and files are stored in /home/, the home directory. Regular users do not have access to other user directories.

Administrative (Root) Users

In addition to a regular account, a secondary user account known as a root account, is also created when Ubuntu is installed. This is an administrative superuser account that allows users to decide who can install software or access files. A user would log in as a root user in order to perform administrative tasks, install software, or make changes to system files. A user can use their regular account to browse the internet or play music.

Service Users

Linux has been widely known as a Server Operating System. Services that have their own individual service accounts include Squid, Apache, and e-mail. Service accounts increase a user’s computer security. Depending on the service, Linux can either deny or allow access to various resources.

  • Service accounts will not be shown in the desktop version of Ubuntu.
  • In Ubuntu Desktop, regular accounts are called standard accounts.

There are four user account types in Windows:

  • Administrator
  • Standard
  • Child
  • Guest

File Name Conventions in Windows and Linux

In Windows, a user is not allowed to save two files in the same folder with the exact same name (see example below).

Conversely, in Linux, there can be two files in the same directory with the same name, so long as they use different cases.

Home Directories in Windows and Linux

Directories in Linux are created as /home/ for each user. Users can store their personal directories and files in the main directory (e.g. /home/tom). Files cannot be saved outside of the user directory and users are not authorized to view directories belonging to other people. For example, users cannot access a directory belonging to Jerry (/home/jerry) if that directory does not belong to them. This idea is similar to the C:\Documents and Settings feature in Microsoft Windows.

When a user boots the Linux operating system, the default working directory (e.g. /home/tom) is the user directory. The /home/tom directory is also known as the Home directory, a misnomer.

Certain commands can be used to change the working directory, which will be discussed in further detail later.

Other Directories in Windows and Linux

Program and system files in Windows are always saved in the C: drive. In Linux, the program and system files are found in two different directories. The boot files can be found in the /boot directory, while the software and program files are stored under the /bin device files in the /dev directory.

The following picture below includes important Linux directories, along with a short description of what they contain.

These are the main differences between the Linux operating system and the Windows operating system. Users will notice other variations when they switch from Windows to Linux, which will be discussed in further detail in future tutorials.

Differences Between Windows and Linux

  • Uses different data drives to store folders and files (C: D: E:)
  • Has different drives (C: D: E:)
  • Considers printers, CD-ROMs, and hard drives as devices
  • Has four different user types: Guest, Child, Standard, and Administrator
  • Administrator has administrative privileges
  • Users cannot save 2 files in the same folder with the exact same name
  • The default home directory is located in My Documents
  • Uses a tree-like hierarchical file system
  • Doesn’t have any drives
  • Printers, hard drives, and CD-ROMs (peripherals) are considered files
  • Has three different user types: Service Account, Root, and Regular
  • Root users are superusers and have administrative privileges
  • File name conventions are case-sensitive (e.g. in the Linux/Unix operating system, SAMPLE and sample are considered two different files)
  • A /home/ username directory is created for each user, which is considered their home directory

George Whittaker is the editor of Linux Journal, and also a regular contributor. George has been writing about technology for two decades, and has been a Linux user for over 15 years. In his free time he enjoys programming, reading, and gaming.

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