When Windows announced their new operating system, that is Windows 8, everyone on the social media was buzzing about it. Meanwhile, a bunch of developers at Canonical pulled an all-nighter fixing show-stopping bugs in the upcoming version of Ubuntu.
Linux users don’t expect their distro releases to be received with as much pomp as Windows or Mac OS. However, with Unity and the amount of improvements it has gone through, there’s a certain sense of excitement amongst Ubuntuers. Furthermore, even though Ubuntu 11.10 isn’t a LTS release, it is a critical release for the folks at Canonical. Oneiric Ocelot is Ubuntu’s golden chance to covert users back to the contentious Unity interface.
For Microsoft, the stakes seem to be high this time. Unlike then when it enjoyed a complete monopoly over the tech industry, Microsoft’s billion-dollar enterprise has taken huge visible hits thanks to the growing dominance of Apple and Android. Linux, which Microsoft once thought was over and done with, has proven itself to be a palpable threat to Microsoft’s server and mobile departments. Though Windows 8 and Ubuntu 11.10 differ hugely from each other, both in ideology and in design, they bring in a lot of similar features taking the competition up a notch.
Here’s a quick comparison between the similarities in Ubuntu 11.10 and Windows 8:
Brand new interface
Both Ubuntu and Windows 8 will sport a brand new interface. While Windows 8 will be using the tile-based Metro UI, Ubuntu will be using the tried, tested, criticized and condemned Unity interface. The tiled Metro UI is a huge step forward for Microsoft as it makes it easier for them to adapt Windows on smaller form factors. Microsoft, decimated by the rapid growth of mobiles and tablets, has finally admitted that the standard desktop is breathing its last. Canonical on the other hand, saw this coming way before Microsoft. I won’t be naïve as to accuse Microsoft of blatantly ‘copying’ this approach, but considering what they’ve been doing in the past, I won’t be surprised even if they actually did that. Unity, as the name suggests, will make Ubuntu easy to adapt and use on devices other than desktops and laptops. Thus, users will get the same experience across all of their devices. Apple too is slowly taking this approach by adding certain iOS-like features on their desktop operating system.
Desktop as you know it is dead
With Windows 8, Microsoft will do away with the traditional desktop. Of course, not entirely, but we’ll certainly see more and more people using the new interface. This will ensure that users can switch seamlessly between their different devices. Now, it may be too early to predict these things, but my opinion is that once Windows 8 is released, and if it gets successful, we may actually see a growth in Ubuntu’s market share. Windows 8’s Metro UI will do what Canonical and GNOME 3 are trying to do, that is, move people away from the dogmatic desktop UI. This will liberate many users from the conformity and push them to try out new and different things. Unity can cash in on this opportunity by further polishing their Unity UI so as to make it more appealing to new users.
Social from the start
Ubuntu, for a long time, has included essential social media features in its default desktop. Microsoft on the other hand, was lagging behind in this department. With Windows 8 though, things are about to change as the new Metro UI includes social media capabilities built-in. To be honest, up until now, the social media experience Gwibber 2.0 provided wasn’t at par with the apps that are out there on Windows and Apple. With Gwibber 3, Oneiric users can proudly boast about how social-savvy their new desktop is.
More cloud integration
Windows 8 and Ubuntu 11.10 will both be tightly integrated with the cloud. Windows 8 will be able to pull photos from the cloud, share and upload them instantly. Ubuntu 11.10 on the other hand will feature Ubuntu One online backup service with 5 GB cloud storage leaving behind Microsoft in the cloud wars.
Updated Default browsers
Windows 8 will ship with Internet Explorer 10 while Oneiric will include the improved Firefox 7.
The Software Center has been part of Ubuntu for quite a while, but it wasn’t as appealing as many new users would expect it to be. With 11.10, that is about to change because a completely revamped app store will be a part of the desktop. On Windows 8, there will be a Windows store, allowing users to download and purchase new applications for their desktop.
New login screens
Both Ubuntu 11.10 and Windows 8 will include a new and improved login screen. They both are beautiful, but I still prefer the clean new LightDM login screen.
Microsoft’s opening up? Think again
The new Metro UI will use the innovative HTML5 technology. Now, a Windows fanboy when he hears of this will definitely be tricked into thinking that Microsoft is making significant efforts to promote open technologies. However, the truth is that Microsoft is still the conniving old wolf that will leave no stone unturned in crushing anyone who comes in their way. According to a recent Slashdot article, Windows will be using a ‘next-generation’ booting specification called Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). Thanks to UEFI, users won’t be able to use GPL bootloaders on their Windows 8 computers, making it almost impossible for Linux enthusiasts (and new users) to install Linux distributions on their computers. If this feature is implemented, it will be a huge blow to Linux and its growing dominance over the PC market. Well played Microsoft, well played indeed.
Written by: Abhishek, a regular TechSource contributor and a long-time FOSS advocate.