4. Hardware compatibility
To run Windows 8 on your PC, you'll need a processor that's 1GHz or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2. You'll also need a minimum of 1GB RAM for the 32-bit version or 2GB for the 64-bit version, along with 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit) of space on your hard drive. For graphics processing, you'll need a Microsoft DirectX 9-compatible graphics device with a WDDM driver, Microsoft says.
Of course, that's the minimum. If you want to take advantage of Windows 8's touch features, obviously you'll need a multitouch device. To make the most of the software, you'll want considerably more than that.
Ubuntu's requirements, however, are much more modest: Canonical recommends 512MB of RAM, plus 5GB on the hard drive. You'll also find versions such as Lubuntu and Xubuntu for lower-spec machines. In short, if hardware is a constraining factor for you, Ubuntu is most likely the better choice.
5. Cloud integration
Starting with the launch of Ubuntu One in 2009, the cloud has played a key role in Ubuntu Linux for some time, enabling users to store files online and sync them among computers and mobile devices, as well as to stream audio and music from the cloud to mobile devices.
Ubuntu One works on Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android, as well as on Ubuntu. Users of Ubuntu Linux get 5GB of Ubuntu One storage for free; 20GB costs $30 per year.
Beginning with Ubuntu 12.10, the OS also integrates Web apps and online searches directly into the Unity desktop for a more seamless experience.
With Windows 8, the cloud is coming to the forefront of Microsoft's platform as well. For storage, Microsoft's SkyDrive offers users 7GB of space for free. If you need more than that, you can have an extra 20GB for $10, 50GB for $25, or 100GB for $50 annually.
Storage isn't the only benefit of the cloud, however. Beginning with this new release, the new Microsoft Account sign-in (formerly Live ID) lets you use a single username and password to establish common preferences among all the Windows-based hardware and services with which you work. The idea is to employ the cloud to connect your PCs, tablets, and smartphones through a common, user-specific experience.
Ubuntu doesn't fully compete with Windows in this regard, since it doesn't offer counterparts to Windows Phone 8 or Windows 8 RT that are tailored specifically to non-PC devices. However, Ubuntu for Android is in the works.
Although Windows RT apps run within a sandboxed environment for greater security, Windows 8 Pro desktop legacy apps have no equivalent. Instead, third-party software developers are left to their own devices to add security measures to their apps.
Windows 8 and Ubuntu Linux provide their own firewalls, however, as well as the option for full disk encryption.
Despite the fact that Windows 8 Pro offers some security improvements over Windows 7, the new OS still carries forward with the WinNT legacy kernel, which is at least partially responsible for the litany of security issues Windows has suffered over the years.
To mitigate some of those issues, Microsoft created in conjunction with partnering OEMs Secure Boot, an extension to UEFI. Windows 8 now provides Secure Boot support on OEM systems, while Ubuntu 12.10 offers a raft of advanced security features such as support for installation with Secure Boot systems.
Additionally, Ubuntu Linux comes with Linux Security Modules (LSM) installed by default. Other security-enhancing measures include chroot, seccomp, seccomp-bpf, and the newest addition—LinuX Containers (LXC)—for third-party developers and users alike.
Just as an aside, it's interesting to note that, each year at Pwn2Own, hackers get a chance to hack Windows and Apple Mac systems, but Linux is not included in the contest. No exploit can escalate against (and gain root privilege on) Ubuntu Linux running AppArmor-sandboxed Firefox.
7. Administrative tools
For administrative controls, Windows provides Active Directory, using dedicated Active Directory servers.
Canonical supports Active Directory as well, and Ubuntu Linux clients can join to an Active Directory Domain using third-party software such as Likewise Open or Centrify.
In addition, Canonical provides Landscape, an enterprise administrative tool of its own that can perform most Windows Active Directory tasks. Landscape presents an easy-to-use, browser-based control panel through which you can manage desktops, servers, and cloud instances.
8. VPN support
Users who require virtual private network support will find it in both Windows 8 and Ubuntu 12.10.
In Ubuntu repositories, the provided utility is OpenVPN, which uses a custom security protocol based on SSL/TLS for key exchange. Both operating systems offer support for varied protocols, however, depending on site-specific and inter-site needs.
9. User support
Last but certainly not least, Ubuntu Linux is free, while Windows 8 Pro will reportedly cost $199 after the current introductory upgrade offer of $39 to $69 expires.
So which operating system is better for small-business users? The answer, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. If one thing is clear, however, it's that any lead Windows may have once had over competing operating systems is shrinking every year. Depending on your needs, Ubuntu Linux 12.10 could provide a compelling alternative. If nothing else, it's almost certainly worth your while to try it online or take it for a free test drive.
|Windows 8 Pro (x86)||Ubuntu 12.10|
|License fee||$39 to $69 upgrade||Free|
|CPU architectures supported||x86, x86-64||x86, x86-64, ARM, PPC|
|Minimum RAM||1GB, 2GB||512MB|
|Minimum hard-disk space||20GB||5GB|
|Concurrent multiuser support||No||Yes|
|Workspaces||One||Two or more|
|License||Not applicable||GPL Open Source: Main, Non-GPL: Restricted|
|Productivity software included||None||LibreOffice|
|Graphics tools included||No||Yes|