Differences between Windows and Linux operating systems. The fundamental differences that are worth knowing

Here are the key differences between Microsoft Windows and Linux distro operating systems to know which one is better in security, customization etc.

If you haven’t explored the world of computers a lot, you probably use Microsoft Windows, which is undoubtedly the most popular operating system out there. Due to its widespread popularity, most users don’t know about the existence of other operating systems at all or don’t know a lot about other great operating systems, like Linux. There is no doubt, Microsoft Windows is the most versatile operating system out there that cater to the needs of almost all users, Linux used to be a great choice among developers, testers, and for the geeks. But time has changed, and Linux too caters to the needs of all types of users out there.

Windows and Linux are different in multiple aspects, and I will talk about most of them here. Well, I will not go into intense depth, while talking about the differences, and will keep the comparison as simple as possible. After knowing the differences, I’m sure you will once think about switching from Windows to Linux, for the set of conveniences it has to offer. Both Windows and Linux are operating systems for computers, and thus, I will say a few words about, what an operating system is, before talking about the differences. This will help you to comprehend and interpret the differences, in an even better way.

What is an operating system?

The operating system is the primary system software that handles your computer hardware to help you work with the other application programs that you have, and use your existing hardware resources.

An operating system will thus, handle user inputs, deliver outputs, handle processing, file management, network management, and everything else you can think of, by acting as a gateway between your computer hardware and you, the user. The kernel is the most important part of an operating system, and I will also talk about the kernel used in Microsoft Windows and Linux, here, as well.

Besides Windows and Linux, Android, which you might have in your hand right now, iOS, Mac OS, BSD are all operating systems for specific electronic devices out there. Even the embedded systems like manufacturing and medical equipment, the set-top box, you have in your bedroom, streaming media players, and everything else has its own operating system, which, however, is built to handle the specific set tasks and manage the limited hardware, only for a particular gadget.

So that is, what an operating system is, in simple words.

Now let’s have a look at the differences between Linux and Windows by Microsoft.

License and pricing

Before you actually get hands-on something, you either have to purchase it or acquire a license to use the same. So I am keeping that in the beginning the licesne difference between Linux and Windows.

Talking about Windows, it is a paid software. So, to use Windows, you have to purchase it or purchase a license at first. There are multiple licenses you can go for, like OEM license, used by OEMs, retail license for normal users, and volume licensing, for big organizations to use on multiple computers. Besides that, depending on how you want to use your computer, there are different editions available like Home, Pro, Enterprise, etc. for Windows 10; Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, etc.for Windows 7, and more. Each edition has its own limitations, and you have to choose your edition depending upon your work. On the other hand, you can get over the limitations by acquiring a license for the better edition. So, Microsoft Windows is a paid operating system.

While on the other hand, Linux is free to use and you can simply download it from the official website computer and get started. The Linux distributions, which are the different versions of Linux available, come under the GPL license, which means you can even modify Linux to use it as per your requirements. I will talk about the open-source nature later in the article. However, there are some commercial versions or distributions of Linux available out there, where some packages are not available for free. But for the most part, Linux-based distributions or operating systems are free to use, unlike Windows.


As I just said at the beginning of the article, the kernel is the most important or the core of the operating system, which handles everything including hardware, user inputs, etc. There are some differences between the kernel that is used in Linux and that on Windows.

Windows has a hybrid kernel. The kernel used Microsoft Windows is called the Windows NT kernel which offers additional support for using different types of devices in a secure environment. Programs can run either in user mode and kernel mode. If some program is running in user mode, it has very limited access to the system or the hardware resources, while on the other hand, the programs running in kernel mode will have full access to all the system resources available.

Thus, it ensures, the user programs don’t make any major changes that might damage the hardware, or cause inconveniences. That’s great for most users out there. The I/O manager decides, how the user requests will be handled in user mode or kernel mode.

While on the other hand, the Linux Kernel has a monolithic kernel, which has its contributors from different parts of the world as it is open-source, which I’ll be discussing in the next point. All the programs on Linux can interact with the kernel through the Application Programming Interface or API.

As the Linux Kernel has contributions from the big Linux community across the world, it is well optimized to use with all kinds of hardware, which include optimizations for embedded systems, as well. Unlike Windows kernel, as it is developed on the fly by several developers worldwide, you can always find drivers for your hardware, but sometimes there can be exceptions, as well.

Source code of Windows and Linux

To be said in simple words, the source code is the set of codes that help your operating system to run smoothly or do everything else. It is a set of programs that makes the operating system run or work as per your requirements. Just like every other respect, there are differences between how the source code is controlled in both windows and Linux.

Talking about Windows, it is a closed-source operating system, which means you can never get access to the source code as it is kept private. It means Microsoft reserves the right to change anything from time to time within the source code as per the requirements of the users and for commercial benefits.

As the source code is not available to an end-user, there is no way you can edit the source code for your advantage. However if you try reverse engineer your Windows operating system to get the source code and modify it, you are violating the terms and conditions of using Microsoft Windows and you might not get any warranty or service from Microsoft afterwards.

On the other hand, Linux is an open-source project and more than an operating system. The source code for Linux is available for free and the developers can use the source code to create multiple Linux distributions, which we can find on the internet. Ubuntu, CentOS, Linux Mint, Deepin, Mandriva are some popular distributions of Linux and all the distributions or distros are developed by modifying the source code in different ways. Besides that, being an end-user, you also have the right to modify the source code of your copy of Linux to meet your requirements. Modifying the source code isn’t a piece of the pie, but you have the right to do that.

If you don’t understand the nature of open-source and closed source programs, here is a small example for you. Just consider, you have purchased your favourite car model from your favourite manufacturer. If you face any kind of problem, you have to take it to the service centre, where necessary modifications and repairs will be made to fix the car. But, if you try to change or make any kind of modifications or change the internal parts of the car, you will void your warranty and you might be denied service and support. That is a closed source project. 

But, if you make your own car engine, chassis and other basic things of the car and ask others to give a design to it or ask others to modify the engine and chassis, for performance improvements, you are actually making your car open source.

The open-source nature of Linux has paved the way for numerous distributions or distros, that I will talk about in the next point and scopes of unlimited improvements every single day. 

Flavours and distros available

Talking about Windows only a single version of Windows is manufactured by Microsoft and you have no other option other than using that specific version of Microsoft Windows if you have acquired a license for using the same.

So if you are using Windows 7 or Windows 10 it will be np different from your friend who is using the same operating system. Windows is a versatile operating system and it can be used by almost all classes of users out there and thus, it is not always necessary to make necessary modifications to the source code for it to be friendly with you.

However, talking about Linux, as it is open source, there are numerous Linux distributions that you can find. You can find the number of great Linux distributions for old and low-end computers here. Depending upon your tasks, you can choose your favourite Linux distribution, for education purposes, entertainment, everyday work, and all other requirements. That said, you can find the number of great Linux distributions, which are well crafted for a particular set of users and there are even some, which offers a great user interface with a lot of options for customization, which is another big aspect in which, Windows lags behind. 


There are a lot of customization options available for Windows computers out there. You can modify the start menu, change the look and feel of icons and sometimes a little more.

However, the basic user interface of Windows can hardly be changed. There were a number of customization software packs available for old Windows operating systems like Windows XP, where you can get the Windows Vista and Windows 7 themes, but still, they were half boiled.

Besides that, there are some programs available for Windows which cannot be customized or changed. The Command Prompt, Windows Explorer, for example, are few things, which you will have to stick forever as long as we are using Windows. Things are changing when it comes to customizability on Windows, but it is still no way close to Linux.

Customization options on Linux are really unlimited. You can get hands-on every single element of Linux distribution as per your requirements. For example, if you are using Ubuntu, you can easily download the desktop environment for any other popular Linux distribution, and get the complete look and feel of that particular distribution. Besides GNOME, you can always used to XFCE, or any other environment.

If you find out your computer is not performing properly with a particular Desktop Environment of Linux, you can easily change the look and feel by downloading a desktop environment, which require fewer hardware resources, without changing your distro altogether. You are free to choose your own file manager, and you can even set them as default.

You can have multiple desktop environments installed on your computer so that you can easily switch to the most appropriate one depending upon your moods. Besides that, on changing the desktop environment to something new, you can even get hands-on the apps and programs that are available for that particular Desktop Environment of Linux.

Thus, when it comes to customizability you can find unlimited customization options for Linux, which is not available for Windows.

Software availability in Linux and Windows

Now, the next most important part is the availability of software or programs for your requirements.

If you are not using Windows 8, 8.1 or Windows 10, which comes with the Microsoft Store, you have to rely on third-party websites to download programs for your requirements. You can get one program from multiple sources, if it is free or open-source, and if you are going for a paid software, you have to download it or purchase it from the developer’s website.

Talking about free programs, most programs that you will come across might come back with additional programs and even crapware, which is really a big problem for Microsoft Windows users. So, each time you try to download any software for Windows, you have to keep an eye on the installer to make sure you’re not ending up installing the unnecessary programs.

To be said in simple words, apart from the Microsoft Store, which isn’t full-fledged yet, there is no unified source for downloading Windows programs from the internet.

Coming back to Linux, most of the Linux apps and programs that you will ever need, should be available from the official and from third-party repositories which only accept programs once they are ensured free from any malware.

The size of the official repositories to download Linux apps and programs is unimaginable, and you can find almost every program from there. It means, there is very less or hardly any chance that your computer will be infected by downloading programs from the official repositories. That doesn’t mean you cannot download apps and packages for your Linux computer from other sources.

You can even download apps from the developer’s website and also from other sources, but as Linux apps and packages are installed in a different way, you will not end up installing additional programs, possibly crapware, each time you try to install something new on your Linux computer. 

If you are a Windows user using Windows for a long time now, the exact same programs might not be available for Linux, however, in almost every case, you can find a close alternative to that. Depending upon your specific requirements, some special programs might not be available, but as the Linux community is moving ahead every single day, you might get your favourite program anytime soon.

Command-line interface

Command-line is the key element of all operating system because at the background everything is happening in commands even for the graphical users on both Linux and Windows.

On Windows, we sometimes use the Command Prompt to create batch files and also for doing a number of other tasks. However, most people who use Windows, better use the graphical user interface for carrying out everyday tasks. If you need to install new software, you can simply do that by downloading it from the website and by following the onscreen instructions subsequently. If you want to change the setting, you can simply change it by going to the control panel. Even though most tasks can also be carried out on the Command Prompt in Windows, most people don’t use that.

But the scenario is completely different for Linux. Just like Windows, Linux also has its own command line, which is really powerful. From downloading your favourite programs to changing some settings, you can do everything from Linux Terminal if you know the appropriate commands. That doesn’t mean, Linux is a command-line interface or CLI only operating system as the GUI is equally powerful, But the Terminal or the command line on Linux computer is better and more powerful than the Windows Command Prompt.

Building your own OS

I will not elaborate on this point in detail as you already understood that the source code for Windows is not available for users.

There is no possibility that you can build your own operating system by modifying Windows. As I just said, the source code for Linux is available for free on the Internet, and you can easily download it and create your own distribution of Linux, to fulfil your requirements, and you can even share it among your friends. 

Making your own Linux distribution from scratch isn’t a child’s play and thus, you can find the number of popular websites, where you can create your own Linux distribution with some easy to use tools.

Other differences between Linux and Windows

So, those were the major differences between Windows and Linux. There are even some small differences that include the file format support. Microsoft has its own proprietary file system, which is the NTFS file system. talking about Linux, it supports the EXT file format. Windows can run only from a primary partition while Linux can run or boot both from a primary as well as a logical partition. Talking about security, Linux is comparatively more secure the windows, as it is open-source, and is used by a lot of users worldwide.

So, those were the most notable differences between Windows and Linux, which will matter to you. As both Windows and Linux are two different operating systems, you can even find additional differences once you actually start using both of them. Most of us use Windows from the very childhood, but Linux can be equally powerful and handy if you spend time to learn and use it. Do you know any other notable differences between Windows and Linux, which is worth mentioning here? Feel free to comment on the same below.