Practical Technology

for practical people.

Linux is easier to install than XP


When you buy a new PC today, unless you hunt down a Linux system or you buy a Mac, you’re pretty much stuck with Vista. Sad, but true.

So, when I had to get a new PC in a hurry, after one of my PCs went to the big bit-ranch in the sky with a fried motherboard, the one I bought, a Dell Inspiron 530S from my local Best Buy came pre-infected with Vista Home Premium. Big deal. It took me less than an hour to install Linux Mint 5 Elyssa R1 on it.

As expected, everything on this 2.4GHz Intel Core2 Duo Processor E4600-powered PC ran perfectly with Mint. But, then it struck me, everyone is talking about having to buy Vista systems and then ‘downgrading’ them to XP Pro, how hard really is it to do that.? Since I had left half the 500BG SATA hard drive unpartitioned, I decided to install XP SP3 on it to see how much, if any, trouble I’d run into. The answer: a lot.

First, thanks to my Microsoft TechNet membership I could download an XP disk image, which included all the patches up to and including SP3. Many people aren’t going to be that lucky. They’ll need to install XP and then download perhaps hundreds of megabytes of patches. Boy, doesn’t that sound like a lot of fun?

If you don’t have a MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) or TechNet membership, there are two ways to approach this problem. The first is to manually slipstream the patches into an XP installation CD. You can find a good set of instructions on how to do this in Slipstreaming Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Create Bootable CD. While the article is for SP2, the same technique works for XP SP3 as well.

The other way is use nLite. This is a program that allows you to customize Windows XP and 2000. While it’s primarily so that you can set up Windows without components you don’t want, such as Internet Explorer 6, Outlook Express, MSN Explorer, or Messenger, you can also use it to create fully patched-up boot/installation CDs. I highly recommend it.

This time I didn’t need to use either one. I simply put in my newly burned XP SP3 CD and went through the usual XP installation routine. Within an hour, I was booting XP.

If this had been Linux my work would have been done. With XP, I soon discovered my job was just beginning. I soon found that XP couldn’t recognize my graphics sub-system, a totally ordinary Integrated Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100; the audio system, the Realtek HD Audio chipset, or, most annoying of all, the Intel 10/100Mbps Ethernet port. How can an operating system in 2008 not recognize an Ethernet port?

Well, XP doesn’t.

Fortunately, Dell includes a CD with the full range of Windows drivers on it. With it, I was able to install the drivers for all the equipment without much trouble. Within another hour, I finally had a working XP SP3 system.

That wasn’t so bad was it? Well, here’s my problem, except for Dell, I don’t know of any vendors who ship their PCs with driver disks anymore. The usual vendor answer for when you have a driver problem is for you to go online, search down the right driver, download, and install it. Except, of course, had that been my only course of action, I would have been up the creek without a paddle because XP wasn’t capable of letting me talk to my network.

Mint, on the other hand, let me point out, had no trouble with any of my hardware. Thus Ubuntu-based Linux recognized the equipment, it set it up and let me get to work. It was Windows that proved to be a pain in the rump.

Greg Kroah-Hartman, a prominent Linux developer, is right. Linux Journal recently reported that he recently told an audience at the Ottawa Linux Symposium that “Linux supports more different types of devices than any other operating system ever has in the history of computing.”

Linux isn’t perfect that way, as Kroah-Hartman would be the first to admit. Based on what I experienced, though, Linux is much better than Windows at supporting modern hardware.

We have this illusion, that’s just because Windows works on the systems it comes pre-installed on, that Windows has great built-in driver support. No, it doesn’t. Once you move to installing Windows on a new system, you’ll quickly find that Linux, not Windows, has the better built-in hardware support.

Yes, that’s right. Linux, not Windows, is easier to install on a new PC. Just something to think about as you get ready to strip Vista off your new computer.


  1. This hasn’t always been the case. 10 years ago, Windows 98 kicked Linux butt in the ease of install department.

    But the tables have turned.

    Neither Windows XP or Vista will recognize the add-on Promise SATA RAID controller on my ASUS A8V-Deluxe mobo (it came with the board).

    There are XP drivers for it but you have to start off with them (or install on a drive on the VIA controller – assuming you have one there).

    And Vista? No such drivers exist, period.

    Every Linux distro I’ve thrown at the same computer has had no trouble recognizing it at all.

  2. “How can an operating system in 2008 not recognize an Ethernet port? ”

    I do want to point out that XP is not a 2008 operating system (SP3 not withstanding). It is a 2001 operating system.

    But that little detail aside, I agree. The last time I wiped my harddrive and installed WinXP and Linux on it as a dual-boot system, I had a lot more time and effort in the Windows install than the Linux install. It took me three and a half hours to install WinXP, SP2, the drivers, the updates, and the security essentials (anti-virus, firewall, anti-spyware, etc.) and didn’t get to the actual applications yet. In two hours, though, I had Ubuntu completely installed with all updates and all apps I wanted.

  3. So Windows SP3 takes longer to install than Linux Mint? Big deal!

    You are right, especially if you are installing Windows SP1 or SP2 and your computer is not new and not hooked up to a high speed broadband connection, installing all the updates via the web is sometimes painstakingly slow.

    But even if it would cost 10 hours to install Windows XP SP3, it would still be easier to use for most people than Linux.

    What is more important is that people spend hundreds perhaps thousands of hours using an installed operating system and Windows XP will be easier to use for most people. How many people know how to use the command line?

    With regards to drivers, almost every manufacturer offers the latest drivers to download from their website so there is no real use for a driver CD, unless you want to install outdated drivers on your newly installed system.

    Anyways, something to think about as you get ready to strip Vista off your new computer.

  4. Pingback: KE4KE » Comparing Apples with Apples

  5. You forgot the part about setting up partitions, formatting, and don’t even get me started setting up wifi, advanced graphics drivers, compiling kernels, software compatibility, etc. Simply put, if you have hardware that requires drivers that don’t come bundled in your Linux distro, unless you’re a Linux guru, you probably won’t be using your hardware. Even if a driver does come, its usually a generic open source version that doesn’t utilize the hardware to its full potential. So getting Linux on your PC may be easy, but actually using it and its file system requires a sharp learning curve, even with user-friendly distros like Ubuntu.

  6. Pingback: | news and opinion

  7. What about partitioning, formatting, setting up device drivers etc.? With modern Liunx, you click a button and the first two are done, and as for the device drivers, etc. everything worked properly without requiring any effort.

    You don’t need to be a Linux guru anymore to get a first class desktop.


  8. Pingback: Linux installs easier than Windows xp « Pegasuz

  9. sjvn is right on. I had occasion to install that other OS a few times. This year, I did some restores and XP SP3. It is tedious in the extreme. On the other hand, it is possible to do an installation of a decent desktop in GNU/Linux in a few minutes, limited by transmission speeds. I keep a local Debian repository and with a gigabit/s link it is very fast and easy. I believe installation of GNU/Linux has been easier than that other OS since 2000 when I first installed GNU/Linux. The only difficulty I had with GNU/Linux was typing in the sweep ranges for my CRT monitors. With that other OS, there were driver issues and more driver issues and later, the dreaded authentication… Imagine buying any product in the store and not being able to use it without the permission of some distant firm.

    When you add to the difficulty of installation, the need to re-install/restore frequently, that other OS gets no respect from me. It is not user-friendly. My oldest box had Debian GNU/Linux installed once, four years ago. Others re-install that other OS once a year or more often, so there is a multiplier on difficulty of installation. How many times have folks needed to start with a “fresh install” to get something added to the system? Curse that registry. Curse M$. Curse malware. That other OS is recursive and then there are the re-re-reboots…

  10. Pingback: Andrew D Williams » Blog Archive » Linux is easier to install than XP

  11. So how about comparing Linux from 2001 not linux from 2008. I know my old copy of Suse 8 doesn’t recognize all the hardware in my new Core2Duo computer. And compiling a driver, well, its runs a 2.4 kernel and several drivers didnt exist until 2.6
    I’m a big fan of linux and expect great things from it. But can we keep comparisons to the same level?

    How can an operating system in 2008 not recognize an Ethernet port? – Easy, gigabit ethernet was just peeking its head out of the door when XP shipped. How could they include built in drivers for products that didnt exist until 6 years after it was? Microsoft can barely build a good OS, you want them to see the future too?

    XP is an old, outdated OS, Vista, while a bit buggy does include alot of drivers built in for modern (1999 doesn’t count as modern) hardware.

  12. Pingback: Why I Quit Windows and Switched to Linux | Ubuntu Linux Help

  13. Pingback: Geek Vault » Ent?o, Linux ainda n?o tem bons drivers?

  14. For you that are crying about XP being an old system – remember, he was installing SP3, which was just released earlier this month. The Linux he chose to put on is exactly 3 weeks older than the current SP3. Now what good reason does Microsoft have for not supporting chipsets that have been around for a year? Oh, I forgot, Windows has to have a driver that matches the manufacturer of your hardware – a driver from another manufacturer for the same chipset won’t work. I’m so glad I haven’t needed Windows on a regular basis since before XP was released the first time.

  15. Finally!
    I noticed this recently as well, but did not tell anyone… I was afraid they would have committed me! It is so true though.

  16. Mecrider – you bet me to it. SP3 arguably makes it a 2008 OS not a 2001 one – plus (and this is from my own experience, not anecdotal), Vista has *exactly* the same driver issues as XP did on a circa-2004 notebook I had to rebuild.

    Ubuntu on a live-CD worked great (apart from the windows only modem – but windows didn’t see that either without the driver).

    Also, the article states it was a 10/100 nic not a gigabit one so the argument doesn’t work anyways.

    And what about apps? The author is giving timings based on a standard Windows install which is OS only without Office or anything.

    Sorry, but linux is *much* easier (and quicker) to install than Windows.

    Actually, this reminds me of a time I helped a friend setup his shiny new HP Vista desktop. In *less* time than it took the *pre-installed* Vista to tune and configure itself, I had installed Ubuntu (including re-partitioning the disk and installing all the updates, and turning on Compiz).

  17. PLEASE,

    do not buy a computer with MS Vista-tax in order to install Linux on it. If you want to use Linux, buy a box with Linux pre-installed. Only doing that you will be supporting those companies investing in Linux, and showing to Microsoft your contempt to their horrendous OS.

  18. Yes Linux is easy to install but for me it still lacks some of the apps i use on XP (i know all about wine before you say)

    Now, if you spent as much time looking under the hood in XP, you find you can create a slipstreamed sp3 windows xp bootable cd, including driver packs and then run specific installations and any MSIs you may of created.

    I have done this and I can get wipe a machine and have an xp desktop in around 20 minutes – complete with correct device drivers, Firefox3 & plug ins, Comodo and all my basic software.

    You can also create a boot disk that detects you network card and installs from a network share.

    Just spend a little time on with nlite and a text editor on your WinXP boot disk and you too can install XP as easily as Linux 🙂

  19. Yeah, you should be glad that your linux computer doesnt have a discrete graphics card.

    I know little about both linux and Xp, but double-clicking a .exe is much easier than going into the command line to install drivers

  20. I remember the last time I installed XP – nightmare! The owner had no install disk for the motherboard so I had to track down drivers for the video, sound, network. Not to mention installing the Service Pack and all the updates. Including installing necessary applications and configuring it all, I was up to about 6 hours! Maybe I was just out of practice having used Linux for the last few years…

  21. arggh400: What about checking a box to install proprietary drivers ? That’s what Ubuntu does. And the free drivers ? Oh, yeah, they’re automatically loaded, no need to manually install anything.

    The last time I installed XP (maybe 1 year ago), it didn’t even had drivers for my motherboard’s components (chipset Nvidia nForce3). So I had no network at all and I was forced to reboot on Debian, go to Asus’ website, download the drivers, come back to XP, realize that it can’t extract zip files by default, reboot on Debian, download 7-zip, reboot on XP, install 7-zip, and finally install my motherboard drivers. What an awful nightmare…

    BTW, try to change a piece of your hardware (like the CPU or the motherboard), and try to boot XP. You should get a BSOD… and what about GNU/Linux ? Oh yeah, HAL (I think it’s thanks to HAL) does the trick and makes your new hardware work like a charm, without reinstalling anything.

  22. Sorry, a servicepack does not make a new os. Do updates to linux make it a new version? No, there is no Ubuntu 8.04.345, even with several daily updates its still 8.04. Do windows updates make a new os? No SP3 is a collection of updates to XP, and not a new os. Vista is a new os.

Leave a Reply