Hardware compatibility is better with Windows… not

One of the (few, but legitimate) reasons given by some Windows users to not switch to Linux is that many pieces of hardware are not recognized by the latter. Sure enough, 99.9%, if not all, of the devices sold in shops are “Windows compatible”. The manufacturers of devices make damn sure their device, be it a pendrive or a printer, a computer screen or a keyboard, will work on any PC running Windows. They will even ship a CD with the drivers in the same package, so that installation of the device is as smooth as possible in Microsoft’s platform. Linux compatibility? Well, they usually just don’t care. Those hackers will make it work anyway, so why bother? And their market share is too small to take them into account.

Now, let’s pass to some personal experience with a webcam. I bought a webcam for my girlfriend’s laptop, which doesn’t have one integrated. The webcam was a cheap Logitech USB one, with “Designed for Skype” and “Windows compatible” written all around on the box. It even came with a CD, marked prominently as “Windows drivers”. My girlfriend’s laptop runs Windows Vista, and I decided to give it a chance, and plugged the webcam without further consideration. A message from our beloved OS informed me that a new device had been plugged (brilliant!) but Windows lacked the necessary drivers to make it work (bummer!). OK, no problem. We had the drivers, right? I unplugged the camera, inserted the CD, and followed the instructions to get the drivers installed. Everything went fine, except that the progress bar with the installation percent went on for more than 12 minutes (checked on the watch) before reaching 100%. After installation, Windows informed me that a system reboot was necessary, and so I did. After reboot, the camera would work.

As I had my Asus Eee at hand, I decided to try the webcam on it. I plugged it, and nothing happened. I just saw the green light on the camera turn on. Well, maybe it worked… I opened Cheese, a Linux program to show the output of webcams. I was a bit wary, because the Eee has an integrated webcam, so maybe there would be some interference or something. Not so. Cheese showed me immediately the output of the webcam I had just plugged, and offered me a menu with two entries (USB webcam and integrated one), so I could choose. That’s it. No CD with drivers, no 12-minute installation, no reboot, no nothing. Just plug and play.

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that the next time I tried to use the webcam on the Vista laptop, it would ask me for driver installation again! I don’t know why… I must have done something wrong in the first installation… With Windows, who knows?


  1. sylvainulg said,

    January 4, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    Former ubuntu releases weren’t that happy with Logitech cheap cameras, but indeed, now, they’re doing a nice job.

    Btw, do you happen to know some linux-blogger who owns the Acer Aspire that I could suggest to my brother who’s facing troubles with his own one ?

  2. isilanes said,

    January 4, 2010 @ 13:34 pm

    Well, I didn’t compare Ubuntu (9.10) with Windows 98 or XP. I compared it with Vista. If the camera works out-of-the-box with Windows 7, I will tone down my comments and just say that Windows is behind Linux in hardware compatibility. However, it is worth noting, as you do, that my experience is just mine. I tried that camera, with that Vista laptop, and my Ubuntu 9.10 Eee PC, and the result was as explained. No further conclusion could in principle be made. However, I made it anyway :)

    Regarding the Aspire (One, I guess), I really don’t know. Sorry. Google is your friend, as usual!

  3. Super Jamie said,

    January 4, 2010 @ 13:59 pm

    Whilst I agree with you and will not defend Windows at all, this only happens because of frequent Linux kernel releases which contain updated drivers. Plug your webcam into a Linux box from 2001 (when Vista came out) and you likely won’t get anything.

    Of course, one could use this fact to argue that smaller incremental releases like Ubuntu are better than massive distantly-spaced releases like Windows :)

  4. isilanes said,

    January 4, 2010 @ 15:11 pm

    Super Jamie, in my universe [[Windows Vista]] hit the shelves in Jan 2007, and has undergone 2 Service Packs, the latest one on April 2009 :^) Maybe you refer to XP? Neither have plug-and-play support for that camera. Maybe Windows 7 does. Since W7 was released in October, it is technically the same age as Ubuntu 9.10. If and only if Ubuntu 9.04 does not support the camera, and W7 does support it as p&p, then I will accept that Windows hardware support is on par with Linux one in this case. And recall we are talking about “For Windows” stuff, with no consideration from the makers to Linux or even Mac.

  5. Super Jamie said,

    January 4, 2010 @ 15:26 pm

    Haha you are right, I have no idea what I was thinking :P

    If you are going to compare Windows driver compatibility between versions, then compare driver compatibility similarly-aged Linux kernels as well. If Windows 7 is the same age as Ubu 9.04, then Vista is the same age as Ubu 6.10. Did the kernel that shipped with Edgy have support for your camera?

    As I said, I won’t defend Windows at all, however as Linux fans I do think that our “proofs” that Linux is better than Windows should be based on fair and waterproof comparisons :)

  6. isilanes said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    Mmm, playing the Devil’s advocate? I actually appreciate it very much, Super Jamie. You are absolutely right: to measure one’s worth, comparisons must be fair. However:

    1) A fair comparison of Linux and Windows is a bit complicated. After all, the latter has a multi-billion monopolistic corporation behind, with hardware and software makers (even governments) dancing to the tune it plays (with the good old instrument called “money”), and with a captive and locked-in user base, whereas the former is a free and gratis OS, built by the user base itself, which turns out to be a small fraction of the market.

    2) Comparing an old version of Windows and a new version of Linux is not necessarily unfair. If MS takes too long to release a new version, or its price is too high, or its appeal too low for consumers to buy it, it’s part of the problems of MS’s model. You know what? We already compared Windows and Linux in 2001. Now it’s 2010 (same digits, different order). If Windows users are stuck with a 2001 Windows, it’s their problem. One of the advantages of Linux is that makers have no incentive to push back innovation, or to ration it (in order to charge many times for small pieces of the same big innovation they came up with one day). Another one is that users have no worry or cost to get the latest and greatest as soon as it comes out. Proprietary software, such as Windows, doesn’t have these features. If it suffers from them, it is just fair to point it out. If would be unfair to level the field only on the side of Linux’s advantages, right?

    3) Actually, I didn’t compare a new version of Linux and an old one of Windows. Vista is not the same age as Ubuntu 6.10. Vista came out on Jan 2007, but Vista SP2 (the latest Vista) came out on Apr 2009, so it makes it as new as Ubuntu 9.04. According to Wikipedia, current version of W7 is from Oct 22, 2009, so it makes it the same age as Ubuntu 9.10. For completeness, WinXP SP3 is from 2008/04, so: XP == 8.04, Vista == 9.04, W7 == 9.10. I compared 9.10 to Vista, not such a great outrage, right? If 9.04 doesn’t autodetect the webcam, and W7 does (and only in that case), both OSs will be even in this regard. If not, Linux wins. And the camera was “designed for Windows”.

  7. Super Jamie said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 14:35 pm

    Not necessarily playing Devil’s Advocate, I just think that Linux has so many actual strengths that there’s no need for us to fudge the numbers when making comparisons :)

    1) Linux may indeed have started off as just Linus and friends writing a nice study tool, but don’t forget kernel development is very much a commercial operation today. Red Hat, Novell, IBM and Intel are just a few of the prominent companies whose paid employees have contributed sizable amounts to the codebase. April 2008 stats here: http://www.linuxfoundation.org/publications/linuxkerneldevelopment.php and July 2009 stats here http://news.cnet.com/8301-13505_3-10288910-16.html

    2) I agree wholeheartedly, the impartial nature of feature support and the freedom for distributions to adopt whatever release cycle they choose for their purpose – from Gentoo or Arch’s bleeding-edge rolling release to Debian’s long-term stable releases – is one of the things I love most about using Linux. With Ubuntu I get a new OS every 6 months and it’s always incrementally better than the last. Add those up over a few years and it makes a huge difference, especially considering many people are only now upgrading to Windows 7 after EIGHT YEARS with the same operating system.

    3) I beg to differ. Microsoft does not update many (if any) drivers with Service Packs, certainly they don’t add hardware functionality. For example, XP SP3 (Apr 2008) has the exact same support for SATA AHCI as the initial XP RTM (Aug 2001) requiring either an F6-during-install or a custom CD with slipstreamed drivers, so calling XP equivalent to Ubuntu 8.04 is not accurate. Likewise, as far as “support for things without the need for additional drivers”, any Vista (RTM Nov 2006) should be comparable to Ubuntu 6.10.

  8. isilanes said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 16:55 pm

    Super Jamie, I think points 1 and 2 are correctly developed already. However, I strongly disagree in the third point! What you say about driver support might be true, but it is totally irrelevant. Let’s say we have OS Ub and OS Wi, both version 1.0, come out Jan 1. Ub 1.5 comes out Jun 1, and both Ub and Wi 2.0 come out Dec 1. A comparison carried out on Nov 1, should compare what? ver 1.0 of both? Or Ub 1.5 vs Wi 1.0? Clearly the latter. If Wi 1.0.1 (let’s call it “SP1” for fun) were shipped on Jun 1, what should be compared? Ub 1.0 vs Wi 1.0, because it’s the last driver update for both (in June 1 only Ub got a driver upgrade)? Or Ub 1.5 vs Wi 1.0.1, because they are the latest? Whether 1.0.1 made any driver update is immaterial. It’s their friggin’ problem! They could have!

    Forget about versions. I tried the latest Windows (barring the very recent W7) with the latest Ubuntu. If W7 supports the webcam without the CD with the drivers, then Ubuntu and Windows are (right now) on par in the issue I comment. Otherwise, Windows loses. If the comparison were made, say, in June 2009, Vista SP2 would be compared to Ubuntu 9.04, NOT Vista SP0 vs. Ubuntu 6.10. How on Earth would it be fair to penalize Linux in a June 2009 comparison by using a Nov 2006 version (6.10), instead of the latest (9.04) just because Windows wasn’t improved (driver-wise) since then?

    By that logic, if my product is today better than yours, then I could maintain my hegemony in any “fair” comparison forever by the simple expedient of never ever producing a new version! No matter how many new versions you produce, no comparison would be fair if it didn’t involve only versions introduced on Jan 5, 2010 (both yours and mine).

    The only “unfairness” claim I can accept is that I compared Ubuntu 9.10 to Vista and not W7. Sorry, I used what I had. But in all fairness, I was comparing a Dec 2009 Ubuntu (9.10 up-to-date) to an Oct 21, 2009 Windows (W7 RTM was July, but GA was Oct 22, so until Oct 21 the most “current Windows” any home user could conceivably have was Vista SP3. I don’t care at what point in time MS decided W7 was out development). So yes, I benefited Ubuntu by comparing it to something a couple of months older than itself, sue me.

  9. Super Jamie said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 0:42 am

    My point is not irrelevant because you are directly comparing hardware compatibility, look at the title of the blog post!

    As I said, Microsoft does not update in-built driver capabilities with their Service Packs. They are only security and bugfixes, and maybe a bit of added functionality. If you want to compare driver capabilities between a Windows release and the Linux kernel, you need to compare the RTM version of Windows with the Linux kernel available at the time of that RTM release. A Service Pack itself has no drivers in it. Saying that Vista RTM and Vista SP2 have different driver capabilities is wrong, and is not a comparison that should be made.

    Think of it this way: Ubuntu update their built-in drivers every 6 months when a new release comes out sporting a new kernel version (yes I know there are kernel updates available mid-release, let’s just simplify things). Windows update their built-in drivers ONLY when a new release comes out, whether that release has many many years inbetween it (XP to Vista) or is within a fairly short timeframe (Vista to 7).

  10. isilanes said,

    January 7, 2010 @ 11:18 am

    Super Jamie, please read more carefully! I never said an SP adds any driver. I never said Vista RTM and SP2 have different driver capabilities. I actually didn’t know that, and didn’t (and still don’t) care. And they key is it doesn’t affect my argument.

    I don’t know how to express it in a clearer way than that in the first 3 paragraphs of my answer in comment 8. Let’s try this fictional case:

    Jan 2007: Both Vista RTM and Ubuntu 6.10 have come out. I try a given device in both. No joy in either. My review says: “They both suck”.

    February 2008: Vista SP1 comes out. Ubuntu 7.10 is current. SP1 doesn’t add driver functionality. Ubuntu 7.10 does, but it still doesn’t support the device. My review says: “Gee, they both still suck!”.

    April 2009: Vista SP2 and Ubuntu 9.04 come out. SP2 doesn’t add driver functionality. Ubuntu 9.04 does, and now it supports the device. My review says: “It was about time! Ubuntu finally supports the device. OTOH, Vista still sucks”.

    By your logic, in all three reviews I should say “Neither Vista nor Ubuntu 6.10 support the device, so they both suck”. And you defend that on the premise that Vista RTM was the last time MS built a driver upgrade into Windows, so it is not “fair” that I compare a more modern Ubuntu with it. This is senseless! Someone reading my April 2009 review in May 2009 would get the correct idea that the latest Windows at that moment does not support the device, whereas the latest Ubuntu does. If they read your review, they’d get the idea that both Windows and Ubuntu are stuck in November 2006 driver-wise, when this is simply not true. Since then, Ubuntu has evolved, and now (May 2009) it does support the device. Vista hasn’t, and doesn’t. Where is the unfairness?

    Whether on April 2009 Vista doesn’t support the device because Service Packs don’t add driver capabilities, or because they do, but they do it wrong, or because SP2 has been released, and only SP3 will do it, or because Jesus hates MS, or any or all of the above, is irrelevant. The only important fact is that on April 2009 Vista doesn’t support the device, and Ubuntu does (in my example above).

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment