Windows vs. Ubuntu Desktop for a home server

This is a tough comparison to make, but what I’d like to do is start by coming up with a set of points that will help me frame this issue properly.

What do I want in a home server? I’ll try and answer in no particular order:

  • A backup desktop in case of crashes
  • Storage space for
    • Music & Videos (Media Server?)
    • Photos
  • Minimal fuss
  • Secure
  • Easy to use for a non-geek person

Let’s drill down some more into each of these points.

A backup desktop in case of crashes

I want to be able to browse, access my email, edit and view documents, images and download any software to fix issues on my other machines. I’d love to have some communication tool like Skype on it too. I may also want some diagnostic software to test hard drives which I may attach externally.

In effect, I want a browser, office suite, image viewing and editing apps, plus some storage space on a reasonably fast machine.

Storage space

Easily manage permissions for the storage space that I’m setting up, plus set up a server to serve media? Also some basic software to manage the media I’m serving.

Minimal fuss

Set up is a one time issue, so I’m ok with something which may not be too easy, but day to day management should be simple, plus minimal amount of reboots, if possible.


Antivirus, Firewall, and a strong system so I don’t have to keep taking it offline!

Easy to use for a non-geek person

My wife should be able to use it with minimal support from me. Also, this could be a machine our guests use – so perhaps options for privacy/profiles for guests.

I think this covers most ideas I have. Please let me know if I’m missing any.

Feature\OS Windows 7 Ubuntu 11.10
Backup machine Firefox/IE
LibreOffice & MS Office
Windows Live Image Gallery
Scandisk & Chkdsk to scan attached HDs
Skype for Windows
LibreOffice/MS Office (with WINE)
Built-in viewers, plus others available from software sources
Disk Utility and generally constant built-in monitoring
Skype for Linux
Storage Space Easy to add HDs, but software RAID available on the desktop OS is simple.
Media Servers available – looks good for both Linux and Windows.
Easy enough if you read some of the articles I’ve written. I think should be easy enough with Disk Utility and the software RAID can be as complex as you want it to be.
Mediatomb Media Server is simple to install and manage, but very basic with features. Serviio looks interesting
Minimal Fuss Windows 7 is easy to install.
I’m annoyed by the constant restarts and compulsory restarts though.
Ubuntu was easy to install and managing updates means just restarting the app.
Secure Security Essentials and Windows Firewall, plus minimize the number of externally used USB sticks etc. But I’m very happy with these for now.
Having ADBlock Plus on Firefox is also a big plus.
Don’t use a firewall and don’t have an AV.
Easy to use Yes Yes

I’m enamored to several features in Linux; hassle free updates which never appear to require a system restart, free software packages available through a simple and easy UI, and a great ecosystem and variety of distributions and apps. However, Linux is raw in certain areas. For example, when my system disk was full, I had trouble booting and it took some time and know-how to restore my machine.

Final take: For me Linux started as an experiment. I never expected I’d have a system that was so easy to manage and play with and I’ve been surprised at how easy it has been to transition to Linux. I’d say that if you’re willing to take it on, Linux could give MS’ home machines a run for their money and sometimes even kick-ass ,e.g. with the RAID. If you plan to keep your tinkering (add/remove apps that you have no clue about) to a minimum, Ubuntu 11.10 takes my vote for a home machine.

One response to “Windows vs. Ubuntu Desktop for a home server

  1. Pingback: Debian Jessie on Dell Latitude 6220 | Staying Sane ... or tryin'

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