Analysis: Will Ubuntu Take Windows 7 In Speed War?

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Meanwhile, some users began criticizing last year's Ubuntu release, version 9.10 "Karmic Koala," and took issue with items ranging from compatibility with flash-based Web sites like Facebook and Hulu, to boot time.

But among the many differences between Microsoft and the Ubuntu community is speed. While it took more than three (painful) years between the launch of Windows Vista and the launch of Windows 7, the Ubuntu folks are already in full stride toward the next desktop release of the Linux-based desktop OS, version 10.04 -- code-named "Lucid Lynx." (A Lynx is a breed of quick, flexible wildcat.) Lynx, due for launch in April, is known as an "LTS" release (for long-term stable.) We examined its Alpha version 1, which is still pretty much a rough cut, to try to get some sense of what's to come.

And rough cut means that issues like driver support are still being worked through. For example, our Nvidia graphics drivers didn't install, leaving the monitor's appearance suboptimal and some other apps unable to install. So it's not fair to give the Alpha a full-blown evaluation or review. But one area that has drawn some interest is what Ubuntu leader Mark Shuttleworth has said are a series of improvements under construction that are "required for 10-second booting." Says Shuttleworth: "Speed remains our goal." And it's a good goal to have. Windows PC users have, for years, been subjected to boot times that literally allow some to press the "on" button, walk away for a cup of coffee, have a conversation or two, come back, and still have to wait. The Ubuntu folks feel our pain and want to help.

One potential key to the Ubuntu community's goal of a 10-second boot time is its technology called "Upstart," which the community describes as "an event-based replacement" for its current boot management code, which will handle "starting of tasks and services during boot, stopping them during shutdown and supervising them while the system is running." In the Windows ecosystem, Microsoft and PC makers have approached the boot-time issue in a number of disparate ways and approaches, including so-called "instant on" technology as well as hibernation and other similar features. Upstart will be baked right into Ubuntu, and Lucid Lynx will provide the first, best look at how it all does. We decided to give it a whirl with the Alpha version. Installed on a PC built with an Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 at 2.80 GHz and 2 GB of RAM, Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha 1 produced a boot time of 20 seconds. While that's twice as much time as Shuttleworth is shooting for, it's still pretty good. When Windows 7 Ultimate was installed on the same PC, it registered a 30-second boot time. (For measure, we also installed Fedora 12 Linux on the PC, and it took a little longer than Windows 7, but with more security features to load.)

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So, clearly, the Ubuntu community has found an area against Microsoft where developers believe they can extend leadership, and they are providing indications they will pound away until it's no contest. In earlier versions of both Windows and Ubuntu, we've seen Ubuntu overtake Windows in overall system performance -- including speed. The Linux OS still has an edge in boot time, and that edge could grow significantly.

Many other issues go into making an operating system work well besides speed, but speed helps. Fast boot time helps. We've seen improvements from Microsoft. We may see them come faster from Ubuntu.