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Linux is a kernel, while Windows is a complete collection of software, known as an operating system. It is thus hard to make a direct comparison. Comparing the average Linux distribution with an edition of Windows, you'll find the following differences fairly universal:

  • Linux is free and open-source. Anyone can contribute to its development. Anyone can download the source code and use the kernel source code to develop a complete operating system
  • In Linux, most drivers are provided by the kernel itself, so there is no need to download anything else (graphics cards are a rare exception). In Windows, almost no drivers are part of the kernel, and Microsoft provides very few drivers with a retail version of Windows. Any driver that is not provided by Microsoft must be provided by the hardware manufacturer or OEM
  • Windows is produced by a single company, Microsoft. Linux is contributed to by hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals
  • Linux can be used on dozens of hardware architectures and machines, from old VAX machines to PowerMacs to Amigas to cellphones to ATMs, in addition to standard "PCs." Windows is limited to the IBM PC architecture and a limited number of ARM handheld devices

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