I've been working a lot with Windows 7 recently. I've also, as always, been using Linux distributions like Fedora, SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop), and Ubuntu. As Windows 7, Ubuntu 9.04 and Fedora 11 all approach their launch dates, I've been thinking about the differences in how they're created and released.
With Windows, Microsoft creates its operating system in a black box. We really don't know what they're doing in there. Heck, sometimes, as the launch of Vista showed, even Microsoft doesn't know what's going on. That's changed a bit recently.
No, Microsoft isn't releasing any significant code to open source. What they are doing, however, is deliberately leaking betas of Windows 7. This not only helps to build up buzz, but it also lets Microsoft get real customer input on what's really working, or not, with Windows 7.
While Windows 7 is being rushed out ASAP to make up for the Vista sales fiasco, Microsoft is still moving glacially slow by open-source standards. Vista was released on November 30th 2006. I expect to see Windows 7 out in September 2009. In other words, moving as fast as they could, it still took Microsoft almost three years to replace Vista.
The major community Linux distributions tend to release major updates every six months. Each of these includes significant updates to existing programs, like the new GNOME 2.26 desktop interface as well as many minor improvements. In short, Linux is in a constant state of evolution.
When security problems pop up, Microsoft almost always releases its fixes on a monthly schedule on Patch Tuesday. This month, for example, Microsoft released an 'insane' number of bugs fixes. 10 of the 23-fixed security holes were already being used by attackers before Microsoft patched them.
It's a different story when security problems show up in Linux. With Linux, security troubles are fixed almost as soon as they show up. Because Linux is open source, security holes tend to be quickly spotted and then repaired.
Whoever makes these fixes then sends them 'upstream' to the larger Linux developer community. In this way, security holes are patched within hours or days instead of Microsoft's weeks or months. The Linux distributors then push these fixes to users as fast as they become available.
What all this means for end-users is that if you really want the best of the best and the most secure systems possible, Linux is clearly the better choice. Windows like the dinosaurs is much slower than the quick and clever Linux mammals.