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Community: Why There is Better Driver Support in 64-bit Linux Than 64-bit Windows XP

Oct 17, 2006, 21:00 (14 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Gary Sims)

[ Thanks to Gary Sims for this article. ]

I use Linux everyday, it is the main operating system on my PC and I use it for everything. I have a 64-bit Athlon machine and I run SUSE 10.1 64 bit. Recently someone bought be a copy of Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and I thought I would give it a try. This is what happened.

Having backed up all my data and made notes of how my hard disks were partitioned I slipped the Windows XP disk into the CD drive and rebooted. Up came the Windows installation procedure and everything went painlessly. Good I thought, Windows XP x64 looks and installs just like the 32-bit edition. After the installation was complete the desktop appeared and all looked well.

First to configure the display driver. 800x600 isn't really good enough. But here came my first shock. Opening the display properties told me that I had only a standard VGA card. What I actually have is an nVidia GeForce 4 Ti. No problem, I was wise enough to download the 64 bit nVidia drivers before I installed. So I run the driver installation which politely, but firmly, told me my card wasn't supported.

I went back to their web site and what I discovered is that the slower, poorer GeForce 4 MX is supported but the faster, better Ti isn't. So Windows XP x64 has fallen at the first hurdle. Needless to say that under Linux the 4 Ti is supported natively and by nVidia. As a work around I forced Windows to use the Microsoft driver for a GeForce 4 MX. Now I could change the color depth at least!

Next to the network card, I have two network cards in my machine, an nVidia card incorporated in the motherboard and a Belkin Gigabit PCI card. Both work flawlessly under 64-bit Linux. Windows by default didn't recognize either. My motherboard came with a CD which claimed to have Window XP x64 drivers but after installing them no new hardware was recognized. Off to the nVidia site again and this time I download the latest drivers and now the audio and the network work. The Belkin is a different story, no driver on their site, no driver in Windows, so the Belkin remains dead under Windows XP x64.

So with some network connectivity and a semi decent display I was able to connect to the network storage I have on my LAN and start to install some software. I started with FFDShow the DivX/Xvid codec and a player. They seemed to install OK but when I tried to play a video clip I got sound only and no picture. This might not be the fault of the codec or player, it could be the lack of correct video driver as these players tend to use video overlays which need the graphics card working fully.

Thankfully Firefox works which you would expected as it is open source, cross platform software. Then I tried to install Media Player 10. No success. Media Player 10 isn't supported on this platform. At this point I stopped as I knew I had a battle on my hands and I really didn't have the energy to start that battle today.

The initial result of all this is that Windows XP x64 is next to useless for me. The question is this, why is there better driver support in 64-bit Linux than in 64-bit Windows XP? The answer is simple. Linux is open source and Windows is closed source and proprietary. In the open source world the drivers are available for everyone to see, use, change and improve. If I need a 64-bit driver I can take the 32-bit one and change it to work in the 64-bit environment. If I don't have the skills to do that myself I can find someone who has. But in the closed source world I have no choice and no freedom. I am powerless.

When I made the switch from 32-bit Linux to 64-bit Linux it was painless. Everything that worked in the 32-bit environment also worked in the 64-bit one. The same can not be said for Windows.

One of the reasons I don't use Microsoft is because I can't afford it. Every couple of years they ask me to spend hundreds of dollars upgrading to the next version of their OS. When XP came out I made the permanent switch to Linux. The reason this copy of Windows arrived in my hands was because the person who bought it couldn't get the drivers for his hardware... Now I understand what he meant.

In the free world of Linux I have a working, usable, fast and stable 64-bit operating system. In the secret world of Microsoft I will have to return to using the 32-bit version. But the question is will I? I think I will stick with Linux. It looks like I need to go back on my hands and knees and beg forgiveness from my SUSE 10.1 system for every doubting it and for my unfaithful fling with Microsoft.

Gary Sims has a degree in Business Information Systems from a British university. He worked for 10 years as a software engineer and is now a freelance Linux writer and consultant. He can be contacted at

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