Why does a Windows install take so much place compared to most Linux distributions, despite being capable of much less? For example, a standard Ubuntu installation takes about 4 GB and can actually be sufficient for everyday work, while Windows 7 requires 15 GB of disk space from the start and doesn't offer nearly as much functionality without external programs.

So what is it - drivers? Configuration GUIs? DRM? Just poor space management?

EDIT: I don't want to imply that any of the systems is better. It's just my general impression that Linux distributions are able to fit much more in smaller amount of disk space.

  • 7
    And Windows doesn't even have a decent DHCP server.
    – wfaulk
    Oct 4 '09 at 21:23
  • 3
    I like both, but usability costs more space than server features.
    – hyperslug
    Oct 4 '09 at 22:14
  • 5
    You argue that Linux has fewer features. When shown that Windows also has fewer features, you argue that Windows' features cost more space. (Not that Flash comes with Windows.) What is your argument, exactly? Also note that SWF has been a closed spec until about 17 months ago, and is only partially open now.
    – wfaulk
    Oct 4 '09 at 23:15
  • 1
    It's hard to say "no" in more than 15 characters.
    – wfaulk
    Oct 5 '09 at 1:33
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    Where are the Linux users that should correct your question, because they they should say "Don't compare Linux with Windows, because Linux is Not an OS, it's a kernel." Oct 5 '09 at 4:14

Windows has lots of legacy code for backwards compatibility with heaps of third-party vendor software and platforms. It also includes full third-party drivers for heaps of software. Windows software in general has a history and reputation for being bloated, which is largely due to compatibility reasons. Windows also has the capability to play a variety of games across many DirectX versions, and a variety of proprietary multimedia formats. Compatibility and universal usage for any task are Microsoft's goals so they can maintain their position in the desktop market.

Linux drivers are often more universal, using a common driver API across various hardware models. This is good and bad. For example, some hardware doesn't work at all, some works perfectly, and some has missing features. Software on Linux often follows the Unix philosophy - each component or tool should do one thing and do it very well, and software developers aren't afraid to break backwards compatibility to remove cruft and bad code.

Both operating systems have their strength and weaknesses. These days where 500 GB hard drives are cheap, the disk size of the installation should be the least of your concerns. A bigger concern is how much of the system's resources are consumed by running programs.

Either Windows or Linux is inefficient about resource usage depending on what you're doing. They have different design goals, different target markets, and different philosophies driving their development.

  • 19
    +1 Well-said! No traces of Linux or Windows bias. No bitterness and love/hate tones with Microsoft. :D Oct 5 '09 at 4:16
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    Thanks. I see the strengths in every bit of technology I come across. I use OS X, Linux and Windows daily and they're all useful for something.
    – jtimberman
    Oct 5 '09 at 7:30
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    And the band starts playing Kumbaya...
    – Telemachus
    Oct 5 '09 at 11:49
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    "These days where 500G hard drives are cheap"... except that an 80GB SSD costs more than a 1TB 2.5" drive. So those GB's can still matter if you care enough about blazing speed :)
    – Stephen
    Aug 18 '10 at 23:01
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    There is another contributing factor, which I think is an example of inefficiency at best. Most Windows features and many third party apps cache unnecessary files, that can be easily retrieved from the internet when need, on the system drive. For example, take a look at your user profile's Downloaded Installation Files or similar locations. They probably have large (100MB+) installation files (.MSI, .EXE) of programs, some of them you already have uninstalled long long times ago. Those programmers thought hard drives were so cheap, little did they care for SSDs or tablets or VMs. Jun 14 '15 at 15:14

It is a very difficult thing to say...

There isn't really one answer fits all, for Ubuntu, it is mainly because it installs a subset of tools plus every day ones. Anything you want extra is downloaded when you need it (Such as frameworks for other programs)...

Windows Vista and 7 on the other hand copy the whole contents of the DVD to the drive and any Windows components you want to install at a later date do not require the disk to be put in.

Again, this is a very awkward question... I am not exactly sure what to say! It can be also said that you can get string from two different companies with different widths, yet they can both tie knots...

If you are just curious, I would download Vlite so you can take out components and just have a play to see how small you can make Windows.

  • 4
    Yeah, but Ubuntu also includes things like OpenOffice.org, whereas Windows comes with, well, nothing. Oct 4 '09 at 20:22
  • Open office isn't to big, I think about 300MB installed... No excuses - I left that out of the above.... I was trying to do a more general comparison of the differences without getting in to specific applications. Oct 4 '09 at 20:29
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    the question isn't awkward, it's trollish ("capable of much less", "doesn't offer nearly as much functionality", "poor space management") and best be closed or ignored.
    – Molly7244
    Oct 4 '09 at 20:31
  • 1
    IMHO, the question is fine. The formulation could be improved, but it's true - you need to install a lot of stuff before it's of any use. This may be subjective, nonetheless -- at least for me -- it's true.
    – maaartinus
    Feb 6 '11 at 1:17

Nobody knows for sure the answer to your question, except the guys at Microsoft. Because Windows is a closed-source product.

You'd rather go to support.microsoft.com and ask there, I bet they enjoy receiving such questions :-)


A Windows installation contains almost all possible software. To the point that even some "uninstalled" software packages are present on disk, so that "installing" these packages doesn't even require the installation CD.

On the other hand, a standard Linux installation is much more "lean and mean", where packages can easily be added via web depositories. Windows doesn't for the moment have this flexibility (although it's starting), and requires the installation CD.

So, while the Windows installation does include superfluous components, the difference isn't as large as you might think. If you went ahead and installed almost every possible Linux package, this will also require a lot of disk space. If you then went ahead and down-cut Windows to the bone by uninstalling every unneeded option or executable, you would end up with a much smaller foot-print.

Conclusion: Linux starts small and builds up. Windows starts large and shrinks down (however, with modern disk-space, nobody bothers).

  • 2
    Destkop distributions as Ubuntu come with open office, software for IM, gimp, and a few games. Windows has nothing of the sort already installed.
    – LtWorf
    Apr 20 '13 at 15:59
  • @LtWorf: Ever tried to compare the size of OpenOffice etc. with Microsoft Office? And why do you downvote an answer from 4 years ago?
    – harrymc
    Apr 20 '13 at 16:40
  • I googled and found this page. And well windows doesn't come with office, so your point is invalid.
    – LtWorf
    Apr 20 '13 at 17:43
  • I'd simply like to add that on both systems you need to add at least some software to the OS post install. What frightens me is that Windows also essentially demands that you procure a software CD or download install files from a website, whereas up until Windows 8, Linux had a software centre and built-in CLI for installing anything you could ever want that was supported by the OS. In that regard, linux is lean because there's less effort to install more packages and there are far fewer leftover installers etc...
    – Tmanok
    Oct 28 '19 at 18:30

Linux and other Unix operating systems are better designed architectural wise and disk size is an issue. Windows developers on the other hand concentrate more on the plug n play nature of Windows not to forget backward compatibility and hence so many legacy code, device drivers which gobble up so much real estate. And as the system gets older and more programs/features are installed/removed it's disk usage gets bigger & bigger.

One primary reason for such huge space allocation specially in Windows Vista and 7 editions is the C:\Windows\winsxs folder. It takes up most of the space in the windows folder. Read more about winsxs here.

If you want to reduce the size of winsxs, there is a tool called winsxslite. But use it at your own risk.

Space requirement was never such a serious issue with the Windows makers, given the ever expanding hard drives. It only recently became a concern because of solid state drives and people buying netbooks.

  • 3
    (a) I'd put a [citation needed] sticker on your claim of Linux/UNIX being better designed. Both operating system families were designed with different goals and if you look at only the kernel you won't find much backwards compatibility and unclean APIs. If you take userspace into account, then you also need to count many Linux things (b) All system DLLs are hardlinks into WinSxS, greatly skewing the perception of size there. Yes, starting with Vista, the folder is very large in size, but at the same time, most of the Windows directory gets linked back there, creating no additional size cost.
    – Joey
    Oct 4 '09 at 22:16
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    They started using NTFS's hard links feature? Does that mean that it's supported now?
    – wfaulk
    Oct 4 '09 at 23:18
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    @Johannes, Let's not mention that Windows NT's networking stack was stolen almost wholesale from BSD, and a lot of the design of the OS in general was very similar to VMS. Oh, shoot. I mentioned it :).
    – jtimberman
    Oct 5 '09 at 1:56
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    jtimberman: Only up to Windows XP. Nothing of that remains as far as I know since they've erwritten it from scratch for Windows Vista. And the similarity to VMS is hardly surprising, given the designer of Windows NT ;-)
    – Joey
    Oct 5 '09 at 5:40
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    wfaulk: Hard links were supported since NT 4 at least. Also, if you look around a little on Vista and later you'll notice that they also use reparse points (junctions in this case) in many areas of the file system. The reason they all weren't used before was that you still could install Windows on FAT volumes. I doubt anyone in their right mind would want to do that but it could be done. It makes no sense for Microsoft to maintain two file system layouts, one for FAT and one for NTFS. Starting with Vista only NTFS is supported as the installation volume's file system.
    – Joey
    Oct 10 '09 at 8:29

Windows has a lot more graphical config and admin tools than the average Linux distribution, which adds to the bulk. Linux is catching up in that respect, but still has a lot less in this area than Windows.

Another area of extra bulk comes from the fact that Window keeps a second copy of many key files, so that it can restore them if they get corrupted.

  • "Windows has a lot more graphical config…. Linux is catching up in that respect." You say that like it's a good thing, Andy. ;)
    – wfaulk
    Oct 4 '09 at 21:30
  • A GUI isn't necessarily a larger binary than a console application. Also the dllcache directory was eliminated in Vista.
    – Joey
    Oct 4 '09 at 22:18
  • I don't know how you can say that. Assume two programs that have the same features; one is CLI, the other GUI. There is a lot of shared code between them: the parts that do the actual work. So throw that out. Now all you're left with is UI code. Your argument is that GUI code is more compact that CLI code? That said, yeah, if the CLI utility is, for example, find and the GUI utility is that crud that Windows uses to find a file, that has a quarter of the features, maybe so.
    – wfaulk
    Oct 4 '09 at 23:05
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    @wfaulk: Your comment is saddening, and will make the Year of Linux be delayed even further. Lack of decent UI will prevent Linux from reaching out to real people. Well do Not complain if Linux is still way behind Apple! Beat Apple, then you can beat Microsoft. Oct 5 '09 at 4:21
  • 2
    GUI config apps are extremely useful for some things. For example configuring the vhost under apache can be very painful if you don't know your way around the config files. In comparison on Windows it is much easier. However I am a big fan of all config ending up in human readable text files, even if it is editted with a GUI tool. At least Windows is now getting that right as well in some areas (like the web.config file for example). And no Bitt, I wasn't making a value judgement ;) Oct 5 '09 at 7:04

In two words: package management.

I think a stock Windows install is larger than a stock Linux distribution install because Linux can store most everything not needed immediately "somewhere out there" on a package repository mirror, in the cloud, or wherever. Need a new driver or app not installed yet? Simply apt-get install foo and a few minutes later you have it and are ready to go (substitute apt-get with the package manager of choice for your distribution).

Windows on the other hand needs to have a lot more 3rd party compatibility stuff at hand, right now, because there is no coherent and capable package management system. Windows Update is okay for some drivers and security patches, but that's about it. There's very limited user side control for picking and choosing and even less ability for installing applications to request dependency X. So Windows needs to have as much as it possibly can ready to go out of the box.

Yes there a host of useful things like flash and popular media codecs which aren't so easy to install on Linux. That doesn't detract from the central point though: Linux is smaller on the local machine because it can more easily pull what it needs from elsewhere and Windows can't.

I surmise if you took a stock linux distribution and added all the backwards compatibility stuff in the standard Windows install there wouldn't be as big a gap, in terms of occupied storage space.

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