On Operating Systems

Operating system users, like everyone else on the internet, religiously defend themselves from each other. Now, I think this is silly. Everyone, including myself, has personal preferences but I think people also seem to misunderstand the nature of what an operating system is. Or, rather, a malassessment of how they are used.

An operating system is a tool. Using the "best" operating system is about using the right tool for the job, I think. I've used multiple versions of windows, multiple builds of the various Linux flavors and a small number of MAC OSes. My experience is obviously not all across the board, and if you have anything to add pop it in my E-mail. Opinions can be changed and certainly no one person will consider everything. My main point is that an operating system is a tool, and you need to use the right tool for the job. So many things are done in web environments now that they're barely distinguishable between operating systems, while many of the basic functions exist on all platforms. There are, of course differences in each to address but let's start with how they're the same.

Most casual users, or even most people who use a computer for utility purposes are probably looking for word processing, E-mail and web browsing. Some less casual people are probably looking for instant messaging as well. All operating systems can preform all of these functions with little difference between them. The E-mail client, if you use one, may be different but not to a point that impedes functionality. There's instant messaging clients available for all platforms now. Web browsing is identical between platforms, or at least as similar as any two clients on the same machine would be. Probably more than 70% of what most people use a computer for is almost identical between platforms.

Let's start with the Windows/Mac debate. What's different between them? Well, windows is more open (Linux people go ahead and laugh) than MAC in that you can install it on any hardware you want (or try to, at least). This means you have the freedom to use whatever parts you like and mix and match hardware. Of course for laptops few parts are serviceable anyway and this is not an issue. The other big sticking point is games. MACs don't always get games, and when they do the ports are not always great. Many MAC gamers end up dual-booting with Bootcamp and running windows on the side. That said, in the art world many people use MACs. For compatibility reasons it might be easier to use one. Of course windows can usually cope with reading Apple/MAC formats not all windows applications are friendly with saving as them or exporting them. Of course, as everything migrates to the web and certain formats become more universal this is a non-issue. Furthermore, many Apple products come with more integration with MACs. If you're already using apple products it may be easier to stick with a MAC.

Moving on to Linux/Windows. Windows has native game compatibility, so once again windows is the best OS for gaming... but most games run very well on a properly tuned Linux machine of any flavor. The problem is that you need to be comfortable doing a lot of things that on windows appears "scary" and that you're usually told by your manufacturer not to touch. It can also be daunting picking a flavor. Linux also does not always work out of the box in the way a windows machine would, install the OS pop in your drivers disc (or download them, or let windows auto-download them on install as I believe it now will). Linux Mint [Link.] is trying to change that and is somewhat successful. If you're new to Linux, a little scared of some of the more advanced things or aren't really a windows "power-user" it's a great pair of training wheels. Unfortunately, sometimes you still need to dig for codecs and drivers and finding software for things is not always as easy as going to the manufacturer's website.

Linux/Mac. As I've already compared both to Windows I'm only going to touch on a few points here. Above the best reason I came up with to use a MAC is if you're already using one and like the advanced integration with other apple products. The same holds true here.

Use Mac if... Use Windows if... Use Linux if...
  • You already own Apple products and you want the advanced integration features
  • You are in the 'Art Biz' and want to ensure compatibility.
  • You're planning on using the machine for a lot of gaming
  • You're not comfortable micro-managing the system
  • You want to micro-manage the whole damn thing
  • You want something cheap as free
  • You do enough gaming you're concerned about it but don't need to be on the bleeding edge