I have extensively used all Microsoft OSs since DOS 5, Linux since 2001, and Mac OS X since 2003. I use Mac OS X as my primary desktop computer and development center. I use Linux for my server, e.g., OmniNerd. I use Windows at work. Here’s my very brief pros/cons list:
Pros – seems to be running any and everywhere. You’re pretty much guaranteed that if you have something that works on Windows, you can find a system to run it on.
Cons – I have truly grown to hate Microsoft’s OS products. And please don’t take this as an MS bash because I love their office tools, which are brilliant and true market leaders. Windows however makes me throw up a little in my mouth for one simple reason: stability. Find me a person who hasn’t experienced the blue screen of death, a system lock up, or anything of that nature and I’ll be surprised. Some will argue it’s a hardware issue, but I don’t care. It supports that crappy hardware so I expect it to work. I left MS operating systems for personal use in 2003 and have never looked back, though I still use them (with a great deal of angst) at work.
Mac OS X
Pros – Beautiful, *nix under the hood, very stable, and extremely user friendly. I’ve only had OS X crash on me once and it was because I didn’t plug a card in all the way when I installed it. I am never forced to reboot. I’ve never had a virus. I just use the system. I code OmniNerd from it. I control servers from it. I make movies from it. And about 95% of the software I use on it is out-of-the-box. In my humble opinion, OS X is the best overall OS available, bar none.
Cons – Gaming is still behind (though I don’t particularly care). Sometimes apps are made for Windows and not for Mac (though this is a dying theme … I have some software like TextMate that’s only available on Mac).
Pros – Totally free, production-grade, server. If you know how to run it, you can’t beat the free/quality combo. You also get a lot of choices with Linux since "Linux" is really just the kernel and groups have wrapped several operating systems around it. Linux comes in flavors like Fedora, Gentoo, Ubuntu, etc. I’ve played with those 3, and used Gentoo for a while as my primary OS (I later switched to OS X because it’s user interface is just more pleasant … no other reason really). OmniNerd is running on Fedora and hasn’t needed a reboot … ever (though we have done controlled reboots to install kernel updates). So whether it’s your laptop opening a document, or a production server handling 100K hits in a day, it’s the same OS. Quite flexible.
The Gnome and KDE desktops are both great (I prefer Gnome) and most flavors have nice installer software that will get them up and running for you so that you never have to touch a command line or screw around with drivers if you don’t want to. I’d say it’s just as good of a generic desktop environment as Windows if you have no special apps that you need to run.
My favorite aspect of Linux is the quality software that’s available from your system and not a web page. If I want an office suite, I run one command and it’s installed. Video apps, games, you name it, one command each. Example, if I want to install Firefox: yum install firefox … that’s it. (yum is the program that manages installing other programs.) yum goes out on the net, finds it on a server, downloads it and installs it all in that one command.
Lastly, if you’re a Geek, Linux is by far the most customizable. Go to any Linux site and look for screen shots and you’ll see the wide variety of setups. You can truly customize most every aspect of the interface to your liking.
Cons – Linux is built to do dirty work and because of this the desktop environment isn’t quite as polished as something like OS X. You’ll find a lot of low-level stuff readily available from the desktop that gets (purposely) hidden in OSes like OS X. Like any *nix system, to get full use of it, you’re going to need to know a shell environment pretty well.
The old argument that it’s too hard to install is really invalid these days. If you have an extra PC, download Ubuntu or Fedora and boot the install CD. I think you’ll be amazed.
If you’re a weak to medium computer user, get a Mac. If you’re a gamer or need common business software, get a PC with Windows. If you’re power user, broke, or need a server, get Linux (if you’re not broke, a Mac works too).
Running Windows or Mac? Try Linux (or any other PC-compatible OS) in a Virtual PC
Microsoft was cool enough to make Virtual PC 2004 free to download. When you install this program, it acts as if it were a separate computer. You can download copies of the Linux CDs and have VPC open the files you downloaded as if they were CDs in a disk drive. By doing this, you can fully install Linux and try it out without worries of harming your current system. If you hate it, delete it and it’ll be like nothing ever happened. One thing to note is that VPC is much slower than a real PC so don’t think Linux runs that slow. Linux is lightning fast. It’s just a side effect of VPC.
I actually have Windows XP running in a virtual machine on my Mac so that I can test OmniNerd in MSIE 7. It’s painfully slow, but it does the trick.
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