Windows, Linux and Mac OS X shootout

Having been a Windows, Linux and Mac OS X user, amongst others, I prefer Mac OS X. Let’s take a brief look at what each OS offers you.


If I cast my mind back to the days when I ran Microsoft Windows out of choice then, well, you know the “joys” of Windows already, but, if not, let me jog your memory as it’s so easy to get used to mediocrity over time and to forget and almost accept its faults… “ah, you you have to reinstall everything when you buy a new PC, but that’s normal isn’t it?”, or “ah, you can only install Windows to boot off drive C:”… etc. So, for a quick summary of what tasty morsels are on offer on the à la carte Windows menu, we have:

  • Steamed DLL Hell
  • Poached Blue Screen Of Death
  • Fried Plug and Pray
  • Tender Registry Chicken Vindaloo (you’ll feel in need of the loo when you delete the wrong key and Windows won’t boot any more…)
  • Spicy Reinstall all apps, data and settings just for fun each new PC/Windows purchase
  • Sautéd viruses galore fried in garlic, bringing powerful machines to their knees due to antivirus software running constantly
  • Bitter No decent bundled software for managing photos, home videos etc
  • Sour Having to dance to Microsoft’s planned obsolescence tune: having to buy a new version of Windows and Office every 2 or 3 years or lose support


After getting disillusioned with Microsoft and Windows, I rejected Windows for my main work and tried out Linux.
My Linux days started OK, but I got fed up of Red Hat breaking the GCC compiler with their own modifications and creating proprietary modifications to open source packages which screwed up so many apps I lost count. Yes, I had choice, but the problem was I had choice of 2,000,000 apps that were mostly half-baked and half-completed attempts that just annoyed me whenever I used them. Then there was the joys of recompiling the kernel because it was missing a SCSI driver — whoopee, another weekend lost (Red Hat differences plus learning curve of doing this for the first time, or second time, or…). I tried other flavours of Linux too — Debian, which seemed better as it had the wonderful “apt” package management tool. Then there was the fun of compiling the Nvidia drivers for my graphics card. It was just non-stop fun from day one. No, really, there were good times too, but I lost count of the red-eyes in the morning and weekends lost on the thing due to broken packages, recompiling this or that or the kernel, finding the right configuration file to edit, what to put in it. Enough was enough, I wanted to use the machine to do something without doing admin all the time.

Also when I was using Linux daily from about 2001 until 2003, the look and feel of the user interface was not aesthetically pleasing. You had a choice of 2 main contenders in the user interface department: Gnome and KDE. Gnome had some nicer themes, but the icons were inconsistent and Gnome itself was as buggy as hell. KDE, with its German heritage, seemed better engineered as it seemed more consistent and was less likely to bomb out. But it still looked like it had been designed by software engineers rather than user interface experts, which is more Apple’s domain.

Another thing about KDE was their fetish of naming all the applications starting with a ‘K’. So there were applications named Konqueror, KDesktop, Kedit, KWrite, KMail, KNode etc, which became a little tedious after a while. Having said that, Apple does something similar by preceding some application names with ‘i’: iTunes, iCal, iDVD etc.

Some ex-colleagues raved and evangelised to everyone in the office about Ubuntu, a derivative of the Debian distro, I believe. Naturally, I got the evangelising treatment one day. They asked if I’d heard of it. I can’t remember what I answered. Then they asked me what I thought about Linux in general. I said I thought it was well suited to server environments and people who know what they’re doing and don’t care too much about the user interface, but not for the average man in the street. Of course, the inevitable happened and I was asked what I thought was best / nicest to use for most people. I said the Mac with its Mac OS X operating system.

Mac OS X

I got a bit of a look of surprise and disbelief. I explained that I had used Mac OS X already for a year after becoming disenchanted with Windows and Linux and that I had found the Mac OS X to be very solid, reliable, had all the applications I needed, ran Microsoft Office, offered an easy and painless operating system upgrade path, had regular updates which are notified as they become available, ran UNIX under the hood, and… would likely soon run Windows applications too. A few months later the guy bought a Mac for himself and then started convincing all his friends and family to follow suit as he had become tired of being their Windows troubleshooter. I don’t blame him — been there, done that, got the T-shirt 😉

With Mac OS X, the user interface looks much better because graphics and design is one of Apple’s greatest strengths (Steve Jobs studied calligraphy), applications have been designed to “work out of the box”, it has decent, complete, well-integrated applications, and the OS and its apps are a joy to use. The switch to Mac OS X was an extremely easy transition. And the great thing is, I still have the choice of running all those incomplete applications if I want, open source software works fine on it, it has a good Java VM available, a great command line when I need it, and the stability of UNIX under the hood (FreeBSD). And now, with the latest Intel processor-based Macs, it even runs Windows at the same time as the Mac’s OS X, thanks to the Virtualization Technology of these new processors combined with nice software like Parallels Desktop. So when I fancy editing some arcane configuration file somewhere or other, or playing Registry Chicken*, I can still get my fix 🙂

Included within Mac OS X you have a whole load of fun:

Mac OS X itself
Aqua which is a user interface to die for.
Spotlight to search for anything (Gnome/KDE have added this after seeing it too).
Automator to automate tasks easily.
Address Book to store all your contacts here in industry-standard vCard format.
iCal to store all your meetings, appointments and to-do’s in industry-standard vCalendar format.
iSync to sync all your Address Book contacts and iCal data to your bluetooth phone or other gizmo. So now, if my bluetooth phone is lost or stolen, I’ll just buy another 120 euro phone and click on “Sync” in Mac OS X and then all my contacts and calendar events are put on the phone magically — no more re-entering of data on the phone ever again.
iChat to video conference with up to 3 other people at the same time.
Mail to manage your emails. Has rules and filtering for multiple email accounts.
Safari to surf quickly with multi-tabbed browsing.
iPhoto to manage all your digital photos (the iTunes of photos).
iMovie HD to manage all your camcorder clips, edit them and prepare photo slideshows from iPhoto, add music too.
iDVD to burn your own videos and photo slideshows onto a standard DVD disc. Can take material prepared in iMovie as its input.
GarageBand to make your own music.
iWeb to create simple, clean-looking websites containing text, photos, blogs and podcasts.
iTunes to manage, locate and play all your MP3s.

Oh, and Mac OS X also runs Microsoft Office, in case you were wondering. All documents, spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations can be edited on Windows or a Mac. The file format is identical, so no strange incompatibility problems.

The list of fun you can have is endless. It really makes you wonder at how much effort Apple has put into making good, quality software that is easy and intuitive to use.

However, if the fun should ever stop then I still have my other PC which has a dual boot setup if I ever need to use that must-have Windows app (or play video games), or fire-up Linux for a bit of a trip down memory lane. But now with Parallels Desktop running on the Intel-based Mac, you don’t even need a separate physical machine for Windows or Linux — just create a new VM for Windows and Linux and install it there on the Mac, and run it whenever you need it. And now, backing up your Windows or Linux installation becomes a simple matter of copying the file used as the VM’s disk storage area! Much easier than cloning a bootable drive.

That’s all folks.
Your friendly, impartial Mac user. (and Windows and Linux too, but less often now)

* By the way, I just made the term “Registry Chicken” up — I refer to the dangerous act of deleting a key from the Windows Registry and seeing if Windows still runs at next boot.

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