Operating Systems

I have computers running Windows (most flavors), OS-X, Linux, and BSD (or we could generically call those *nix) — and have had computers running SunOS, Solaris, and OSF… so I consider myself well versed in operating systems from a user standpoint (and a developer standpoint as well).

Recently I took a look at how practical each of the “popular” choices were as a desktop environment for what I would consider an average user; and I set the goals of an average user to be:

  • Email
  • Managing contact and schedules
  • Browsing the internet
  • Office tasks (word processing and simple spread sheets)
  • Multimedia (music and movies)
  • Managing finances

And I looked at Windows (Vista Ultimate, but for this much would apply to XP as well), OS-X, and Ubuntu Linux (I felt that was a good distribution for an average user).

On email, managing contacts and schedules, browsing the internet, and office tasks I would say that all three of the operating systems were reasonably equal… very few real differences in capabilities or ease of use (both Vista and OS-X have option for commercial as well as free software; on Ubuntu only free software was used).  For multimedia both Vista and OS-X were far better than Ubuntu (yes, Ubuntu could do most everything the other two could do, but the software was very piece meal, and didn’t “fit” well with the rest of the system).  For managing finances all of them had non-commercial and commercial solutions and depending on your needs whether any or all of them would be sufficient.

Vista

Microsoft’s current Windows operating system for desktop PCs.  Vista is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of Vista is included in most PC purchases only upgraded expenses need to be considered (this isn’t true if you’re building your own PC from parts — but if you’re recycling an old PC it may already have a license for Windows).  The cost of a PC does not generally include an office suite.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect no to purchase additional software from Microsoft.

 

OS-X

Apple’s current operating system for Macs.  OS-X is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of OS-X is included in Mac purchases only upgrade expenses need to be considered.  The cost of the mac might include iLife, but not iWorks.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect not to purchase additional software from Apple.

 

Ubuntu

Provided you have a way to download Ubuntu and burn it onto installation media (CD) there’s no cost in acquiring it.  If you have very old hardware using Ubuntu (or a lighter weigth Linux) might be the only option you really have — but my comparison here is not based on what’s cheapest, it’s what’s reasonable.  Most all of what you will need will be installed with the operating system.  There’s a host of free software that you can use by simply downloading it.

 

Observations:

  • Apples are only easier to use if you’re used to Apples — like all tools, human beings have no inherent ability to know how to use them.  Regardless of the operating system you choose you will need to invest a little time into learning how to use it.  How much time you invest will be determined by the relative sophistication of what you’re trying to do, and what kind of background in computers you have.
  • You’ll find that both Vista and OS-X will provide an inexperienced user with much more “hand holding” than Ubuntu.  But that said, one of the first things you need to get proficient at is searching the internet for “answers”.
  • Pretty much all the annoyances people gripe about are universal in all three of the operating systems (it’s comical that Apple had a whole series of advertisements about Vista annoyances — annoyances their own operating system had had for years for the most part).  There are often system settings that can turn off many of these annoyances, but in fact they are present for a reason — and while you’re learning I recommend you just learn to deal with the annoyances and don’t change system settings without good cause.
  • You’re going to find making changes to many settings on Ubuntu (or any Linux) much more difficult than either Vista or OS-X.
  • You’re going to find that things are far more cohesive on both Vista and OS-X; with Ubuntu it becomes fairly obvious quickly that you’re using a collection of dis-associated widgets and parts.

 

Conclusions:

For most computer users I’d recommend that you consider using either Vista or OS-X for your computing needs.  Leave Ubuntu (and other *nix based operating systems) to more experienced computer users who have a “need” for it.  I suspect that we’ll see improvements in the cohesiveness of non-commercial operating system, but for the moment they just aren’t ready for prime time.

Originally posted 2008-12-26 12:00:38.