How to Choose an Operating System

Linux, Macintosh, Windows…which one do you need? This article attempts to explain the basic differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each operating system.

Operating What?

If you’re about to get a new computer, or you’re updating your old one, a fundamental question to ask yourself is, “What operating system should I use?” A second important question might be, “What’s an operating system?” and a third would be, “What’s a computer?”

If you asked the third question, I’m puzzled as to exactly how you’re reading this. As for the other two, it’s pretty simple. An operating system is a software that allows a computer to carry out essential functions, most importantly, to execute programs. Without an operating system, your computer would be a very expensive doorstop. So, which one is right for you? The easiest way to choose an operating system is to cut out pieces of paper with the names of your choices, put them into a hat, drink heavily for about three hours, and choose one. However, this isn’t the wisest way to make your decision, because in most major cities it’s difficult to find a suitable hat. Therefore, before choosing an operating system, it’s essential to find out necessary information about your meaningful choices and make a thoughtful, educated, sober decision.

There are three major operating systems, Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. Even tech-heads disagree over which operating system is best, so here’s a basic rundown of each system.

Linux

People from all over the world develop Linux working together with the common goal of spending long, smelly, exceptionally sweaty nights in front of a computer screen to establish a useful, free operating system. The source code used to create Linux systems is open to anyone who wants to view it. It is great because if you open up the source code files and look at them hard for a very long amount of time, you’ll get bored and watch TV.

Luckily for us, the programmers behind Linux have the attention spans necessary to improve on the code to make better and better-operating systems, as well as programs, hardware drivers, etc. Different programming teams work to develop Linux for various purposes, leading to many kinds of Linux, called “distributions.” Most of these distributions can be downloaded for free, which is a big plus for Linux users. Since Mac OS only works on Apple computers and Windows costs around 90 bucks per user, Linux might be the ideal choice for businesses that need computer systems for essential functions. For instance, Mandrake Linux, one of the most popular distributions, has programs built right into the OS that is comparable to Windows Outlook, Microsoft Office, and Internet Explorer—all free. What’s more, Mandrake has a simple, user-friendly interface like Windows, allowing the computer illiterate to utilize its many features. Another popular distribution is Red Hat, which many businesses are converting.

Linux sounds excellent, but it has significant downsides. Some distributions are hard to use, and even user-friendly distributions like Mandrake and Red Hat are unable to open many Windows and Macintosh file types. Gaming is pretty limited on Linux computers, and if a Linux machine crashes, data recovery can be costly.

Macintosh OS

My first reaction to Mac OS was, “Hey, this operating system is very stable, works with many programs, and is a viable alternative to Windows.” My second reaction was, “Why does the mouse have one button?” My point is that if you’re a lifetime Windows user, switching to the Mac interface is a bit daunting. Mac OS is just like any other operating system, except that

1. it doesn’t have a flashy name, and

2. it’s built for the Mac architecture.

That means that you can forget about installing it on anything other than an Apple computer. That means paying a slightly higher price tag in many situations, and—oh, yeah—your mouse will have one button on it. Even after using a Mac for years, I haven’t gotten used to this. Then again, many people have, and I’m known to my friends as moody and irritable.

The other significant disadvantage of Mac computers is that, like Linux, it’s unable to use Windows programs and there are a few file types that are difficult to open. Luckily, Apple made up for this by creating a host of great programs, most of them superior to their Windows counterpart. I find that Apple computers tend to be more stable than Windows computers, meaning that they crash less, but that’s just a personal opinion.

Some other things to consider: files deleted in Mac OS are immediately overwritten, making them unable to be recovered in most situations. It is a built-in e-shredder for businesses, but if you remove something you needed, even top data recovery companies are usually unable to get it back, and if somehow they do, it won’t be cheap. It’s also worth mentioning that Apple will be using Intel processors in its computers soon. It should mean a boom in Mac OS programming, though at least at first it still won’t be able to keep up with Windows.

Windows

The big daddy of operating systems, Windows is the only choice for many homes and business users. Microsoft has almost universal third-party programming support, making it able to run thousands of great pieces of software. It has a lot of great Microsoft-made products, many of which are the universal standard (Microsoft Word and Outlook, for instance). If you like video games, Windows’ video game library completely dwarfs that of Mac OS. Windows is simple to use, is frequently updated, and is the most popular operating system in the world. Of course, it’s notorious for its many bugs and crashes. Tech geeks will screech at you to stay away from anything made by Microsoft until their blood temperature breaks the lightsaber-shaped pen in their pocket protector and they have to spend the rest of the afternoon breathing through their inhalers.

However, many people think that it is because of Windows’ popularity people have discover so many bugs; it’s very likely that if as many people were using Mac OS like Windows, all the tech geeks would be attacking Apple, possibly until they were carried off on a stretcher in a Mac-bashing induced asthmatic daze.

If you decide to use Windows, it’s important to have the most recent version possible, since Microsoft updates their OS drastically with every revision. Also, run Windows Update often to protect your computer from bugs. Windows is also more prone to viruses than other systems, so good virus protection software is a must; I usually recommend MacAfee Antivirus.

Decisions, decisions…

There are other operating systems, but most of them are designed for a particular purpose, out of date, or extremely difficult to use. Linux, Mac OS, and Windows are the average user’s most viable choices. It’s important to make sure that you know what you intend to do with your computer, and that the operating system you use is best able to accommodate that purpose.

I’ll let you get back to cutting up paper for the hat.

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