Home  |  News  |  Articles  |  Forum  |  Polls  |  Blogs  |  Videos  |  Resource Library

Keywords: Match:
And the best desktop operating system is…
Mar. 12, 2008

Blog -- For my money, the best desktop operating system is Linux -- MEPIS and OpenSUSE at the top with Ubuntu closing in fast, to be exact. But everyone has their own opinion, and over at PC Magazine some old friends and coworkers of mine decided to compare all the most popular desktop operating systems: Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X 10.5.1 (Leopard), and Ubuntu 7.10.

PC Magazine's OS Wars article was well done and had some interesting results, but I have some thoughts of my own on some of its calls.

First, while Ubuntu does have a clear win in one category -- price, of course -- there are others where I would have given it higher marks. In the category of installation, the PC Mag staffers had Ubuntu tied with XP at the bottom of the barrel. I would put Vista below both of them. Even with Service Pack 1, Vista installation remains a pain.

I do have some good news for people who think Vista is the cat's meow. After almost two years of working with Vista, I finally have a PC -- my HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360n -- working without any major hitches with Vista SP1. Of course, I had to replace Vista's newest, and malfunctioning, RealTek ALC882 audio chip-set driver with an older one; manually add in the Nvidia ForceWare 169 Release drivers for my Nvidia GeForce 6200SE video; and do some surgery to the Vista registry to get Vista to talk with my NAS (network-attached storage) drives. If anyone tells you that Vista is an easy install, you have my permission to snicker at them.

In any case, though, it's 2008. Other than people moving an older system to Linux or "upgrading" XP systems to Vista, how many people really need to install operating systems anyway? Sure, it used to be that if you wanted to use Linux, you had to install it yourself, but today you can buy brand-name PCs from Dell or Lenovo with Linux or inexpensive PCs like the Everex gPC or just order one from Best Buy, Sears or Wal-Mart.

For the user interface, the winner was, well, we all know who's always the winner in any competition like this: Mac OS X. While I would quibble a bit, and I prefer Tiger to Leopard, I can't argue that Mac OS X is still the best. Sorry, KDE and GNOME. On the other hand, PC Magazine has Vista's Aero above Ubuntu's GNOME, and I disagree with that one.

The reviewers bring up that tired old canard that users must master a text-based interface at times with Ubuntu. You do? I do, at times, but then I'm a power user's power user. I can't think of any ordinary work I've done on my Ubuntu PC that required me to open up a shell. Vista, on the other hand, did require me, as I mentioned earlier, to get into its guts to get it to work properly.

In any case, Vista's interface has another problem. It's not XP's interface. That doesn't mean much, but I can't begin to count the number of times I've had friends call me up to ask how to do something they'd done a hundred times before in XP, but the couldn't find the icon or menu choice for in Vista. I'm not sure why Microsoft designers feel people should need to relearn the basics every time they release a new platform, but they seem to.

When it comes to bundled software, I really disagree with PC Magazine's pick of Mac OS X. Yes, iLife '08 is a fabulous media package, but it's not bundled with the operating system. It's an extra-cost package. Mac OS X also doesn't have a bundled office suite. Ubuntu comes with everything most people will ever need. Advantage: Linux.

For third-party software, they give the prize to XP. I can live with that. For sheer variety of choice, XP does have the most applications. Of course, many of the most popular of these XP programs are open-source ones like Firefox.

But when it comes to drivers and hardware, the PC Mag prize once more goes to XP. Sorry, I can't see it. Yes, XP is better than Ubuntu. But, by the very nature of the beast, Mac OS X is tied to a single hardware platform, and so it's the winner. I have run into problems with Mac hardware over the years, but nothing compared to the other operating systems. I also have to say that Ubuntu is better than Vista in my experience when it comes to dealing with both older and newer peripherals and additional on-board devices.

For networking, XP is also on top, according to them. Again, sorry, I can't see it. Has anyone, anywhere ever had trouble with Mac OS X networking in the last five years? Yes, Linux still has trouble with getting support for some network devices, but once you have it working, Linux's TCP/IP stack is the best of the bunch at moving bits and bytes at high speed.

Now, I'm not going to suggest that Ubuntu should go on top. PC Magazine makes the excellent point that, "Finding shared resources on the network, such as printers or file shares, can also work, but finding and using are two different things. It's probably not a big problem for a true tech nerd, but who has the time to waste?" They're right. I don't have any trouble with Linux networking, but then I've been working on networks since 10-Base 5 Thicknet was state of the art.

On the other hand, they rate Vista higher than Ubuntu. I don't think so. Come on, Vista manages to blow up ordinary wired Ethernet connections. Don't ask me how. I don't know, but it does.

Security is a tie between Mac OS X and Ubuntu. I can live with that. What I don't care for is that they trot out the tired old argument that the real reason for this is that Windows is the biggest target. This is so wrong.

Windows started as a single-user operating system, and, at heart, it still is. In practice, that means it's still jury-rigged for a networked, multiuser world. Ubuntu and Mac OS, however, both trace their ancestry to Unix. And Unix was designed from Day 1 to work in a networked universe with multiple users, some of whom, the developers knew, would be up to no good.

Are desktop Linux and Mac OS X perfectly secure? Of course not; any system can be hacked. Security is a process, not a product. The key difference is that the Unix-descended systems had security baked in. For Windows, security still is, and always will be, the icing on top of the cake, not the cake itself.

The PC Magazine crew's final conclusion is that Mac OS X is the best of all possible desktop systems. Guess what? I agree with them.

However, the PC Magazine piece doesn't take into account what I consider to be two other important factors. The first is cost. Macs are great, but they've always been more expensive than ordinary PCs. If Apple has its way, and it will, you will always pay a premium for Macs.

Second, and even more important as far as I'm concerned, Mac OS X, while based on open-source roots, is a closed system. Over time, I expect open-source Linux to be better than Mac OS X. In addition, if the Great California Quake of 2011 hits Cupertino, Calif., with a 7.4 killer and Apple's code and engineers disappear forever, Mac users are done for. In any single-provider system, if anything happens to your vendor, you're out of luck.

So, while I love my iPod Touch and the Apple TV, I can't put all my desktop eggs into the Mac basket. For me, desktop Linux offers the best combination of price, functionality and openness.

-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Do you have comments on this story?

Talkback here

NOTE: Please post your comments regarding our articles using the above link. Be sure to use this article's title as the "Subject" in your posts. Before you create a new thread, please check to see if a discussion thread is already running on the article you plan to comment on. Thanks!

Related Stories:

(Click here for further information)

Home  |  News  |  Articles  |  Forum  |  Polls  |  About  |  Contact

Ziff Davis Enterprise Home | Contact Us | Advertise | Link to Us | Reprints | Magazine Subscriptions | Newsletters
Tech RSS Feeds | ROI Calculators | Tech Podcasts | Tech Video | VARs | Channel News

Baseline | Careers | Channel Insider | CIO Insight | DesktopLinux | DeviceForge | DevSource | eSeminars |
eWEEK | Enterprise Network Security | LinuxDevices | Linux Watch | Microsoft Watch | Mid-market | Networking | PDF Zone |
Publish | Security IT Hub | Strategic Partner | Web Buyer's Guide | Windows for Devices

Developer Shed | Dev Shed | ASP Free | Dev Articles | Dev Hardware | SEO Chat | Tutorialized | Scripts |
Code Walkers | Web Hosters | Dev Mechanic | Dev Archives | igrep

Use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Except where otherwise specified, the contents of this site are copyright © 1999-2011 Ziff Davis Enterprise Holdings Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Enterprise is prohibited. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.