Wasting away in Microsoftville…

Yes, Virginia, there are viable alternatives to Windows!

Is the best-selling thing actually the best? Not necessarily. It depends a great deal on what, you, the user, thinks is best. Sony’s Betamax was widely regarded as the best videotape system out there, but VHS had better marketing. So it goes. Microsoft Windows is certainly the best-selling computer operating system out there, but there are two other contenders that are worthy of some attention. These are Mac OS (From Apple), and Linux.

Both of the OSs discussed here require a bit of a learning curve, of course, but there are many similarities to Windows, too. Bear in mind that one thing you can’t do with these alternatives is run Windows software on them. Many popular programs have Mac and/or Linux versions, but you cannot interchange them.

The (Apple Computer) Mac OS (Operating System) is available only on Apple hardware (Legally, at least!), and is the best-known of the Windows alternatives, with about a 5% market share. Apple is the company that invented the computer mouse! The difference is, the Apple mouse only has one button. For those of you that know how useful the right (The Other) mouse button is, this can be a bit jarring. There is still a way to get the “Right-Click” menu, though, it’s just a little different. Macs also accept 2-button mice. The major pros of the Mac are:

  • Lower maintenance (Maybe!)
  • Enough productivity software for most business uses.
  • You can have the best of both worlds; Windows can run on modern Macs, right alongside the native OS. You do still have to pay for whatever version of Windows you install, though.
  • Fewer security issues. Note: I did not say “No security issues!”
  • Apple seems to focus more on an enjoyable user experience.
  • Very popular with artists, musicians, and other creative types (Probably because of the software built in).

It’s not all sweetness and light, of course. The cons:

  • Expensive!
  • Not as much software available, especially games.
  • Not quite as much customization.
  • Not nearly as many hardware choices, since it’s only available on Apple’s machines.
  • You might not be able to get support from your small computer shop. With Windows enjoying a 91% market share, many technicians (Including Me) concentrate on Windows machines. However, if you call or visit an Apple Store, support is very good.

The other other guys, Linux is the most DIY-friendly. You will find very few Linux-based machines on the consumer market. Many people who use Linux install it themselves on their computers, either machines they’ve built, or off the shelf stuff. Linux can run on any machine that supports Windows, and in most cases, can be installed alongside Windows to create a “Dual-Boot” environment; You choose, at boot time, whether you want to start Windows or Linux. This is a great way to avoid a total commitment. Most flavors of Linux are free for the downloading.

The most popular version of Linux at the moment is Ubuntu. It’s free and performs very well, with basic productivity and media software built in. It doesn’t look or act much different than Windows. For a way to really ease into the Linux world, there is a variation of Ubuntu called Zorin OS that looks and works a lot like Windows.

One of the neatest things about both versions above is you don’t even have to go through the sometimes messy process of installing them! Instead, after downloading and burning to CD, you can boot the computer from the CD and try it out without making any permanent alterations to your computer. Then, if you decide you like it, you can install it from the same CD.

The major pros of Linux:

  • Free! (For many versions)
  • Smaller target for Malware.
  • Ubuntu and Zorin are easy for Windows users to get used to.
  • Enough productivity software for most business uses.
  • Can be installed on any machine that supports Windows.
  • Can Dual-Boot with Windows.
  • Many versions can run with older hardware. Give that Windows 98 machine a new lease on life.
  • Almost infinitely customizable.

You Knew there would be some cons:

  • Again, not as large a software base, especially games.
  • In rare cases, peripherals (Printers, network cards, webcams, etc.) may not work properly or at all. Most mainstream brands are supported, however. This is another good reason to try with a CD boot before you commit.
  • More of a DIY approach than either Windows or Mac. If you like to tinker, though, Linux can be as simple or complicated as you want. Just don’t install it on a mission-critical computer until you have some experience with it.
  • Support for the free versions limited to forums and the like. The forums, however, are very active.

So there you have it. It’s not absolutely necessary to be a Microslave if you don’t want to, and if you don’t mind a little adventure.