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Tech Savvy for July 30, 2009

by Dan Harper

    Last time, I made the statement that there is no clear leader in the operating system debate and mentioned a third contender, Linux.  Since then I′ve been asked questions about operating systems, so here′s a basic rundown.

    Windows XP is a solid Microsoft offering.  It has become the standard and is reasonably reliable.  While you can still get XP as a “downgrade” on most PCs, Microsoft has stopped selling Windows XP.  They do plan to support it for some time to come.

    Vista is the latest workstation operating system offered by Microsoft and is standard on most new machines.  Like most new things, it has a couple of bugs, most caused by non-Microsoft software and device drivers.  While the interface is attractive, it requires more computer, there is a bit of a learning curve for the user, and not all hardware works straight out of the box.

    Windows 7 is what′s next from Microsoft.  It looks good; it′s as pretty as Vista, requires less computer, and clears up a lot of Vista′s problems.  I am guardedly optimistic, but I will wait until the official release for a verdict, expected to be around the beginning of next year.  The learning curve should be similar to Vista.

    OSX is arguably the most user friendly commercial operating system. While it′s incredibly easy to use, if you need to do something in a different manner than the designer has planned, you may find it rather inflexible.  Nonetheless, if it fits your needs, it will do it well. Worth a look, it is only supported on Apple machines.

    Linux is an operating system based on UNIX, an operating system that has been around for 40 years.  You can customize just about everything on this mature platform.  It is relatively easy to use and works on nearly any computer.  Most Linux distributions are free.  The money is made in support, not on the sale, keeping your dollars local.

    Which is best?  This depends on what you do.

    Most users are OS agnostic.  When I ask a user which OS they are running they often say "Word" or some other software that is pivotal to their daily tasks.  It all comes down to software.  If you have software you can use and have the support you need, the OS becomes transparent.

    We technoweenies sometimes get picky about the operating system, but that′s based on opinion and fear.  We fear the unfamiliar because we are terrified of giving the wrong answer.  This fear and inflexibility causes us to give poor advice to our users.  You come to us for informed opinions too.

    If you feel you are getting a biased evaluation, getting a second opinion is a good idea.  If you asked a mechanic to evaluate your car, would you be happy if he made up his mind simply by looking at the logo on the grill?  You could do that without paying him.  I would respect a mechanic more if he said "I don′t do foreign cars, talk to Fred."  The same principle applies to computer technicians.

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