PC vs. Mac vs. Linux

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I’ve mentioned before that I’m a PC and my wife’s a Mac. That fact, paired with our rock-bottom levels of coolness, lead to some pretty heated discussions on occasion. While most of you probably aren’t geeky enough to have this problem, you probably have wondered what all the fuss is about. The OS wars are as alive and strong today as they’ve ever been, with both Mac OS and Windows winning and losing ground daily, not to mention Linux, which is gaining influence. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons about all three operating systems so we can better understand the Mac vs. PC vs. Linux issues.

PC (Windows)

Quick history: Windows was developed by Microsoft as a progenitor to MS-DOS, the old-school type-command based OS, and was first released in 1985. The inaugural offering, Windows 1.0, introduced many of common interface elements still used in computing today, such as the drop-down menu, the scroll bar, and of course, the “windows” from which the OS derives its name.

Why use Windows?

Contrary to popular belief, Windows is quite awesome for several reasons:

Pros:

Customizable: Windows is extremely deep, with loads of applications and settings you’ve probably never seen. Did you know, for example, that in Window’s laptops you can put a limit on your max processor speed to improve your battery life?

Compatible: Since Windows runs somewhere around 90% of the world’s computers, it makes sense for most computer hardware and software companies to make sure that their products are Windows compatible. When using Windows, you’ll have a huge number of hardware and software upgrade choices.

Familiar: Most people have been using Windows for ages and are thus very familiar with its layout and use. The basic organizational elements of Windows—the Start button, My Computer, and other files—that many of us click everyday have been standard since the release of Windows 95, and won’t be changing any time soon.

Gaming: There are about ten-times more games which are PC compatible than there are Mac compatible games. It’s that simple.

Cons:

Slow(er): While I wouldn’t call Windows slow, especially if you take advantage of some basic tweaks and fixes, it is the slowest of all the major operating systems. Windows takes slightly longer to boot-up and shut-down than do its competitors, but only by a few seconds.

Demanding: Even when running idle, Windows still has quite a lot going on under the hood. Open the average Windows Task Manger and you’ll find between 40 and 60 processes (programs) that are running all the time in Windows. They’re tiny programs for the most part, but they add up. Because of this, Windows requires a lot more RAM just to keep the system running than do other operating systems.

Vulnerable: It’s true that Windows is more vulnerable to virus and other malware attacks than are Mac or Linux systems; however, this isn’t because of any flaw in Windows, whose security is actually slightly better (out of necessity) than its competitors. The reason for the weakness is the 90% thing. Far more malware attacks are targeted towards PCs because they make up 90% of all the computers out there.

Mac OS

Quick History: The first Mac OS was released the year before Windows, in 1984 and was the forerunner of most every operating system to come. Mac OS popularized the menu bar, the drag-and-drop concept, and the pop-up menu. It was also Mac that first used desktop icons to aid the visual organization of the computer’s files.

Why Use a Mac?

I’ll go ahead and say it—Macs are better than PCs. That doesn’t mean I like them, but it’s true.

Pros:

Fast(er): Macs do pretty much everything faster than PCs. They boot-up faster, they launch programs faster, they crash less, etc. Mac OS is really intelligently programmed and, well, it’s just faster.

Quality: Because Apple targets such a high-end market, they tend to use higher quality parts than do mass-producing PC companies like Dell or HP. Better batteries and more efficient internal components allow Apple users to enjoy around 30% more battery time than a PC laptop.

Adaptable: Since they began using Intel processors in late 2005, Mac computers have been capable of running Windows OS in addition to Mac OS. This makes them much more adaptable then PCs since Mac users can enjoy the best of both worlds. I would like to point out, however, that this isn’t because of any kind of Mac-magic. The technical requirements for running Windows are known, to loads of companies because Windows shares them so that other companies can develop programs/hardware for them. Apple does not share. Therefore Apple knew how to make their computers run Windows while the opposite is not true.

Programs: While Windows does boast a vastly larger selection of programs than Mac, Mac claims a relatively small number of very-high quality programs for themselves, and they include them with their OS for free. Programs like iMovie, iPhoto, and others, which make up the iLife suite, make some of the most common computing tasks very easy and attractive.

Cons:

Price: The cheapest Macbook laptop is a thousand bucks. The cheapest Dell laptop with Windows 7 is $279. Mac computers are definitely better than PCs, but yachts are better than rowboats, too. If you compare a Mac and a PC with the same hardware, the Mac will win. If you compare a Mac and a PC that cost the same, the PC will win, every time.

Options: Mac users have very few options for upgrades, tweaks or changes to their computers. Hardware upgrades must be very thoroughly researched in order to find anything compatible, and the parts will cost much more than do PC parts.

Linux

Quick History: Linux is an open-source clone of UNIX, a different OS which was developed in 1969. In 1991 a university student, Linus Torvalds, designed a program that would allow his computer to interface with the big ol’ servers the school used. While working on his project, he shared it on the internet and got other programmers involved.

Why use Linux?

Linux is open-sourced, which means it can be altered and modified to suit specific needs without causing any legal issues; also, it’s free.

Pros:

Price: Linux is 100% free! The program was not developed by a big corporation with bills to pay, but by hundreds of independent programmers who just felt like making something. There are several distributions, or types, of Linux, and some may charge for unique features such as simplified installation, etc. But at its heart, Linux costs nothing.

Stable: Because of the way Linux is designed, it doesn’t decay over time like Windows. A Linux computer can run for years without needing to be shut down, restarted or reinstalled and won’t become slower with age.

Programs: Along with free Linux there are tons of free Linux-ready applications that work almost as well. Photoshop, Microsoft Office, iTunes, and other important programs have viable alternatives on Linux that won’t cost you a dime.

Cons:

Compatibility: Like Mac OS, Linux suffers from some compatibility issues; relatively few people use it, so relatively few companies develop drivers and software for it.

Complicated: Linux is not so automated as Windows and Mac OS, which is why many people like it. However, this also means that users have to know more about computers in general if they wish to successfully install and maintain their Linux environment.

Conclusions:

Everyone will draw their own conclusions about the pros and cons I’ve written, likely just sticking with whatever they already like best. This is because there’s no real answer to which is best, they all offer pros and cons. For me the answer is, and always will be, Windows. Sure Macs are better, if they weren’t, no one would be paying their bajillion dollars price tags. They’re not a thousand dollars better though, for the same price as a low-end Mac you can buy a top-of-the-line PC, especially if you’re brave enough to build it yourself. Linux is a great choice too, but takes more work than most people will care to put into their computers.

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