The three main choices are Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac and Linux. In this article I briefly summarize the advantages and disadvantages of each. We begin with MS Windows.
Microsoft Windows Advantages
A comprehensive range of software is available for Windows machines, including, of course MS Office. Modern high performance games work well on MS Windows. This is somewhat ironic given Microsoft’s image of a stuffy business oriented software house. Microsoft Windows is used on lots of systems so there is no trouble getting advice and support and also peripherals (printers mice etc) to work with it. It’s likely that you will have already used or will be expected to use a MS Windows machine in your work, since they’re pervasive in the business sector. So, being familiar with Windows might be useful in terms of your career.
Microsoft Windows Disadvantages
Windows can be expensive, particularly for the Professional and Ultimate editions. Windows has a poor (but steadily improving) security reputation. A comprehensive virus checker and internet security program is therefore an absolute must for all Windows boxes.
Apple Mac OS X Advantages
The chief advantage of Apple Mac OS X is its lovely, easy to use user interface. Apple has a well deserved reputation for making well designed products and this is reflected in OS X. Apple’s standout application area is computer graphics and multimedia application (video editing etc). While Macs have a good reputation for security, it’s still recommended that you use some kind of virus checker and internet security program. The reason for this is twofold, firstly it’s only a matter of time before a really nasty Mac or UNIX virus appears and with no good anti-virus infrastructure in place the Mac community will be very vulnerable. Secondly, even if your Mac itself isn’t adversely affected by an infected email it would be embarrassing to pass the problem on to your Windows reliant associates. There’s a more limited range of peripherals available for the Mac than MS Windows machines, but still a wide enough choice for most users. In terms of applications, a reasonable amount of software is available including MS Office for Mac.
Apple Mac OS XDisadvantage
For practical purposes Max OS X only works with Apple hardware (I’m not talking about peripherals here just the core system). Anyway, this limitation isn’t such a bad thing since Mac hardware is rather nice and it probably contributes to the reliability of Apples offerings. Cost, for a given machine performance Apples are cost competitive with brand name Windows machines, however Apple don’t produce a netbook level machine which tend to be cheap.
The first advantage is its cost, it’s free for many distributions, although business uses typically get support packages which of course need to be paid for. Secondly, Linux is considered to be very reliable, it’s open source so lots of people get to test and review its source code. Thirdly, performance, Linux performs strongly over practically all benchmarks. Lastly, security, Linux has a good reputation for security, but, as with the Mac, most users are still advised to invest in a virus checker.
There is a wide range of free high quality open source software available for Linux. There’s also a reasonable range of proprietary software available, with an emphasis on engineering and scientific packages. In addition with the aid of the wine package it’s possible to get many MS Windows application to work on certain Linux machines (ones capable of running Windows).
The two most common Linux graphical user interfaces, Gnome and KDE are still not as polished as either Windows 7 or Apple’s latest offerings. Users are typically either businesses or IT, engineering or scientific professionals and students.
If you’re a game playing business person buy Windows. If you’re an artist buy a Mac and if you’re an engineer download Linux.
Peter Smaith has over 20 years experience in the computer industry, having worked as software engineer, manager and consultant. Peter is an occasional reviewer at http://www.review-pc.com.