For a while, I read with interest a site called X vs. XP. After a while, though, I got sick of all the zealotry, particularly on the part of Mac users. Now I understand that people like their OSes—that’s generally why they use them. What bothers me most is that some Mac fanatics will not concede that there is anything wrong with Mac OS X. Even if you give three criticisms of Windows for every one criticism of OS X, Mac Zealots will fight that one criticism with all their might. They also have the cheap defense of “Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s worse” or “What’s intuitive for Windows users isn’t necessarily what’s intuitive in general.” Of course, Mac crazies think it’s more intuitive to delete a file by pressing Cmd-delete than it is to delete the file by pressing only delete. I just stopped participating in the site’s forum, since in one particular thread, I attempted to bring some peace, saying that one OS is not necessarily better than the other but that each one suits the needs of its users—I included specific examples of some things I thought were worse in XP and some things I thought were worse in X. The site’s owner (who claims to want to minimize bias as much as possible) insisted that OS X was clearly superior as an OS and would not concede that there was anything wrong with X. One Mac zealot even got quite upset by one of my criticisms of X (despite the fact I had many criticisms of XP as well), explaining that I had come on to his “territory” and he had a right to defend it.
Whoa! Operating systems may be used by your family, but they are not your family, or shouldn’t be, anyway.
Mac zealots think that OS X is always superior to XP, that whatever Jobs decides is the best and most intuitive way to do anything, and that anyone who uses Windows must be a fool. Mac zealots used to never shut up about how superior PowerPC architecture was to Intel architecture. Now that Steve Jobs has announced Macs will be moving to Intel architecture, they don’t know what to do. Mac zealots used to laugh at flash-based MP3 players until Jobs announced the iPod Shuffle. It’s just speculation on my part, but my guess is that if the iPod was the only flash player that had a screen, Mac users would say, “Apple’s iPod is clearly superior, as it has a screen”; since iPod Shuffles are the only flash players without a screen, naturally Mac zealots exclaim that screens are stupid and that you should always know your own music anyway. This is the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard. Speaking as someone who has a flash player with a screen, I can tell you there are many reasons I use the screen. The screen not only tells me what’s playing at any given moment, which is helpful particularly for songs that start off quietly or new songs that I’m not yet familiar with, but it also gives me various displays and menu options (options iPod users should be more than familiar with from the regular iPods)—equalizer settings, volume levels, battery life, etc.
What bothers me most about Mac zealotry is its counterproductivity. No one will listen to someone who is unreasonably in favor of only one position, who does not admit that there is any fault with that product. Several months ago, I advised a friend of mine to buy an iBook, explaining all the pros and cons of getting an iBook versus a Dell. He was impressed and said it was the first time anyone had actually convinced him a Mac was worth getting. According to him, anyone in the past who’d recommended an Apple computer never admitted there was any alternative. Too many Mac users think Mac is the only way—that’s what turns most Windows users off from “switching.” Remember that operating systems aren’t a way of life; they’re simply computer programs that help us do what we want to do. Don’t make an operating system into a religion.
Recently, I’ve become a big fan of Linux. I have to say, though, some of the Linux zealots are nutcases. They insist, similarly to Mac crazies, that Linux is the only way… well, a couple of Linux zealots concede that Mac OS X might be okay to use. What matters most to Linux zealots is not that people use Linux (again, OS X is okay) but that people not use Microsoft products. There’s a definite anti-Microsoft passion in the Linux community. People will often refer to Windows as Windblows, Windoze, or Window$. What’s most ridiculous about some Linux nutcases is their insistence that there’s no reason to use Windows and that only brainwashed automatons would ever use Windows.
As a matter of fact, there are a lot of good reasons to use Windows. First of all, I recently tried to switch a Windows user over to Linux, and she had to switch back because Hotmail and Thunderbird were not working well together (even with the webmail extension in Thunderbird that enables Hotmail checking). People get attached to their email accounts (because it’s a pain to change emails and then notify all your family and friends of your new address and still check your old address in case there are lingering emails that still arrive there—and a lot of commerce websites have your login be your email address… Netflix, for example), and Hotmail and Yahoo just don’t work that well in Linux. Even if you check your email with a browser instead of an email client, Yahoo! mail has limited functionality in Firefox or any non-Internet Explorer browser.
There are a lot of Windows applications that just do not have sufficient Linux equivalents. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard Quickbooks does not have a good Linux alternative. I’ve also heard that while GIMP is a very good graphics program, it lacks some of the features Adobe Photoshop has. Linux has a wealth of free applications—far more than Windows has, and without all the spyware—but for commercial applications and compatibility, Windows just can’t be beat. If you play a lot of computer games, Windows also cannot be beat for selection. My wife loves the Sims games and is bummed that it takes so long for them to be ported to Mac OS X. As far as I know, Sims does not get ported to Linux at all.
My point isn’t that Linux is a bad OS. In fact, I love it a lot. If it weren’t for iTunes (and, believe me, I’ve tried Muine, AmaroK, Rhythmbox, Juk, XMMS, and all the rest), I wouldn’t even be dual-booting—I’d go straight to a Linux-only desktop. You just can’t blame people for using Windows. Sure, a lot of people who just check non-Hotmail, non-Yahoo email, who surf the internet, and who write the occasional Word document, Linux is probably a more appropriate OS than Windows, but there are good reasons for a lot of people to use Windows.
Rare though they are (or at least rarely audible), I have to say Windows zealots are the worst of the bunch. I prefer Linux zealots to Mac zealots, but I prefer even Mac zealots to Windows zealots. I mean, Microsoft already dominates desktops around the world. Isn’t it something like 90% of desktops that are on Windows? Why rub it in? Being a Windows zealot is like being a white supremacist in America. You already rule—what else do you want? Despite spyware and virus problems, despite endless bugs, Windows zealots still think Windows is the best, bar none. Of course, rarely has the Windows zealot even bothered to give Linux or Mac OS X an honest try.
What They All Have in Common
No one can truly be objective about OSes, but, as someone who dual-boots a desktop with Windows XP and Linux and also uses a Mac OS X G4 Powerbook, I have to say that each operating system has its merits, faults, and ideal users. I laugh when Mac users complain about Windows’ “blue screen of death” because I’ve never seen a BSOD on Windows XP or Windows 2000. Control-alt-delete handles all instability or program crashes. Likewise, most criticisms of Mac OS X by Windows users are unfounded either because Windows users have not really explored OS X
or because they’re actually thinking of Mac Classic or OS 9. Linux users usually do have some exposure to other OSes but may have become so geeked out that they don’t realize how difficult it is for people who’ve grown up their whole lives with Windows to learn how to use Linux.
You should not force someone to use an OS. It’s like forcing someone to learn a new language. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to learn a new language, and being bilingual or trilingual can actually be useful and also be an enriching experience, but when it’s forced, it’s unpleasant and often builds resentment. I’ve also found that learning new languages is useless unless you have a way to practice that language. What’s the point of forcing someone to learn OS X if she doesn’t want to shell out the money to buy a Mac computer (even a Mac Mini with a decent amount of memory—512 MB of RAM—is $550. You can get an eMachine for the same price with twice the processing speed, four times the hard drive space, and three times as many USB slots… oh and a keyboard and mouse)?
So, which OS is best for you? I wish it were as easy as just “picking an OS.” Unfortunately, Mac OS X is tied to hardware—you can’t just install it on any computer you want. And it’s not easy to find a computer with Linux preloaded on it. If you get Linux, you probably will put it on a native Mac or Windows computer. Well, I’ll give you the basic run-down, anyway:
OS X: If you like a name-brand computer with slick-looking graphics, and you don’t want to worry about spyware and viruses, and you have enough money to shell out, and you don’t play a lot of video games, Mac OS X may be your OS of choice. It’s also handy for people who work heavily with graphics (graphic designers, for example). The ideal audience, though, is the clueless computer user—someone who knows almost nothing about computers and just wants to check email and surf the web. Even though that’s the ideal audience, Macs also appeal to total geeks who like tinkering under the unix-like hood of OS X and who like to memorize keyboard shortcuts that can sometimes involve as many as four keys pressed at once.
Linux: If you don’t mind doing a little bit of set up and learning of a new language, Linux may be for you. Unfortunately, if you’re tied to certain programs or proprietary software, you may have difficulty using Linux (see above part about Hotmail). The best part about Linux is that it’s almost always free (cost-wise), including the thousands of programs you can download. It’s also endlessly customizable. What pushed me to Linux this last time (the first time was spyware on Windows) was that customizing themes and styles in Windows required either money to Microsoft for some Plus thing or money to a third-party vendor for a special widgets-modifying program. Like Mac, Linux will appeal to both super-geeks and super-novices alike. The only difference is that Apple will preconfigure Mac OS X for you before you buy it. If you’re a novice Linux user, you’d better have an expert Linux user set up Linux for you.
Windows: If you game heavily, Windows is for you. If you use Hotmail and Outlook, Windows is for you. If you like “maintaining” your computer, Windows is for you (I’m talking about updating virus definitions in anti-virus software, defragmenting, scandisking, cleaning the registry, etc.). If you like cheap computers and don’t want to learn Linux, Windows is for you.
Find what’s best for you… but chill. It’s just an OS. Don’t be a zealot. Be a user. Be human.