Computers Windows

Should you stick with Windows?

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Macs (trying to provide an unbiased view). The question of Mac v. PC (“PC” meaning “Windows PC,” unfortunately; Linux seems to get left out of the picture completely) often comes up for Windows users thinking about whether they should switch to Mac or not. So the natural flip side to that question is: should you stay with Windows? Is it even worth exploring alternatives like Mac or Linux?

Well, obviously if you like Windows and enjoy using it, you should stick with it. But it’s not usually those who enjoy Windows who ask about Mac or Linux. It’s usually the dissatisfied Windows users—the ones who imagine Mac or Linux offer a perfect world of trouble-free computing.

So, to you restless Windows users, I have a few questions for you (answer honestly):

  • Is vast consumer hardware selection important to you, especially for base models (not as much peripherals)? Would the thought of researching hardware compatibility before a purchase make you shudder?
  • Do you use any Windows-only software? (AutoCAD, OneNote)
  • Do you own a Zune?
  • Do you often like to play the latest commercial game on your computer (not on a gaming console)?
  • Do you hate learning new ways of doing things?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, I would highly recommend you stay with Windows. If you worry about Windows crashes and security issues, here is what you should do: back up everything, reinstall Windows, set up a limited user account you use all the time, set Windows updates to install automatically, use Firefox with the NoScript extension, educate yourself about social engineering, and stop pirating! Do all that, and you won’t have to deal with (useless) antivirus software, excessive crashing or slowness, and various security compromises.

Now, if you answered “No” to all of those questions, then you may actually be a prime candidate for a switch to Mac or Linux. Windows is not a bad product, despite all the bad-mouthing it gets from some Mac and Linux zealots. Unfortunately, though, it has been shoved down students’ and employees’ throats all over the world to the point where a lot of folks are just crying out for alternatives.

There are various reasons (which I outlined in my last post) you might want to switch to Mac OS X. The biggest one I can think of for considering it as a Windows alternative over Linux is if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Apple has made it difficult to get those devices working without iTunes. The ways to get those working in Linux are complicated and often end up obsolete in the face of firmware upgrades.

You might be a prime candidate for Linux, though, if you are a dissatisfied Windows user who avoids iPods altogether (or has an older-model iPod), especially if you don’t have enough money for a Mac and if you primarily email, web browse, lightly word process, organize photos, and listen to music. Linux can do a lot more than that, too, but if you are a professional graphic designer or video editor, you’re probably better off with a Mac.

The best thing about switching to Linux from Windows is that it can be done in slow steps and for free. You can run Linux inside a Windows session (using portable Ubuntu), you can run Linux as a virtual operating system inside Windows (using VirtualBox or VMWare), you can run Linux as a dual-boot with Windows (using Wubi or a traditional repartitioned drive), you can run Linux as a “live” session that doesn’t affect your hard drive at all (just using your RAM and a CD or USB drive), and, of course, you can install Linux right over Windows (though I would recommend that only as a last step).

I’d really like people to get rid of these stupid OS (operating system) wars. Mac isn’t better. Windows isn’t better. Linux isn’t better. There is no better. There is only better for you. It’s all about assessing your needs and your means. If you need Windows-only programs, you’re going to need it (Sorry, but Wine does not work 100%). If you like Windows, use it. If you like Mac OS X, use it. If you like Linux, use it. You actually can use all three (you don’t necessarily have to choose).

At the end of the day, an operating system is only a platform to run applications and manage devices. If your operating system runs the applications you need and manages the devices you own, then you’re set. Switching from Windows to something else isn’t a magic bullet that brings you to computing nirvana. My wife is happy she switched to Mac, and she would never go back to Windows, but she still has problems from time to time. Likewise, I’m happy I switched to Linux, and I would never go back to Windows, but I still have problems from time to time. Computers aren’t magic. They’re wonderful machines that sometimes have problems.

Apple and Mac OS X Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Sometimes I will get PC about “PC”

Yes, I’m a former English teacher, and I tend to be a stickler about word choice, phrasing, and grammar. I’m not ridiculous, though. If you want to split your infinitives, I really couldn’t care less. If you say you could care less when you really couldn’t care less, then I’ll get irritated.

But I don’t mind when people say Kleenex to mean tissue or Xerox to mean photocopy. After all, when someone asks for Kleenex and gets a Walgreens tissue, she usually won’t complain, as long as she can blow or wipe her nose. Likewise, someone asking for you to Xerox a paper really just wants a copy made. If you make a copy on a Canon instead, she is highly unlikely to grill you, “I said Xerox. Are you sure you used a Xerox to make this copy? You didn’t sneak over to the Canon copier?”

Language, after all, is about consensus about meaning. If someone says Kleenex, and we all understand it to mean tissue, then there isn’t a problem. Sometimes, though, there are problems with consensus. In some parts of America, carbonated beverages are referred to as cokes. Coke is coke. Dr. Pepper is coke. Pepsi is coke. In other parts of the country, they’re referred to as pop, soda, or soft drinks. In England, they’re called fizzy drinks. Eventually, somehow, we come to understand each other with regard to those yummy caffeine sugar cans.

Then there is the whole Mac and PC thing.

With Apple’s recent “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign, now more than ever rich people are asking whether they should buy a Mac or a PC. Of course, some snarky Windows users will counter that Macs are PCs, since PC originally stood for personal computer. Unfortunately, now, PC means Windows PC, and they need to recognize that change. I recognize it, and I say it’s unfortunate because it leaves alternative operating systems (say, Linux-based ones) out of the question completely.

So when people say “PCs have problems with viruses and spyware,” I do have to correct them and say, “You mean Windows PCs.” If Macs and Windows PCs were the only personal computers out there, I’d be fine with them equating PC with Windows PC, but a non-Kleenex will soak up your mucus the same as a Kleenex will; a Windows PC is a completely different experience from a Linux PC, though. We Linux users may be few, but we exist, and the English language should reflect that existence. After all, we have words in the English language people don’t even use (for examples, watch the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.).