Tuesday, 15 March 2016

What's in an operating system?

Windows, Mac OS X, Android, Linux, iOS, they all have their fans and detractors, but which is actually best?

Personally, I have spent the last 8 or so years avoiding Windows and refusing to pay the premium for Apple devices, so I've for the most part had desktop and laptop computers with Ubuntu Linux, and tablets and phones with Android. This changed a couple of months ago when I decided I needed a low end machine for travelling that was both tablet and laptop, so I bought a cheap Windows 10 convertible laptop/tablet. And it pretty much does everything I want it to do very nicely, even bits of coding. Oh and I also got a second hand Mac mini for a mobile app project I'm working on.

And this has all led me to the conclusion that really, for the majority of people, the operating system isn't important, especially for personal use. What most people do on computers is browse the web, send email, do a bit of document and spreadsheet writing and maybe photo editing. And you can get most major apps for both Android and iOS, and increasingly Windows phone. You can also avoid the 'Microsoft tax' if you use LibreOffice instead of MS office and Mozilla Thunderbird instead of Outlook, although to be fair Office 365 has made that cost much more manageable (I remember when I had an IT support business people got very shocked when buying new computers that they had to spend almost as much again on Office software). All the modern OS's are pretty slick in their own way.

So what's in an operating system? Well, if you are a developer, you are going to want to match what you're developing for. And of course Macs have the best reputation for 'creative' software, although I think Windows has pretty much caught up now. For me, since I still do a fair bit of my own development for Linux webservers, having a Linux machine to do that on makes it a lot easier. For everyone else, it probably doesn't matter that much.