Operating systems are largely taken for granted by the general population, who use computers to access emails, do a little Googling or perhaps post a quick update to their Twitter status. Even then, the few people I know who use Twitter all, more often than not, tweet from their cellphones. It’s a fact so often stated – even by Microsoft users themselves – that we have been desensitised to it: we’re just part of a monopoly. In any other case this would present the prime opportunity for a new player to enter; someone brave and bold, ready to challenge the likes of Microsoft and Apple for their coveted market share; yet for the decades that Microsoft and Apple have battled each other for operating system domination, this has not happened. The only remaining contender has been Linux and its countless flavours, which has been largely silent during the entire debacle. It will be very interesting to see how Google’s Chrome OS plays out.
I don’t claim to be an operating system guru, nor a historian of any kind. In fact having only been around long enough to witness Microsoft’s slow rise to power, I have actually been predisposed to appreciate Microsoft’s products as being fairly superior. Using our primary (elementary) school Macs (OS 8/9) was torture. Going home to our speedy, shiny, custom-built Windows 98 computer was like that feeling you get when you sink into a nice warm bubble bath… Clearly Windows was the way forward.
However what I knew of Windows as a child is much like the views of the majority of society today. I could not see any other way forward – and at that point perhaps I was right – but I closed off any other possibilities. It’s important in every respect not to narrow your sight. Granted- the majority of society probably doesn’t have any problem using Windows. Nor did I as a child.
Of course, in those days, most other kids felt the same. We were all Windows users, besides one boy I have known since intermediate school who has been a staunch Mac user his whole life.
It’s not until it comes to comparing the advantages of the two systems that you realise… well, there are only two systems.
For a long, long time, Windows served me fairly faithfully. Ours was very much a love-hate relationship. There were passionate times, deeply passionate times; but others could often be hurtful and violent. At times I would truly feel like leaving Windows for a fresher new operating system (OS X consistently more frequently became a highly viable alternative), but then it would begin to cooperate again and it reminded me why I gave it my heart.
I ran Windows XP until early 2009 when the Windows 7 beta was released, at which time I installed it on a rainy day and ended up never going back. The moment Windows 7 was released I grabbed a 3-license copy for the family computers. And it worked. It worked very well. It worked so much better than XP did. But it wasn’t perfect.
Unfortunately, I don’t like OS X. This can be impossible to understand for even those who know me well – and I don’t blame them for it is quite the dilemma. OS X is a beautiful operating system, I do not disagree. In 2007 when I began working full time during my school break (as a holiday job) at a local design company, and during almost every break since, I used an iMac running 10.4 exclusively. More recently I have begun work part time such that I have full control over the iMac (albeit still running 10.4), and so I feel that I can finally safely say that it is not for me. It is beautiful, but its functionality is severely impaired. There are numerous reasons for this but suffice those that break the deal for me (which are probably the oddest you will have ever heard): mouse control and the dock. It still eludes me as to why there are those who seek to implement a dock in Windows (and even in Linux), but to each their own. I don’t seek to argue over the merits of operating systems; I expect by many I would be condemned for my loyalty to Windows, but that’s the wrong attitude to have. I find that there are a countless number of lies among operating systems and their users, the vast majority a result of simple misguidance and misconceptions.
What I personally find most infuriating with both of these operating systems is that nothing can be changed, and as I have grown as a more advanced user this has been an increasingly greater impact on me. As the user of one of these operating systems, you are totally at the mercy of its developers. Everything is static. There are a few things that can occasionally be roughly hacked to function more or less in the desired way, but these can be hard to come by… particularly for Macs.
A few years ago – in 2006 in fact, so I was just a wee lad – I installed Ubuntu 6.10. My first Linux distro. And it fascinated me. Beryl (Compiz) was mindblowing. Okay, it was impossible to use, but everything was changeable. Everything, as long as I knew how to do it.
So my Ubuntu adventure did not last too long after all. I went back to Windows XP, and pressed on. Some day, maybe, I would give it another go.
As it happens, I did, several times. Between then and now, I installed a few more Ubuntu distros, mainly to keep up with what was changing. Surface features have, but one tends to find that the things that really matter have been there from the beginning. Which is slightly frightening when you think about how long Windows and OS X haven’t had some of these features. Each of these times though, Ubuntu was still too difficult to use for day-to-day activities. Despite how absolutely awesome it was.
Last year, I converted our old family computer to a media server – though probably not the best machine for the job, a gigantic case housing the loudest Pentium 4 processor you’ve ever heard, I had no other choice – and formatted the previous Windows XP operating system to install Ubuntu 9.04. For this purpose, Ubuntu has been fantastic. Ubuntu too has come a long way over the years and admittedly it will no longer function with the elegance it once did on a single-core processor, integrated graphics and 512 megabytes of memory (I suspect the processor being primarily to blame), but it works. For the first time, I felt I could use it for what I needed to use it for. It even did a much better job of it than Windows or OS X would have, for the most part.
Earlier this year I installed Ubuntu 10.04 upon its release, as the result of persuasion from a friend after she was introduced to, and also fascinated by Kubuntu. A regular person, I thought… well, if she would use it given the chance, surely I should be able to.
I was wrong.
It took some acclimatisation, and in the beginning I did use Windows almost all of the time, but I kept wanting to go back to Ubuntu even if it didn’t do what I wanted it to. I continued to mostly use Windows until September, when I used Ubuntu one day… and then the next, and the next. And after that, Windows didn’t feel natural any more.
There are things I can’t do – probably the most signficant being that I cannot use Photoshop. Or any of the Adobe suite. But I can use WINE (an application used to run Windows application on *nix systems), and so for basic web design I can make do with an old version of Photoshop CS. For a functionally beautiful environment to be hindered by a single application is truly sad, and so I don’t intend to let this ruin my enjoyment of the operating system.
I don’t think you should switch to Ubuntu if you are comfortable with Windows or OS X; that’s fine, they can be easy to use, and are great for certain purposes. But keep it in mind. Let other people know about it if they’re frustrated by Windows’ little quirks, or the funky mouse acceleration of OS X. With support, it will be possible for Linux to be a viable alternative for everyone, for every purpose. If it can already be as amazing as I see it to be, imagine what it could become with the majority market share, and in all of its countless flavours.
Thus, help me. When I can have my Photoshop for Linux, my experience will be complete.