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Vista Sucks... And Other Half Truths

Apr 17, 2008
Gotcha with the title, didn't I? The truth about Vista, or any other operating system, is wholly dependent on what you are using it for. Today, I'd like to take a look at various operating systems, and their uses. We'll examine MAC, Windows, and Linux in a manner as unbiased as I can possibly make it.

I'll be taking a look from the standpoint of the an average user. What defines the average user? For the purpose of this article, the average user wants to surf the internet, use a word processor or office suite, edit their photos and possibly some video from the family reunion. They want to stay virus free as they do it, and have the computer work without a problem for long periods of time. They can solve basic problems, and occasionally require their teenager or second grader to explain a pop-up menu. They use Windows at work, but only for very basic functions. I don't plan on ignoring the more sophisticated user, but I will not be using that perspective in this article.

With all that said, we'll start with Windows, as it has the highest installed user base of all the operating systems. Currently, the two newest versions that are still supported by Microsoft are Windows XP and Vista. While most windows PC's share almost the same advantages and flaws, there are some major differences that I will cover.


For starters, the main advantage that Windows has over other operating systems is it's ubiquity. You can't throw a rock without hitting a Windows system. Because of how common Windows actually is, you'll have a tough time finding a game, application, or piece of hardware that is not supported by Windows. If a manufacturer of any product wants to make money, then they'll support Windows. As far as surfing the internet goes, the same thing applies. It's relatively easy to connect the internet, and most things are handled for the average user in the background. Easy. What about an Office Suite? Well, Microsoft is the manufacturer of Office. Yet again, works flawlessly. For the average user, this is great.

Now, let's examine a few of the advantages of XP and Vista separately. If OS versions were people, XP is the 40 year old accountant with a good credit history, 2.5 kids, and a wife he married straight out of high school. He's pretty stable. This operating system has been tweaked and patched until it turned into what most people(even people who hate Microsoft) would term a good operating system. Hardware generally works straight out of the box, and as advertised. Graphically, it's not bad, but it wasn't made to blow your mind. Printer support is very good, and if new hardware is installed, you may not even have to install the driver. Known as "plug-n-play", this was one of the key features introduced in XP, and it 's support has improved with each service pack.

Vista, on the other hand, was touted as a release for the multimedia set. It's Aero graphical component has made windows flashier. It's visually more attractive than XP, and has increased security features. It's alright for the average user. Printer support is excellent, and "plug-n-play" has evolved even further.

Now, to the disadvantages. Their are many complaints about Microsoft and their operating systems. Let's start with what may be the most common for the average user: My programs stop working for no apparent reason. A program failure could be a problem with the operating system, or the program running on that operating system. The problem with Microsoft is often the way in which their operating system handles the problem. Instead of just stopping the program, many times Windows will lock up without warning, and the user will lose whatever they were working on. Inevitably, it will be during something extraordinarily important. Then, there's Digital Rights Management. DRM tells you where, when, and how you can play your music or video. In more extreme cases, it can shut down your sound card and your graphics card. Why? Because Windows may not have verified whether they are considered "secure" audio or video sources. This could make the average user's head spin. They own the CD or DVD, but Microsoft says they can't play it, because they are not sure that you aren't using the hardware to steal. Huh? What about upgrade problems? About those....

Let's talk about the disadvantages of upgrading from XP to Vista. Most people were reasonably happy with XP. It did what they wanted to. It crashed occasionally, but they could find what they needed to with relative ease. It ran pretty fast, even though their machine was starting to age a little. Then they upgraded to Vista. Suddenly, their previously nice audio card wasn't supported. Their processor wasn't fast enough, and the upgrade alone filled up a large chunk of their hard drive. Here's the kicker: many of their kid's games didn't work anymore. The complaints flew. The internet still worked, and they could still use Office. Now everything just runs slower. It still works well for the average user. If you are anyone other than that user, you are up the creek. Let's not forget the outside threats. Most viruses are still written for Windows, they can still destroy it, steal data, and you will still spend half your life "allowing" Windows to do things. If you don't know what I mean by that, you obviously aren't running Vista.

Yes. That was the independent, unbiased version. If you think I am joking, Google "Vista Problems" and see if I am not being extraordinarily kind in comparison. The next operating system I will cover is the Mac. The religious fervor of the average Mac user is enough to convert any basic PC user...that is...until they see the price of one of those glorious pantheons of modern design... As a non-owner, let me just go on record as saying this in praise of the Mac:

They are by far, the most beautiful machines I have ever laid eyes on. If you can see a Mac, and not instantly want one, then you are not human. Everything thing about it screams "buy me", and if money is not an object, you probably should. Everything is included. It just works. They have anticipated the average user's needs and catered to them, down to the tiniest detail. Basic video editing and sound are incredible, to say nothing of the more advanced software suites that you can buy. Mac is THE choice for audio, video, and graphics professionals. It is highly stable, and you may never have to install anti-virus software. Ever.

So what's the problem:

As mentioned earlier, when you look at the Mac as opposed to a traditional PC, the cost is quite a bit more. How much more? Well, between 25%-33% more to be exact. To the average PC user, that is some serious sticker shock. That's pretty high if all you want to do is send some email, and type a document. Then there's the game side of things...many games simply are not made for this operating system. There is remedy for this, which I will discuss later. Drivers for third-party graphics cards are released more slowly. Then there's the upgrade cycle. While Microsoft may release new operating systems every 3 years, Apple may release a new version every 6 months. If you choose that upgrade...you'll pay $130 a pop...and you'll like it. Hope you have deep pockets.

Did that sound too flowery? Sorry. It's a good system, but costly. You do get what you pay for. Full Disclosure: I run the next operating system 100% of the time on my PC for home and work, so I am well acquainted with the inherent advantages and disadvantages of Linux.

As most people who run Linux are, I am fairly evangelistic when it comes to my OS. In the "PRO" column, Linux has a few distinct advantages over the other OSes. For starters, it's free. 100% all of the time. There are a ton of different flavors of Linux, for every specific application under the sun. While there are many arguments in the Linux community as to which is the best distro, for the average user there is only one that is easy enough to use: Ubuntu. That is the one I will be reviewing here. For starters, getting online with Ubuntu is as easy or easier as it was in XP. Choose your network, and you are online. Since Microsoft does not make Office for Linux, and since the Linux community isn't much on paying for stuff, there is a an Office suite known as OpenOffice that does as much or more than its Microsoft cousin. It is pre-loaded when you install Ubuntu. As far as upgrading goes, that is easy as well. You just search for the type of application you would like to install, check the box next to it, and voila!..no muss, no fuss. If you want to take it for a test drive, you can download a so-called "live" cd that will allow you to preview it on your computer, without installing it to your hard drive. How's that for "no commitment required"?

Here comes the "CON" column. If something does not work, you are going to have to get familiar with the command line, and editing text documents. You just are. There is not a way around it. Linux is generally pretty good at recognizing things right out of the box, but when it fails, it's going to take some trial and error to get it to work. Printer support is also not as good as it could be. If you have an HP, you are pretty much covered. Buy a Lexmark or an Epson, and prepare to be underwhelmed. There's the catch 22, if you are an average user, and everything works right out of the box, then Linux will be great for what you need. If you are prepared to learn how to get things working, then you will cease to be an average user. However, since printer support can be iffy, you may still need to print things off on a Mac or Windows box. As to support for any type of games....if you can't play it in your browser, then you won't be able to play it without some modifications to your OS (This applies to commercially released, popular games only, not community developed games.)

With all these options, how do you know which one is right for you? The beauty is, you don't exclusively have to use just one of these any more. You can boot more than one of these operating systems on the same machine, and have all the strengths of any one of these. Thanks to the switch that Mac has made to a different architecture, you can run Windows and Mac OS together. Play games on Windows, check your mail, listen to music, and edit your movies on your Mac. Try out free software and stay virus free by using Linux, and print your documents in Windows. Find out what works for you, and if it works for you, use it. The purpose of an operating system is allow you to communicate with your PC, and for it to be able to communicate with the rest of the world.

This article is not meant as an exhaustive guide for all users, just the most common ones. While those of us who have more in-depth knowledge may have 1,000 ways to claim that our OS is supreme, they just don't apply to most users. So if Grandma wants to use Vista, and your Dad is scared of Linux...please, let these people be. Let them use the OS that fits their needs.
About the Author
Kurt Hartman is an avid Linux user. He is ardently for open source initiatives, and spends a good portion of his time trying to explain why his desktop has no "Start" button. His primary function is OTR Analysis and Tech support for a company that sells giant tires online. Check out the otr tire blog he contributes to. Or don't, if you want to be that way.
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