Linux Vs. Mac: Which Is The Better Alternative To Microsoft Windows? - InformationWeek

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Linux Vs. Mac: Which Is The Better Alternative To Microsoft Windows?

If you're a Vista-wary Windows user who would rather switch than fight, should you move to a Linux distro or Apple's OS X? We asked a Mac fan and a Linux advocate to lead a guided tour of each OS.

The switch from Windows XP to Vista has created a world of opportunity -- not only for Microsoft, but for supporters of competing operating systems. While Microsoft is hoping it can move its customers easily to a new version of Windows, Apple and the Linux community see the transition as a chance to demonstrate the advancement and advantages of their OSes -- and maybe steal some customers.

If you're one of those Windows users who are less than enchanted by what you've seen of Vista and you're thinking about switching, you face some tough choices that can make you feel like a pioneer. Is it a good idea to move to a Mac, with its easy interface, high level of safety and stability -- and higher prices? Or is it better to adopt a Linux distro, which is free (or, at least, inexpensive), supported by a range of imaginative developers -- and not quite newbie-friendly? Either decision forces you into new, unfamiliar territory.

For answers, we went to two writers who have a great deal of experience with Windows PCs but have recently experimented with moving to either a Mac or Linux. Mitch Wagner is an executive editor here at InformationWeek who has become an enthusiastic Mac convert, while Serdar Yegulalp, who has written extensively about Microsoft Windows, is now exploring the world of Linux and Linux distros. In other words, while both like to tout the advantages of their newly chosen operating systems, they are also well aware of the drawbacks.

In the following pages, they lead a guided tour of the two OSes, paying particular attention to eight important areas: Installation & Migration; Hardware Support & Power Management; Networking, Web & Wireless; Productivity; Entertainment; Security; Working With Windows (because we couldn't completely ignore Microsoft); and Stability, Backup & Disaster Recovery.

Which is the better OS? Only you can decide --but you'll make a more informed decision after you've taken this tour, and you'll discover you have some companions on your journey.

Introducing: Linux

Linux has gone from being a project for open-source enthusiasts to one of the most powerful and important forces in the software world. It's also now shaping up to be an increasingly viable choice as a desktop operating system, thanks to the effort of both the volunteer community and the companies that are banking on Linux to move them forward.

It is, admittedly, not for everyone. I know both experts and regular users alike who have switched to it, as well as experts and regular users who have tried it and stayed with other things (whether Windows, Mac or another flavor of UNIX). But Linux is unquestionably drawing in more people than it did a decade ago, or even five years ago.

Because Ubuntu is shaping up to be one of the most popular personal distributions -- thanks to its easy installation, configuration, and support community -- I've focused mainly on Ubuntu during my discussion of Linux in this article. That said, I've also tried to keep an eye turned towards how Linux distributions in general sizes up in each of these categories. Linux still faces huge odds -- the entrenched success of both Windows and the Mac, for one -- but the presence of distributions like Ubuntu, and the fact that they're available through major PC vendors now, are strong signs of change.

-- Serdar Yegulalp

Introducing: Mac OS X

Up until the 1990s, companies like IBM and the Digital Equipment Corp. did it all. They designed their own chips, built their own system and storage hardware, wrote operating systems, provided applications, and provided service and maintenance for the whole thing.

Mac OS X

Now, that business model is obsolete. Computer vendors specialize. Intel provides chips, Microsoft provides operating systems and applications, Dell and other PC vendors provide hardware, Oracle provides databases, and so forth.

And then there's Apple.

If you buy a Mac, Apple provides the hardware, Apple provides the operating system, and Apple provides key applications such as calendaring, e-mail, and address book. You can buy your Mac in many places -- but Mac fans prefer to buy at the Apple Store. You can get service in many places, but Mac fans prefer to get it from Apple. You can use a variety of music players -- but the iPod (from Apple) works so well, and makes it so easy to download inexpensive music from Apple's iTunes Store, that most people don't even think of looking elsewhere.

Apple uses this old-school business model (in fact, Apple sales are growing faster than any other PC vendor's) to build a highly innovative, stable, and integrated platform for consumer and business computing.

-- Mitch Wagner

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