So, I think I’ll put the fractals at the top left of the post, so people can get to them quickly without having to plow through whatever I want to rant about on any given day.  I kinda like this one, it’s a really pleasant soft orange pattern.

But onto other stuff…

A friend, Xepol, made some good comments on my “All OS’s suck… Even Linux” post from a while back. I’m not going to say that I agree with everything he said (although some of it, I do agree with), just that he made some valid points.

I think the big thing, for the “Average Joe” to remember…  And probably even more so for the tech geeks who really get wrapped up in the debates around various OS’s, is that the three major operating systems out there have their own strengths and weaknesses.  Each one has it’s place, and it’s target user.  And within those bounds, the three major OS’s are all wondrous marvels.

Windows: We’ll start here because it’s ubiquitous.  And in a way, that’s part of it’s strength.  Odds are, if you have a Windows machine at home, you know it will run all the software you run at work.  Also, it will run all the software that your friends use.  It will work with any hardware you get from the computer store down the street.  Manufacturers design hardware with Windows in mind because, well, they’d be crazy not to.  As a manufacturer, you just don’t ignore 85-90% of the market.

Installing new software is relatively easy, and when it isn’t, it usually isn’t the fault of Windows.  Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make it simple for outside vendors to create easy to install software – so if it isn’t easy, it’s generally the fault of the software maker.

And whatever your complaints about the user interface may be, admit it…  It really didn’t take you that long to figure it out.  Keep in mind that, on a fundamental level, computers are outrageously complex, multi-use devices.  For the majority of people, Windows just isn’t that hard to figure out.

Mac/OSX: This one is actually a bit harder for me to talk about, because out of the three major environments, it’s the one I’m least familiar with.  But I do know a few of it’s strong points.

Firstly, it has an absolutely gorgeous User Interface.  Really.  It’s just really damn pretty, and quite simple to understand.  And aesthetics matter.  If you’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a monitor (as more and more of us do), it’s really nice for the interface to be nice to look at.  It just makes the whole experience that more pleasant.

And the UI is extremely well thought out, down to some very tiny details.

Also, the fact that it’s a vertically integrated environment means you can get some levels of reliability and performance that just aren’t possible with Windows (and maybe, I’ll admit, even Linux).  The same company designs the core hardware platform as designs the operating system.  And they design the two to mesh together very well indeed.  There’s a lot to be said for that.  And the hardware itself is well thought out, eye catching, with really high quality control standards.

The end result is you get a tightly controlled operating system, on a tightly controlled platform, all designed to work very well together.  And it does.

Of course, there are downsides to all this, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Linux: Ahh, Linux.  The OS of the mad scientist and uber nerd (sarcasm intended).  You can list Linux’s key strengths in three words.  Security.  Reliability.  Malleability.

Security: A well set up *nix box is truly a tough nut to crack.  There have been some highly misleading reports over the past few years about more holes being found in Linux on any given year than in either Windows or Mac OSX, but you have to understand the nature of how these holes are found (and fixed) to really get a grasp on how secure the system really is.  Linux is “Open Source” – which means that anyone who wants to can look right at the pre-compiled source code, and even edit it if they want to.  As a result, on any given day, there are far more people looking at the guts of Linux than any other operating system on the market, and most of these people are looking at it’s guts because they’re working with it.  In practice, this means that the person who discovers the vulnerability, is often the same person (or part of the team), that patches it.  So the vulnerability never really makes it out into “the wild” in the first place.

Reliability: Linux can be a pain to set up.  I’ll give you that.  But once you set it up and get it running…  It just runs.  And runs.  And keeps running. An example: About six months ago we retired an old server after we’d moved it’s functions onto a different physical box.  For shits and giggles, we printed out “Top” for the server, which listed a bunch of different stats, including total accumulated runtime – the length of time since the system had last been re-booted. It came in at 847 days.  Think about it.  That machine had run, without needing a reboot, for two and a half years straight.  When you look at High Availability infrastructures, you will invariably see Linux machines at their core.  As servers, their robustness is legendary.  The backbone of the Web is essentially Linux.  The latest stats show that 57.6% of active servers across the web run Linux on the back end.  If you include Google, nginx, and lighttpd (which are all Linux derivatives), then the total is 78.2% – almost as dominant in the server space as Windows is on the desktop.  It’s an often overlooked, but truly staggering statistic.  There’s a reason for this.  And that reason is reliability and scalability.  Cost, whatever some might argue, doesn’t actually enter into the equation here.  Downtime is more expensive than any difference in licensing fees for the operating system.

Malleability: Which is a fancy way of saying you can bend it to your will, reshape it, remake it, call it your own.  Because it’s open source, anyone can reshape Linux and customize it, in very fundamental ways, that just aren’t possible with any other distribution.  Don’t need a Graphical Desktop?  Then get rid of it – most distributions allow an install without it.  Only need a small chunk of it to do some very dedicated tasks?  No problem.  Feeling the need to sex it up with all kinds of desktop effects of dubious value? Go ahead (for other videos, search for “Compiz Fusion” on YouTube).Want one custom built for specific industries or consumers? Here’s a quick list of 10.  One page lists over 600 customized versions, and it doesn’t look all that up to date.

There’s a downside to all this “fragmentation”, as some would call it, but it’s also very useful.

So what the heck is my point? I still stand by my previous post, All OS’s Suck.  They all have their limitations and weak points.  At the same time, they’re all amazing, in their own way.  Just keep in mind the following questions the next time you want to decide on Operating System:

  1. What do I need it to do most?
  2. Which operating system does THAT the best?

Something to say?

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