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Linux, Mac OS X, Vista and XP: head-to-head

Operating systems at war - but who wins?

When it comes to an OS, what should you choose? Each of the four biggest players; Linux, Mac OS X, Windows Vista and Windows XP all have their merits. So we've taken four experts and asked them to defend their chosen operating systems in an opinionated free-for-all.

Mac OS X: All you need in one dynamite package

Michael DeAgonia

Computing nirvana isn't difficult to find. If you want a simple-to-use computer that can run virtually any application you need on stylish hardware that gives you easy online access and instant connectivity to all types of satellite devices, just go to an Apple store and buy a Macintosh.

A complete software/hardware ecosystem

When it comes to integration, no other operating system can boast the unity of purpose and results that exist on the Mac platform. While the competition is busy mashing feature after feature into poorly designed products, Apple focuses on what's important: creating a software/hardware ecosystem that gets out of the way so you can do what you bought a computer to do; work, make movies, build web sites, communicate or crunch data.

You know what I'm taking about - all those annoying little things that add up when using Windows. Plug in a mouse on a PC, and a little dialog box pops up exclaiming that it just sensed you plugged in a mouse, and after installing the driver, it's ready to go! This isn't a shuttle launch; I just plugged in a mouse. I'll know the operating system recognises it as soon as I can move the pointer, so stop bugging me with alert boxes!

Apple's relentless attention to detail has created a world where hardware and software are equally polished. So polished, in fact, that a wireless mouse, an iPod or an iPhone feels more like a natural extension of the Mac than a separate device.

For those still stuck with Windows, that kind of experience remains a mirage, always just over the horizon. With Vista, users get an operating system that comes in six (yes six!) different versions, all of them with driver issues. Many older PCs can't handle the operating system, and even a lot of those newer 'Vista Capable' machines may not be so capable after all.

Sure, you could try Linux. But the kind of integration I'm talking about isn't possible in Windows, never mind Linux. When software and hardware engineering and design are divvied up among multiple companies and communities, each with its own agenda, complete hardware/software unification is just not a realistic expectation. (I'll give devotees an A+ for effort, though.)

Elegance and ease of use

The glue that binds the hardware is the operating system, and Mac OS X 10.5, aka Leopard, has elegance and ease of use baked right in. Leopard easily leads the pack in terms of security, ease of installation, maintenance and integration of applications whose learning curves are so minimal Apple doesn't even bother with full manuals. That isn't an accident.

Let me just reel off a few Mac OS X advantages:

  • Drag-and-drop application installs
  • Notifications written in real English and not Geek-English
  • One-click, set-and-forget automatic backups that people actually use
  • The ability to peer inside files without having to launch an app
  • Tech support that doesn't involve being bounced between different companies
  • Inherent security with no real-world exploits, despite dire warnings every year
  • A clean and consistent look throughout the operating system and applications

Run any application in the world

Other operating systems have their strengths. Windows is ubiquitous; it isn't going anywhere soon. And the collective hive of developers working to make Linux better is impressive. But Apple's switch to the Intel architecture, along with today's impressive virtualisation software, means Macs can now run those other operating systems and at full speed. That gives you access to software across all three platforms, letting you work and play without walling yourself off from the rest of the computer world.

NEXT PAGE: The security features of Mac OS X

  1. We put Linux, Mac OS X, Windows Vista and Windows XP: head-to-head
  2. Why Linux is best
  3. Linux: clean, friendly and powerful interfaces
  4. Apple's attention to detail
  5. The security features of Mac OS X
  6. Vista's tweakability and extras
  7. Why Vista beats other operating systems hands down
  8. XP's security features
  9. The bottom line when it comes to XP


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