posted by David Adams on Mon 25th May 2009 21:22 UTC
IconOver the years, we've occasionally run an "Ask OSNews" feature, wherein a reader asks us a question and we answer it publicly. Lately I've really been enjoying Slate's Dear Prudence advice column and the ever-interesting Straight Dope, and I thought we should see if we can get more OSNews readers to submit questions, and turn Ask OSNews into a more-regular thing. If your question falls outside of our domain expertise, we'll try to track down an expert to help out. And of course, our responses will always be supplemented by further advice from OSNews readers in the comments. Questions are welcome on any topic ranging from OSes and computing to science and geek culture. Contact us with your questions. (Please include "Ask OSNews" in the subject). Today's question is from a young student in Hungary who's seduced by the faraway siren song of Apple's marketing and wonders, "should I switch?"

Dear OSNews,

I'm a student in Hungary, 19 years old and looking to buy a notebook, but I'm a little bit confused. Several times I have used Unix/Linux OSes like FreeBSD, Debian, Ubuntu (and windows too). Honestly I always found Windows better for desktop and daily use. These days I use the Windows 7 beta and it is good. UI is friendly, fast, still stable and working well.

But, I always wanted to try OSX. I just sometimes think that I wouldn't have problems with OSX, it will be always stable, fast, reliable system. Windows sometimes slow, freezes, crashes, sometimes it gets broken and I have to reinstall it, etc.

But I've never used OSX before, so I don't know whether what I think is real or not. The only thing that I know is that a "normal" notebook is much cheaper than an Apple one and I'm not so rich, so I'm looking for a reliable notebook with a reliable OS for a long time.

I just want to know your opinion about the operating systems. I'll use it for internet, movie playing, music, e-mail, etc. Maybe sometimes edit a music or a movie.

What do you think? Is Apple worth its price? Is OSX really so good? Or is it just the good marketing strategy's effects on me? Would it be better to buy a normal good notebook and install windows 7? Thank you for reading and answering.

- Thinking Different in Hungary

OSNews responds:

When people tell me they want to buy a new computer and ask me what OS they should consider, I always ask them if they have a friend that they would take their computer to if there was a problem with it. If they say yes, then I say, use whatever operating system that person uses.

And that's not a joke. We're blessed now in that we have three perfectly good major OS families. Setting aside the emerging, hobbyist, "antique," and oddball OSes, which require a fair bit of dedication, if you go with one of the biggies, you're likely to have an overall positive experience. Now there are of course tradeoffs: with Windows you get a huge library of commercial software and you're unlikely to find a peripheral or hot new service you can't use, but you'll be using an OS that's been compromised by backward compatibility and is bogged down by layers of legacy cruft intended to satisfy Microsoft's differing, sprawling OS markets. With Linux, you have the ability to customize and tune the OS to your exact needs, and all the software you'll need will be free. On the downside, you'll have to customize and tune it to your needs and you'll be limited to all the free software you can find. With OSX, you're dealing with the advantage of an OS that's been developed for a small, known ecosystem of hardware components, guided by a tyrant who hasn't been afraid to throw legacy out the window and force everyone to upgrade. But unless you pay the premium for official Apple hardware, you're in for an adventure.

As for me, I've been using Macs for so long that I'm "that guy" to my friends, so I can encourage people I know personally to buy Macs. I really like OSX, and I'm willing to pay a little more for Apple hardware. But I live in the US, where the price premium isn't nearly as high as in Europe. I also use Windows Vista everyday, and it's a perfectly good OS. I'm pretty sure Windows 7 will be much improved over Vista, and I'm looking forward to its final release.

If you've grown up with Windows, then both Linux and OSX will be a little difficult at first due to familiarity. It can be hard to make Linux do everything you might want your computer to do, just because it's not mainstream, and you might not have the software you want. But if you just use the basic apps that come installed with the distribution, it will probably be more reliable and safe than Windows. Same with Macs. Macs have the added advantage over Linux that there's more chance that the commercial app or web service you want is likely to be supported.

But my advice to you is going to have to be to stick to Windows. It sounds like Windows is familiar to you, so the kinds of challenges that someone who is new to Windows would find vexing are just a part of the landscape for you. I just looked up the prices for Apple computers in Hungary, and the entry-level unibody Macbook costs the equivalent of $1840 USD, compared to $1299 in the US. I really like the Unibody Macbooks. But I think that $1299 is about $200 more than it should be already, so $1840 is just ridiculous.

Now, your other option is to buy a non-Apple laptop that uses components that are supported by OSX and go through the process to get OSX running on it. You can see a list of hardware support here. I'll warn you that the install isn't for computer neophytes, and you're likely to have to make compromises, ranging from webcams and microphones not working, to the sleep function not working, and you'll never know whether an OS upgrade will bring new problems. But if you're up for an adventure, there's no harm in trying. If you're not successful in making a hackintosh, just reformat and install Windows. Now, Apple doesn't want you to do all this, but I'd say that even though they claim not to want your money, you should buy a legitimate copy of OSX if you decide to stick with the hackintosh. This method may not yield an acceptable computing experience for everyday use, but will at least demystify the Mac OS experience for you, and stop you asking "what if?"

I'm sure our readers might have something to add to this conversation. Please include your advice to our friend in Hungary in the comments.

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