Mac OS X: The Grand Unified Platform

No OS is perfect, but by combining the ease of use that Windows users expect, and the eminent hackability of the *NIX platforms, OS X makes a great case for a one-size-fits-all solution.Full disclosure: I am a traditional Mac Zealot. I have been using the Mac since 1988, and I haven’t really looked back. However, I have spent considerable time using other machines, and in true OSNews Geek fashion, I have spent equally considerable time playing with other operating systems. Like many, I toil daily on the Windows platform, but I come home to my Mac for real fun, and to get real work done.

Windows is popular in the business world because it works. In the mid-’90s, it offered a shiny GUI that CIOs understood, and hosted all the business apps that allowed their worker bees to get the job done. Slick marketing and an accessible development platform sealed the deal. Today, if you enter any workplace, chances are you’ll find Windows PCs sitting on every desktop…including my own. Once the penetration levels were complete at work, it began at home, and now you find Windows mindshare is at least as great as its market share.

But just because you can do anything with Windows, doesn’t mean it’s the best overall computing experience. The cracks are appearing in the Microsoft monopoly’s facade: increasing feature bloat, lagging performance on ever-faster hardware, security nightmares thanks to ever-more-interoperable software.

For the average Windows user on a broadband connection, it’s a bad, bad world. I’m sure many of you have had the experience of supporting family and friends through constant pop-ups, crippled systems and other bizarre behaviour. In fact, I’m already set up to visit my in-laws this weekend for yet another “cleaning session”.

The facts are becoming too huge to ignore: Windows has become a liability. Not for everyone, surely, but for the majority of the average, non-technical crowd, it’s become a weight they don’t even know they’re carrying.

Some people are looking elsewhere. For the Intel crowd, there’s Linux, a gorgeous, ideologically-pure OS with every capability that Windows has…except for usability. Look, I’m right there with the Penguin crowd, desperately wanting a super-slick Linux desktop, but it’s just not there, folks. For those without a qualified Geek nearby, Linux is simply an unattainable fantasy, something certainly hyped to a great extent, but nothing they’ll be able to manage on their own. (One caveat to this point: I would love to try out a PC that has Linux pre-installed. I wonder what kind of out-of-the-box experience I’d get with that.)

We’ve all heard stories of people who have turned away from Windows to check out Linux, but most of the time, they become frustrated and head back to the safety of the Start menu. Despite Windows’ shortcomings, when you boot into it, things just work for the most part, and you don’t have to hit the command line to get that damned sound card to work.

At present, I see only one viable alternative to Windows, and that’s the Mac. It stands toe-to-toe with Windows on a usability level, and while the masses of OSNews readers will quibble about this feature or that feature, the fact is, you can reliably interchange one computer for the other, and you don’t need a degree in Nerdology to make it happen.

The groupthink on computing states that the Mac is an “artsy” platform, suitable mostly for graphic and publishing work. I deny that: the Mac is suitable for anything you care to compute (Save games. But if you’re hardcore into games enough that a PC is your way to go, you should be looking into a console anyway). The Mac has its own fair share of applications for business and home use; you just have to know where to find them. Apple’s own Product Guide is a terrific place to start.

Furthermore, Mac OS X is built on a UNIX foundation, and thus enjoys the benefits of open source development: rock-solid stability even on older hardware, and a host of applications available. For Linux users who are seeking the power of their original platform, but are sick of dealing with compile errors and dependency problems, OS X is the best of both worlds.

For the Windows user looking for a fresh start, OS X is a compelling option. The chief burdens on Windows today — virii, security breaches and overwhelming choices — are defeated by the Mac’s simplicity. Its small market share means it has yet to be the target of a virus writer; it comes out of the box way more secure than Windows; plus, the smaller development community produces titles that are of consistently higher quality, and available for much less (including free) than their Windows counterparts. Check MacUpdate for the best in Mac shareware and freeware.

The Mac is not for everyone. But for those who are not dependant on the Windows platform, and looking for a change, the Mac presents a wonderful option. You owe it to yourself to look past the hype, and try it out.

About the author:
Aaron Vegh is a newsletter editor and freelance publisher based near Toronto, Canada. His machines include a RedHat 9 server, Gentoo laptop and his beloved G4.


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