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Windows, Mac, and Linux: The Real-World Implications of Your OS

With all the fanboys, power users, and geeks out there telling you which OS is best, it can be difficult to make a decision on what computer will best suit your business needs.

What exactly is an “OS,” and what does it have to do with the computer you’re trying to purchase?  The answer lies in that magical space between the physical world and the software world.

Mac vs. PC – Those are the OSes, right?

First, I want to explain that OS stands for “Operating System.” An OS is a piece of software that manages the resources in your computer. I generally find it helpful to think of the OS as the middleman between the physical world and the software world.

Let’s take a look at the differences between a Mac and a PC. In the physical world, the two aren’t very different anymore. They use the same kind of processors, the same kind of hard drives, and the same kind of memory. The big difference in the two is that Macs are vertically integrated. This means that Mac is very particular about the hardware that they use, and they write their OS to take full advantage of the hardware’s abilities. Conversely, PCs have highly interchangeable and customizable parts. The additional flexibility means that there is a natural loss in the stability and optimization of the hardware.

The bottom line is: Macs are very stable, but your options are limited and generally expensive. PCs are highly customizable and cheaper to build, but can be less stable and have a shorter shelf life.

History Lesson

Back in the day (like 5 years ago), Macs and PCs used to be very different. Macs used an entirely different processor architecture called RISC, or Reduced Instruction Set Computer.  PCs (“Personal Computers”) used CISC or Complex Instruction Set Computer. This is where the “Mac vs. PC” distinction really shined. RISC computers can go through many more instructions than a CISC processor can in the same amount of time, which was really great for big number-crunching applications. This made Macs a favorite for graphic designers and people who make movies because these applications require a lot of math.

CISC processors, however, continued to evolve and actually became faster. Eventually Mac decided to switch over to the CISC processors and leave RISC behind. In the end, Macs became PCs. However, Mac took with it the “Macs are better for designers” reputation and rebranded the term “PC” to mean “Not a Mac” through their famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials.

Windows, OSX, and Linux

Let’s take a look at the popular OS choices for a computer and explore the real-world benefits and disadvantages of each.

Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows is the most widely used Operating System in the world. Most software is available for Windows, and there are many programs that run only in Windows. This reason alone makes Windows a solid choice for business applications. Because of the vast selection of software available to Windows, a Windows-powered computer can be very flexible for your business needs. The problem with Windows is that the OS is expensive.  This cost is usually offset when you purchase your computer because it will come with Windows installed, but be aware that you can’t take the Windows disc from one computer and just install it on another. Operating system upgrades are also expensive because you’ll either need to buy a new computer or shell out the hundreds of dollars for an upgrade disc.

Mac OSX

Mac OSX is very quickly growing in popularity, but it is not yet as widely used as Windows. In my experience, Mac OSX crashes less often and is much more stable, prettier, and easier to use than Windows. The problem with Macs is the availability of software. Again, this industry is growing rapidly, and developers are generating Mac software more and more often. However, you’ll probably find that when you need software to fulfill a need in your business, you’ll have 10 options with Windows and only two or three options for a Mac. One of my favorite things about using a Mac is that when it’s time to upgrade my Operating System, it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. I can keep my Mac up to date with the latest and greatest for about $30.

Linux

If you have a hardcore techie in your life, you’ll probably hear about Linux. Linux has been around for a couple of decades now, but has always been something that only serious computer lovers used. Linux is a totally free Operating System that is open to any and all developers to work on. The great thing about Linux is that it’s free. You also have a lot of options, probably too many. Linux is just the start; there’s also Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, Fedora, Mint, and countless other Operating Systems that are based on Linux. Most of the software for Linux is also free, and that’s very cool. Here’s the problem though: free software is usually not as pretty or refined as software that you pay for.

Great – so what are the best options for my business?

In my opinion, the best option is to run Windows on a PC. This is the most common setup and will offer you the flexibility you will need when starting your business. Finding hardware options, software options, and support when you need it will be much easier with a Windows machine.

Using OSX on a Mac is what I use for my personal computing. Let’s face it, Macs are pretty and the cool thing to have these days. The secret weapon for Mac is not the prettiness; it’s the durability and maintainability of both the hardware and the software.

Linux on a PC is a fantastic option for servers and is actually the standard choice for servers. However, I can’t recommend Linux as a good choice for workstations. I want to, and one day I will be very happy to write an article on why Linux is the right choice for business workstations, but that day is not today.

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2 of 2 Comments see all

  1. Jason Huie

    Hi Chris,
    Personally, I’m with you 100%. To friends and family I recommend Libre Office; and I’m almost always for going with a Mac over a Windows machine. When it comes to running a business computer, however, I still hold that Windows and Office are the way to go. I recommend this setup not because it is superior, but because it is the standard.

    Libre Office is awesome and it’s free – but when you’re putting together a business document or presentation, the last thing you want is to send over the document to the board only to find out that when they open it in Office your margins are wrong and your paragraphs are indented in an unexpected way.

    As far as the Windows OS goes, the key here is the ubiquity of software. The first week of business, you’ll probably only need an office suite and some accounting software – but in the next several months, who knows what tools you’ll need to keep up with business. Coming from the high paced technology industry, I know that having the right tool to keep your business running smoothly and efficiently is key.

    Although my personal preference is a Mac with a specific set of software, I recommend going with something that has more potential for change. Running a business is a tricky thing and often times personal preferences are foregone because your business must cater to your customers. For a business, responsiveness and flexibility are paramount and, for now at least, Windows offers the maximum flexibility.

  2. Chris M

    Nice, balanced article. I can vouch for the durability of the mac. We have a 9 year old G4 that is finally starting to show its age. It was supported by Apple’s OS upgrades for 6 years. So yes, they cost more, but you can use them for much longer. Sure, PCs are cheap enough to buy one every three years, but you still have to set it up and transfer all your stuff over. I don’t care what anyone says, it is not a pleasant task for any OS.

    I disagree on the justification for the PC for business use, though, unless you need to run some very specialized, proprietary software package that is PC only. How many office suites or accounting packages do you need to run? Get a Mac, load up Open (Libre) Office and don’t look back. :)

  • Chris M

    Nice, balanced article. I can vouch for the durability of the mac. We have a 9 year old G4 that is finally starting to show its age. It was supported by Apple’s OS upgrades for 6 years. So yes, they cost more, but you can use them for much longer. Sure, PCs are cheap enough to buy one every three years, but you still have to set it up and transfer all your stuff over. I don’t care what anyone says, it is not a pleasant task for any OS.

    I disagree on the justification for the PC for business use, though, unless you need to run some very specialized, proprietary software package that is PC only. How many office suites or accounting packages do you need to run? Get a Mac, load up Open (Libre) Office and don’t look back. :)

  • http://www.choosewhat.com Jason Huie

    Hi Chris,
    Personally, I’m with you 100%. To friends and family I recommend Libre Office; and I’m almost always for going with a Mac over a Windows machine. When it comes to running a business computer, however, I still hold that Windows and Office are the way to go. I recommend this setup not because it is superior, but because it is the standard.

    Libre Office is awesome and it’s free – but when you’re putting together a business document or presentation, the last thing you want is to send over the document to the board only to find out that when they open it in Office your margins are wrong and your paragraphs are indented in an unexpected way.

    As far as the Windows OS goes, the key here is the ubiquity of software. The first week of business, you’ll probably only need an office suite and some accounting software – but in the next several months, who knows what tools you’ll need to keep up with business. Coming from the high paced technology industry, I know that having the right tool to keep your business running smoothly and efficiently is key.

    Although my personal preference is a Mac with a specific set of software, I recommend going with something that has more potential for change. Running a business is a tricky thing and often times personal preferences are foregone because your business must cater to your customers. For a business, responsiveness and flexibility are paramount and, for now at least, Windows offers the maximum flexibility.