In all fairness after all my issues with OS X there are still things I like and even love about OS X.
When I talk about functional I’m comparing it more to Linux. The Windows operating system is pretty much mature to the extent of OS X but in all honesty Linux still has a fair way to go for the desktop market share. I say this as a Linux user for over 3 years now. Any long time (or even regular) Linux user can possibly tell you of issues they have with Linux. Multiple desktops or even getting video out on a projector can still be an issue for Linux users. This can be seen in the opening of the “Linux Sucks” by Bryan Lunduke from the Linux Action Show (now renamed to the Computer Action Show to cover a wider range of topics). MP3, DVD and other codec support has some licensing and legal issues. Installing applications can be an issue too. I have to say I love the way that OS X application installation is done, and I believe BSD is similar to this. For OS X, typically you have an installer (similar to application installing on Windows) or you just drag and drop the application to the “Applications” folder: simple and easy. With Linux there are various ways to install applications depending on your distribution. For Debian based applications you can have .deb files that you double click and it installs similar to installers for Windows, however if there are unmet dependencies the installation will fail. You will have to hunt for the dependency, install that before you can install your application. Now this process is simplified with “apt-get” or variations based on it via the command line or a graphical user interface such as Adept. “apt-get” is great that it brings all software into one searchable index but having a single installer file that requires just a double click to install and ensures the application will work on any single Linux platform is still missing, making it hard to distribute applications on any sneakernet or person to person.
Compared to Linux I believe the “Macs just work” tagline is mostly true, but there is a caveat in that they work according to how Apple wants you to use it. There a issues that I’ve mentioned and just some features you don’t even get. In Snow Leopard‘s enhancements it states that only now you can “Restore deleted items to original folders” and put “Date in menu bar”. Honestly that is pathetic considering Windows has had these features for years. Features that are missing may not be ground breaking but it can be annoying and somehow it feels that you are being forced to use your computer in a certain manner rather than having the freedom of actually using the OS.
More Hardware Compatibility
I compare this solely with Linux as Linux typically gets the least support from hardware manufacturers and I can understand that from a business level: there are not enough users to justify developing a Linux driver and with respect to the packaging problem with different distributions it makes it even more costly to get a general installer. Linux hardware support can be great and it can be bad; there are alot of (older) hardware that will work with current Linux distributions (e.g. Ubuntu) out of the box without the need for manual drivers installation. The same can be true for Windows but sometimes to a lesser degree. While Mac hardware support will never match Windows hardware support it is definitely nice to have manufacturer support for hardware available for the Mac that is not possible with Linux.
OS X and Linux really have a great one up over Windows as being more secure in terms of design making viruses practically non-existent. This is to regards to the typical user end viruses and malware (spyware, trojans) that users will get from opening unsafe attachments and visiting malicious websites or just inserting a USB drive in Windows. The lack of viruses is also due to the smaller market share of OS X and Linux compared to Windows. Sad to say that malware production is a business and the people behind them aim for the biggest and easiest targets: Windows users. Now take note that OS X will still not prevent things like phishing that requires user education. Educated Windows users would typically know the risks and take the necessary precautions when using a Windows system.
Great Software Applications
Apple’s iLife is great for the typical user. It makes things easy to do what you get out of them is nice looking: certainly much better looking that any typical Windows or Linux application. For the creative types or people being put in positions to make media content quickly, iMovie and iPhoto enable users to quickly make movies and slideshows without too much effort. GarageBand is great for musicians / podcasters trying to create their own content. iDVD makes burning DVD videos / slideshows simple and the end result looks spiffy. Linux suffers pretty severely in this aspect. Video editing is hard: there is no easy solution thus far that provides functionality similar to Windows Live Movie Maker or the older (some say better) Windows Movie Maker.
Other great software would be Expose, Spotlight, Quicksilver and Automator. Expose gives a nice looking overview of all windows open at the moment and is something the typical user would use all the time.
OS X indexing is a great thing as it enables Spotlight and basically OS X’s search to find documents, applications, emails and more quickly and easily. Spotlight is my default application launcher that lets me open applications straight from the keyboard: Command + Space, type in a few letters of the program, Enter > program starts. Need to look for a document or folder? Just type it it and you will see it in spotlight
Quicksilver is Spotlight on steroids and has so many uses that make it a power user’s dream. It can do a ton of things and can be extended through the use of plugins and triggers can be combined with scripts to perform a greater multitude of tasks. (Learn more: Beginners Guide to Quicksilver | Top 10 Quicksilver Plug-ins | Quicksilver – A Better OS X in Just 10 Minutes)
Automator is another great tool for power users and provides greater functionality of the OS so easily through user created Automator actions and if you can’t find an Automator action that does the task you want, you can create it easily through a simple graphical user interface. Resize all photos in a directory and save them elsewhere? Check. Renaming a bunch of files in a directory? Check. Categorize downloaded files into folders and add downloaded music to iTunes library? Check. Just like Quicksilver the applications are practically limitless. (Learn more: Getting Started with the Mac OS X Automator)
Supporting multi-touch and having a multi-touch enabled trackpad is wonderful: it brings simplicity and functionality together with intuitiveness. Multi-touch is in many notebook trackpads but one of the earliest real uses of it, similar to OS X’s, is in the Asus EEE 900 netbook. Multi-touch trackpads are one of those things that once you have, it’s hard to go back to life without it.
OS X is a great platform. If viruses and malware don’t chase you away from Windows, the “things just work” (and work nicely) scenario just may bring you over to OS X. That being said, OS X technically requires a Mac computer which is something, myself included, dislike. This is where OSx86 Project, Hackint0sh.org and Hackintosh.com come in: they document hardware that is compatible with OS X and provide ways to install OS X on your regular PC without the need to buy Apple hardware. This is a legal gray/black area and may not get you a fully working version of OS X (I’ve heard EFiX provides a fully working OS X installation, including software updates, not sure about any other routes). All this hacking to get OX to run on a regular PC just shows how much people want to use OS X but just not on the limited/expensive hardware Apple offers. I guess it shows how much some people just love the OS.
Windows: provides the most compatibility with applications and hardware with the expense of having to know how to use the system carefully due to malware. (on a personal note, Windows is the most productive OS)
Linux: offers a sense of freedom that cannot be matched: free (as in beer and speech) applications that provide a completely non-restrictive environment with great stability but lacking in hardware manufacturer support and software areas (e.g. video editing). The most open platform.
OS X: great stable “that just works” operating system with restrictiveness in terms of hardware and software. The most closed platform
Nothing’s perfect and people use the computer for different reason and applications. The best is to use each operating system and see what works best for you. For Linux it’s easy: you can get live CDs, you can install them as virtual machines. Windows can be installed as a virtual machine and is generally available, however buying a retail version can cost you quite a bit (~B$300) and it may be better to just buy a cheap netbook that would be bundled with Windows XP (and soon to be Windows 7). To my knowledge OS X cannot be installed in a virtual machine and since it only runs on a Mac (legally) there is no choice but to borrow or buy a Mac to try OS X and thus is the hardest to test. So at the end of the day you’ll just have to pick you poison.
[category Apple, Technology]