jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Oranges and Oranges

A couple of months ago Linux Magazine published an article written by Scott Granneman comparing Mac OS X Leopard and Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon. I’ve been torn between these two systems, and their respective predecessors for years, so the article was of great interest to me. As a matter of fact, I was wondering how I missed it to begin with. The article is well written, but can be boiled down to this one paragraph:

Linux has come a long way when it comes to ease of use, and it’s definitely getting better all the time, but overall Leopard is still ahead of Ubuntu (and both are way ahead of Vista). Apple makes mistakes, but overall its system is more logical, simple, consistent, and unified than Ubuntu, which still has too many elements that are overly complex, inconsistent, and fractured.

The comment thread on this story is actually very interesting as well, as is the thread on slashdot, that is until the Linux zealots started commenting. One fanatic in particular going by the name of “progon” wrote a very lengthy comment explaining in detail why both Linux and Vista were superior to OS X. This comment stood out to me:

Apple seldom, if ever, listens to its customers and its designers don’t seem to be in sync with their customer base at all.

This is great, especially seeing how Apple did just that with the release of OS X 10.5.2. Its a real shame when people resort to bias when discussing the pros and cons of personal computers, but its really unsurprising. You simply can’t expect to spend a significant amount of time with any tool without developing some type of personal or emotional connection with it.

The conclusion of Scott’s article was that each operating system has its strengths and weaknesses, and that its really up to the user to decide what is most important to them. I agree with him in part. The part that I agree with is that it is up to the user to decide what is most important. The strongest feature that Linux has is its freedom, and with that freedom, it’s configurability. In a way, Linux is infinitely configurable, limited only by the users imagination and technical knowledge. If that freedom and configurability is that important, then Linux most certainly is worth a look. However, to compare the two operating systems solely on the basis of technical points, leaving out any marketing or cost concerns, Linux clearly has no leg to stand on when compared to the big cat.

The more important factor, and one that Linux seems to overlook more often than not, is what the user wants to do with the computer. Apple sells a total package, a computing utility. Linux was built by hobbyists and hackers, and piecemeal together. These design approaches are readily apparent in the gui, and the lengths that each takes to present a usable interface. The important point is not whither the user can perform a certain function, it’s if the user needs the function, and if so, how easy is it for the user to do. Compiz Fusion is undeniably cool eye candy, and about %90 useless for getting any real work done.

One other comment that I see popping up quite a bit when discussing Linux and Macs is that they target two separate markets, and that neither infringes much upon the others. This I think is total bull. There is only one target market for personal computers, the market comprised of everyone thinking about buying one. Which operating system that computer runs is not nearly as much of a concern to the user as being able to quickly and efficiently accomplish their tasks.

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