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A Perspective on Operating Systems

Last updated 9-27-2000


Do you use Windows or Macintosh? Linux? Which is better? These questions can quickly polarize a group of people into separate camps and invite passionate exchanges, or for the non-computer users in a group, invite revealing responses like "Huh?" Why do many people feel strongly about the computer operating system they use, and have strong feelings about operating systems they don't?

An analogy to languages is appropriate here. What language is better: English or Spanish? Russian or Chinese? Unless you are fluent in both languages, you are unqualified to answer. The same logic applies to computer operating systems. The fact is, however, many people know as much about the "other" operating system as the guy who can just say "taco," "enchilada," and "sopapilla" knows about Spanish.

If someone has grown up just speaking English, it may be difficult for them to conceive of a language that would be easier to speak or be more effective at communicating certain things. Yet, some language experts contend that very thing. Bilingual music artist Luis Miguel insists that Spanish is a more romantic language than English, and that is why he still prefers to sing in Spanish. (According to his statements in a Spanish radio interview in 2000.)

My point is that when you ask someone about what operating system they think is better, you are not going to get an informed answer unless that person is computer literate in all the computer platforms you want them to compare. Most of the information systems (IS) personnel working in business and educational fields today are familiar with just one "client" platform: MS Windows. Many of them are disdainful of Macintosh computers-- but their attitudes (and sometimes arrogance) are often borne from ignorance. It is like the "ugly American" who insists speaking English and eating McDonalds hamburgers are the only ways to go. They certainly are not! And depending on your perspective, they may not even be the most desirable "ways to go," even if many vocal people in the world seem to think so!

A HUGE fallacy exists concerning computers today that goes something like this: "If over 90% of computer users own the Windows operating system, then it must be the best operating system for me." (Or "for my school," or "for my business.") This is analogous to saying "If over 75% of the people visiting nightclubs in Latin America smoke, then smoking must be a good social decision for me while I'm visiting Mexico." Put another way, succumbing to the cultural peer pressure of "buying a Windows computer" may be about as smart as the teenager who chooses to drink alcohol underage or experiment with illegal drugs. Following the crowd does not necessarily equate to making a wise decision.

When people are using standard productivity applications (software), there is normally not a great deal of difference between Windows and Macintosh computers. Like foreign languages, you can use either platform to communicate a similar message. Yes, printers are configured differently, you switch between applications differently, and some other differences exist, but by and large the "application" environment is very similar. The differences emerge when there are problems with your "system," you need to install new software or hardware, or another technical issue arises. Then, thanks largely to the fact that Windows95, Windows98, WindowsNT, and even Windows2000 are built on the command line legacy of DOS-- the suffering for Windows users often begins. Differences also emerge when multimedia software is used. The abilities of Macintosh computers to render and transform graphic file formats, including digital video clips, is dramatically better than on comparable Windows computers. In fact, the phrase "comparable Windows computers" is almost an oxymoron. Just watch or read about a MacExpo demonstration comparing relative Mac and Wintel computer abilities in Adobe Photoshop.

Who is qualified to compare platforms?

How many of these questions can you readily answer and proficiently demonstrate solutions for? As a computer user and teacher rather than a technician, I would prefer to not have to know the answers to any of these questions.

  1. Do you know how to configure both a Windows95 computer and a Macintosh computer for file sharing?
  2. How about installing a network card and starting TCP/IP services via ethernet? Can you resolve an IRQ conflict in Windows?
  3. How about setting up classic networking with MacTCP on a pre OS 7.5.3 computer?
  4. Do you know the system requirements for DHCP on a Macintosh?
  5. Can you edit the autoexec.bat file on your Windows computer to change a configuration setting?
  6. How about configuring both a Windows98 and a Macintosh OS 8 client for printing to a HP Laserjet in a Novell server environment?
  7. Can you assign hard IP addresses to Win95 clients, Mac OS 7.1 clients, and Mac OS clients with Open Transport installed?
  8. Do you know what platform ALWAYS requires a restart for this simple networking change, and which platform never does?
  9. Can you demonstrate how to multitask in a web browser and word processor in both Windows95/98 and Macintosh OS 8?
  10. How do you copy and paste graphics from the web into another application in both Windows and the Mac OS?
  11. What is the major web browser that does NOT allow you to copy graphics to the computer's "clipboard" in Windows?
  12. How do you configure Netscape and Internet Explorer on both platforms for internet access via a proxy server?

If you answered "YES" or can provide the correct answer to all of these questions, then you are probably qualified to compare Macintosh and Windows computers. No one, of course, "knows it all" in technology, and it is difficult to provide an exact list of questions that would serve as a good "test" for those qualified to make platform comparisons. Most computer users don't want to deal with the vocabulary and technicality of questions like these: they just want to use the computer. Inevitably, technical questions arise, however, and someone has to fix the problem. Whether the problem would be easier to resolve on a different platform (or couldn't even exist, like DLL errors on a Macintosh), can only be evaluated by someone with a thorough background on multiple platforms. (BTW, steps for doing a lot of the tasks in these questions are contained in my Technology Information Exchange site.)

And what about Linux, the free, remarkably stable operating system created by Linus Torvalds in use on a majority of the web servers in operation all over the world? For someone to generalize about Linux in comparison to Windows or the Macintosh OS, they would need to be able to answer the above questions about Linux as well.

When making platform comparisons, only the opinions of people with a thorough knowledge of the computer systems being compared should be valued. Otherwise, you're listening to the equivalent of an "ugly American" gringo that only knows English, telling you what an inferior language Spanish is. That's not an opinion worth valuing, or even listening to.


As someone intimately familiar with both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems, there is absolutely no question that Macintoshes are far easier to support and maintain. I work with both Windows and Macintosh computers on a daily basis, and can answer all of the questions included in the section above, "Who is qualified...." without hesitation. I started using computers running DOS, migrated to Windows 3.1, discovered the Macintosh OS, and was compelled to learn Windows 95/98, a bit of Windows NT server administration,, and a bit of Novell server administration. I support over 60 Windows and Macintosh client computers, 1 NT server, and one Apple server on a daily basis, in a Novell server environment. I do NOT know it all or have all the answers. I do, however, know enough to say without reservation Macintoshes are vastly simpler, more user friendly, and easier to maintain than Windows computers.

A good way to summarize my viewpoint is:

Given a choice, I prefer POWERFUL, SIMPLE tools that just WORK

I know more about the Windows operating system than I ever wanted to know. I have financial resources at my disposal which would allow me to purchase and use virtually any consumer level computer available in the world today. With an extensive knowledge base in both Windows and Macintosh computing environments, there is not even a moment's hesitation for me: I must choose a Macintosh every time over a Windows computer for the power, simplicity, and ease of use it affords me. And these benefits are not just available to intermediate and advanced level computer users like myself, they are available to beginners as well.

Reflections on Educational Technology

It absolutely boggles my mind to witness the headlong rush of many school districts to "transition to Windows," when I know the unnecessary headaches and problems with which that path is fraught. It is unfortunate that many school boards, who support these "transitions" away from Macintosh computing environments, are possibly not being counseled by individuals "qualified to compare platforms" as described above. It is so easy to be intimidated by technology, unfortunately, and equally easy to succumb to a fallacy like "over 90% of computer users have it, so it must be right for us....."

One of the biggest problems contributing to this situation is ignorance, on both the part of the policymakers and their advisors. Most schoolboard members are not well informed about Macintosh computers and their comparative advantages. If board members have a computer, they probably have a Windows computer and know that most other computer owners in the world do too. Information Technology people who advise policymakers (the ones with pocket protectors that love the DOS command line and speak a techno language most of us can't understand) are usually very familar with Windows computing environments, but no little or nothing about Macs.


I cannot make a qualified generalization about Linux and Windows, or Linux and the Mac OS, because I don't know enough about Linux. I do know several people whose knowledge of Windows95/98/NT makes me look like a kindergartner in graduate school, who fervently believe Linux is the holy grail of operating systems currently available (for both client and server computers.) The Linux interface does not look GUI enough (graphical) for me yet, but again, I don't have enough knowledge and personal experience with Linux to generalize about it. The new Mac OS X has a Linux core, so many Mac users (myself included) will soon have a taste of Linux's benefits (hopefully without any command line interactions).

If you have an application that requires the use of Windows, my recommendation is that you run it through Virtual PC on a Macintosh. For example, to run Intuit's QuickBooks 2000 (which is not available in a Macintosh version), I run it in Windows98 on a Macintosh G3 computer. Windows98 starts up in 5.6 seconds from its 'saved state' on the computer, and runs tolerably fast. To right click, I right click using a USB compatible two button mouse, which treats a right-click like a control-click. Windows98 in Virtual PC runs just like Windows98 because it IS Windows98. (Of course, it also crashes like Win98....) Virtual PC runs equally well on iMacs. The main thing you may need to upgrade is memory: Windows98 wants at least 32 MB of its OWN memory (preferably more), so you'll want at least 64 MB of RAM if not 96 MB when you run Virtual PC.

I look forward to the day when someone (maybe the creators/adapters of Linux?) create a simple, yet powerful operating system that will make the complexities of computer support discussed here irrelevant and unnecessary. Until that time, there is no question in my mind about what operating system is better: it's Macintosh!

For more of my perspectives on platform issues, read "Wagging the Dog in Educational Technology." and "Affordable and Efficient: The Cody Model of Technology Deployment."

Feel free to send me your opinions. (Opinions invited, not flames!)

-Wesley Fryer



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