The Truth About Windows Alternatives

Illustration: Hal Mayforth
Here at PC World, we've become pretty good at fixing Windows' many annoyances, but even we can't do it all. As a longtime Windows user, I've bent my Windows PCs to my will with tips from stories like this month's "Wipe Out Windows Annoyances." But sometimes that isn't enough. Windows' security problems alone are enough to make even the most die-hard Microsoft booster question whether the grass is greener on the other side of the CPU.

Alternative operating systems look better all the time. If you like open-source software, such as the Firefox browser, you have to wonder whether Linux, too, is worth a shot. Plus, the stunning look of OS X (and the affordability of the Mac Mini) intrigued me.

But getting started with a new OS is a big adjustment. Sure, Windows can be annoying, yet most of us can't give it up entirely. Would it help to do most of my work in Linux or Mac OS, switching back to my Windows box when necessary? Or would a cross-platform setup introduce its own hurdles and annoyances, wiping out any benefits found in the alternative OS?

To find out, I spent a few weeks working with Xandros Linux and Mac OS X 10.4 (aka Tiger) in a mostly-Windows computing environment. Along the way, I dug into some of the conventional wisdom that surrounds Linux, Mac OS, and Windows, reexamining the preconceptions many people still have about these different operating systems.

Finally, how will Microsoft match the most appealing features of Linux and Mac OS? See "Microsoft's Longhorn Plays Catch-Up"--the last page of this article--for some answers.

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