I grew up using Windows (3.1 to be exact) and can still remember when shutting down the operating systemÂ returned the user to a DOS command prompt. Long-gone is the DOS prompt, and with it went my fondness for the much-maligned Microsoft product. Instead, I’ve converted to Apple’s Mac OS X and see no possibility of switching back for three reasons: security, stability, and ease of use.
When Apple released its Mac OS X in 2001, the company completely abandoned the underlying code that had powered previous version of the Mac operating system (version 9 and prior), instead building its new OS based on a flavor of Unix. In so doing, Apple positioned itself as the provider of a more-secure operating system for consumers by basing OS X on inherently-secure code. Unix, an operating system most typically found on servers, such as those that store financial institutions’ data, deliver web pages, or handle other sensitive information like tax records, has been around since the 1970s and has the distinction of being open-source. This means that, unlike Microsoft Windows or most versions of Mac OS X, the programming behind the Unix operating system is available for public consumption and modification. Over time, a large and devoted following has developed around Unix and its offshoots (namely, Linux), leading to collaborative efforts to identify insecurities and flaws in the programming. Once problems are identified by the open-source community, their remedies are incorporated into later Unix versions. Given the longevity of Unix and the sheer volume of individuals looking to improve its code, Unix starts from a more-secure footing than any other operating system. Quite frankly, no profit-seeking corporation (Microsoft and Apple included) could devote the same quantity of resources to developing and testing a single product without bankrupting itself. By abandoning its previous code and adopting the more-secure Unix programming to power OS X, Apple inherited the time-tested security of Unix.
Basing Mac OS X on Unix also imparted the operating system with Unix’s stability. Most individuals who have ever used a computer running Microsoft Windows has experienced a program crash or “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD). Often, when one program crashed, so would many others, forcing users to restart their machines. The problem of one program crashing the entire operating system is still present in Microsoft’s Windows Vista (I have yet to experience Windows 7), but Apple has essentially eliminated this problem from OS X by basing the system on Unix. Over a four-year period, I have never experienced a crash that affected more than the offending program, and I’m the kind of person who likes to tinker and test my computer’s abilities. Unlike Windows, where applications run without meaningful separation or limitations on their actions, Unix and OS X isolate running applications and control what aspects of the system those programs can access. As a result, if one program crashes, that failure is contained in one “sandbox,” without allowing the problem to compromise other programs or the operating system. Unix/OS X also limits what directories certain programs can access, walling off the operating system’s files, for example. By requiring the user to enter his or her password before allowing programs access to these sensitive files, most malicious software (viruses, spyware, etc.) is easily thwarted. Windows, on the other hand, has only recently implemented a protection system of this nature and has done such a poor job of it that many users disable Vista’s “User Account Control” (UAC). If Microsoft fails to significantly improve its UAC system in Windows 7, users will once again disable what should be a vital safeguard for the operating system.
3. Ease of Use
From a usability standpoint, Mac OS X far exceeds all Microsoft Windows releases (Windows 7 excluded, as I have no personal experience with it). As is common with all Apple products (and a significant factor in the company’s success), ease of use is a key design element. When building its latest operating system, Apple looked to simplify many elements of the user experience. One notable example comes when installing software. In Mac OS X, installing most software is a simple as downloading the program and dragging it to the Applications folder. Very rarely does installing OS X software involve the ubiquitous wizards found in Windows. Similarly, uninstalling most software takes no more effort than dragging the unwanted application to the Trash. In contrast, nearly all software installed under Windows utilizes a wizard during the installation process and uninstalling applications almost always requires the use of the Add/Remove Programs tool found in the Control Panel. While the use of a wizard to uninstall software instead of simply deleting the program may seem trivial, when the wizard fails, it becomes exceedingly difficult to remove the offending software. One cannot be certain that all of the files associated with that program, including those copied into system directories such as C:Windows, were removed. In OS X, on the other hand, the application is self-contained so deleting its icon from the Applications folder almost always removes the program completely.
Further bolstering OS X’s ease of use, the operating system incorporates many functions that Windows requires additional software to achieve. OS X’s built-in file viewer Preview can open not only most common image files, but can also display PDFs. Windows, by comparison, requires third-party software such as Adobe Reader. Similarly, OS X programs can create PDFs through the system’s Print dialog, while Windows requires an add-on. Most glaring of all usability issues, though, could be OS X’s support for Microsoft Word. OS X’s built-in TextEdit application can view and edit Microsoft Word documents of all forms, including the new format used by Microsoft Word 2007. Windows, on the other hand, requires one to purchase Microsoft Office or download a free viewer to access the same files; Microsoft does not offer a free method to edit Word documents. Furthermore, Apple’s built-in entertainment software, such as iTunes and iPhoto, far exceed the abilities of their Windows counterparts, while programs such as iCal have served as the inspiration for new software bundled with Windows Vista and Windows 7. In fact, many of the new “features” Microsoft uses to promote Windows Vista and Windows 7 are already present in OS X. As Microsoft endeavors to catch up to Apple where usability is concerned, Apple can focus on its next innovation.
I could likely come up with many more examples of OS X’s superiority over Windows, but I think I’ve made my point. As our interaction with computers moves more and more onto the internet, the compatibility arguments made by Windows supporters quickly lose their effectiveness. Besides, all new Apple computers can run Windows XP or later anyway.