Mac, Windows or Linux – thoughts from an educator without a country


It’s been seven days since my last… mmm… nice morning here on the east coast of Canada, as long as you don’t mind it being -1C. The leaves have all succumbed to the wind and frost of late fall here on Prince Edward Island, and the shrill whine of electric leaf blowers tell us that it’s time to tidy our lawns so the snow won’t be offended. I’ve been fighting with computers for the last couple of weeks, and for those of you out there considering it, i thought I would drop a few words your way.

I started all my computer stuff on a Commodore Vic-20, which while i don’t advise you to try and purchase one it was a really good system, didn’t crash and you had nice cartridges that you could plug into the back. I grew up and got my first 8086, and then a 486 and then went through the pentium strain… I was windows only… then i got a consulting gig that forced me to learn linux, and i’ve used it as my desktop software for the last year and a half, and now, 2 days ago, I bought an apple Ibook. My father called me a traitor. Someone told me my computer was ‘very cute’. Very cute, i mean, how can you do any serious writing on something that’s ‘very cute’. Is it any wonder that i ended up talking about leaves falling in the intro paragraph?

My transition to linux had been part learning experience, part psychological breakdown. I do alot of work on these little beasties… i develop curriculum, i communicate with my friends, i test software, i do a radio show, i consult with those who are kind enough to consider my advice worthwhile… I need a computer that will work, and that has the range to perform a vast quantity of tasks RELIABLY. And i don’t have time to spend a whole weekend figuring stuff out. Linux is, right now, an excellent solution for a couple groups of people. If you can get someone to set one up in your office (which i can now do, thanks to the last 2 years) it can run exactly like your XP or Mac with far fewer problems than the first, and cheaper than the second. It is by far the best option for a computer lab, a distro like edubuntu set up in a computer lab would be ideal. Super cheap(you could easily get the computers second hand for 200 bucks (or less and have good use out of them), all the functionality you need, and the students will be unable to mess it up… Two great uses, desktop you’ll never touch or computer lab. For me, it’s just been plain murder. Crash, blank staring, crash. Skype crashed about a million times, it didn’t like my usb mic, java had to be installed by hand, etc… the linux people tell me – go check it out, figure it out yourself. Well… i have. and for either of the two groups mentioned above, you’re good, for me… i just can’t do it anymore. I waste hours some days looking for that perfect piece of information that will get me what i want. I’m keeping my linux desktop, but it’s going to second place… a testing area…

Windows, well, most of you are familiar with it. It’s buggy. It crashes alot (my linux crashed too, more than i figured it would) it gets more viruses than a 2nd grade teacher, and they charge silly amounts for their software. Now, with all the open source software you can get around some of that stuff. Using firefox or opera will help alot, openoffice.org makes a great office package and most other software can now be downloaded leagally for free (see gimp and others… ) it is however what people know, and there is a great deal to be said for using what you are familiar with. That and almost everything works with it. Some things you just can’t do with Linux or Mac unless your willing to ’spend a whole weekend with it… although this is far more true of linux)

I was worried about the mac. I remember all the propaganda about how expensive they were, how hard it was to get the software, how it didn’t perform as well as the PC unless you were doing ‘artsy stuff’. Two days in… i’m cautiously converted. The damn thing crashed twenty minutes in… and has been singing along perfectly ever since. (now mac-heads are coming out of the wooodwork and saying that their’s only crashes a couple times a year… and not – never) The transition was pretty painless, installing software is pretty hilarious, download, click and drag, ‘thank you for installing your software’. The service is different. they actually seem to care if my computer crashes. They offer advice in a non-condescending manner. But here’s the clincher, for all the stuff that i do, in 48 hours, i have only once wished i was using XP. I wanted to install openoffice.org and i needed X11(whatever that is, windows emulator of somekind) but then found neooffice, which seems to do everything i want. That’s it, once, and i found a solution. Be not afraid windows user, come over to the white side… it’s… very cute.

4 Responses to “Mac, Windows or Linux – thoughts from an educator without a country”

  1. Harold Jarche Says:
    Neo-Office, hmm, perhaps that could make me switch to a mac. I notice that it’s based on OOo v 1.1. Is there something in the works to match it with OOo 2.0 and the open document format?
  2. Tim McKean Says:
    Dave,
    I was listening to your podcast tonight and was very interested to hear about your experience, especially your frustrations with Linux.

    I switched to the Mac side a year ago, and as you experiened, have wished for my windows applications just a few times. I am interested to learn more about this neo-office. Also wondering if you have tried any windown emulators on your Mac like virtual windows to get access to those few applications that just aren’t available?

    Thanks – Tim

  3. Rob Wall Says:
    With the preponderance of great, cross platform application like OpenOffice (yeah – I know, its not totally, transparently cross platform, but let me go with it for the sake of example), Firefox, Gimp, and a host of others being developed every day, I’ve been feeling for a long time that operating system is pretty irrelevant for most people; in fact what most people get attached to is their GUI. Even there, the differences are not significant – once you get used to one GUI, you’ll probably find it to be the “best”. If a user is moderately intelligent (such as don’t run Internet Explorer or Outlook, use a home router to provide a hardware firewall), I don’t even find Windows ist too much of a security problem. (But don’t tell anyone I said so – I used to be president of a Mac users group).

    To be honest, all the action for the interesting development seems to be online with the growing prevalence of web applications. My favourite operating environment? To be honest, I guess it would be Firefox which happens to run on any operating system in any GUI. Its where I do most of my work (and play) on the computer these days. But I’m certainly not a zealot – Flock looks interesting, and some of my best friends are IE users – just not on my computer. ;^D

  4. Ed Says:
    Yes, a good MS alternative Office suite on the Mac is a whole waiting to be filled. I tried using NeoOffice for a few months and I wouldn’t recommend it. It seems to work fine, but it’s slow. Everyone thinks Apple is going to further develop their own office suite, so therefore have not supported getting OpenOffice working on a Mac. It’s a shame, because it’s a truly cross platform application.

    If you can handle not using OpenOffice, I would suggest Apple’s Office suite, iWorks. It cost’s $80 (less with an educators discount), but it’s worth the money. It’s fast and it “just works” (the beauty of using a Mac).

    By the way, I’m new to your blog and enjoying it. Thanks.

Author: dave

I run this site… among other things.

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