Confessions of an Operating-System Agnostic

By  |  Friday, December 17, 2010 at 9:40 am

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Whenever I write about the pros and cons of Windows PCs and Macs–as I did recently for TIME.com–I make at least brief mention of the fact that I’m a happy user of both. But I’m not sure if I’ve ever outlined just why I buy and use both flavors of computer rather than settling on one or the other. Here are some quick thoughts on that subject.

First, a review of my life as a user of operating systems might be in order. For most of it, I was a single-OS user–sometimes ardently so…

1978-1982: I was a Radio Shack TRS-80 snob (thinking back, that sounds like an oxymoron, but trust me–I was one).

1982-1984 or thereabouts: I had and liked an Atari 400, but I don’t recall being passionate about it. I also backslid and did a fair percentage of my college work on…typewriters.

1984-1986: I went through an odd period during which I temporarily lost interest in computers, except for word processing.

1987-1991: I dabbled on a borrowed Mac, but I also bought a Commodore Amiga and became a–I try to avoid this word, but it’s the only one that fits–fanboy.

1991-2004: I got a job at a computer magazine that covered only Windows (and, at first, DOS) PCs. I used almost nothing else for the next thirteen years, but don’t become a Windows partisan–even after I become the editor of a magazine called PC World.

2004-present: Shopping for a new laptop at CompUSA–and wanting a smallish model–I take a wrong turn and end up in the tiny, isolated Mac section. I have an epiphany: Why not buy a 12″ PowerBook? What was stopping me? I ended up buying one, and have purchased Windows PCs and Macs in roughly equal measure ever since.

(At first, all my Windows systems were desktops and all my Macs were laptops–which meant that I was a Windows person when I was at my desk, and a Mac one when I was anywhere else. But I’ve stopped buying desktop computers, so that distinction has vanished.)

Ongoing exposure to both operating systems has left me an operating-system agnostic. I see good (and bad) in both Windows and Macs and recommend them both to different people in different situations.

(I’ve also gone through periods when I’ve used Linux as well, incidentally–though not as much recently, due more to a lack of time than disinterest.)

So why do I use both Windows PCs and Macs?

  • It’s the best of both worlds. I like Windows 7, but believe that Apple’s OS X remains the best, least hassle-prone operating system. I like Apple’s Macs, but know that the Windows world offers far greater variety when it comes to models. After having lived a biplatform life for so long, restricting myself to one OS would feel like depriving myself of the benefits of the other.
  • It makes me feel smarter. If you know only Windows or know only the Mac, your perspective on the world of computing is constricted. (Strangely enough, the folks with the most well-informed takes on the whole PC-vs.-Mac question are those who have plenty of hands-on experience with both.)
  • It’s emotionally healthy. Operating systems are just bits and bytes, people–identifying too closely with one of them over another is a tad odd. Especially if you start to believe that people who opt for a different one are members of some distasteful cult. Using both OSes has given me a zen-like serenity about the whole subject–it’s probably lowered my blood pressure.
  • Hey, a Mac is a PC. I may be the last person left who (usually) stubbornly refers to PCs that run Windows as “Windows PCs” rather than just “PCs.” That’s because Macs are personal computers, too. And a Windows PC and a Mac have more in common than, say, a Chevrolet Corvette and a Toyota Prius.
  • There’s no reason not to. Sticking to one platform may have made sense when outfitting a computer required investing a ton of money in software and peripherals that were incompatible with the other one. Today, though, I spend much of my time using the Web, which doesn’t care if you’re on Windows or a PC. Most of the software I run is available for both OSes, much of it is free, and almost all important file formats are as platform-agnostic as I am. And printers, cameras, networking gear, and most of the other gear I use works fine with Windows and Macs.
  • I like to try new stuff. Did I say above that I hadn’t used Linux much lately? Well, I forgot that I’m using Linux right now: I’m typing this newsletter on Google’s Cr-48 notebook, which runs the Linux variant known as Chrome OS. If you declare yourself to be a Windows Person or a Mac Person, you’re depriving yourself of the opportunity to try out interesting new devices as they come along.

Back when I bought that 12″ PowerBook and started using both it and Windows machines, I was keenly aware that I was making a decision to become a two-platform person. (And if I ever forgot it, someone came along to point it out–when you edit a magazine called PC World and are seen in public with a Mac, it’s a conversation-starter.) Today, I don’t give it much thought. I sit down at a computer, and my brain helpfully adjusts itself to the OS I’m using, helping my fingers to find the right keys and features without any conscious effort. I’m not saying everyone should use both OSes–we agnostics aren’t missionaries–but I know it’s made me a happier computer user.

 
16 Comments


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16 Comments For This Post

  1. Dave Says:

    I like Macs a lot, but it is the price that keeps me from using them.

  2. drew Says:

    I fall along the same line. I move back and forth, and I am more focused on what I am creating than what I am creating it on.

  3. Brandon Backlin Says:

    Using two platforms is way easier now than it used to be; with the popularity boom of networking. Now the only thing in the way in that regard is file formats, and cloud computing should get rid of that barrier as well.

    I loved the article. I personally know some "OS-gnostic" (though they're not secret about their ways) people and they seem to be the more up-tight of the bunch. One lady was thoroughly convinced that putting Windows on her Mac would slow the system down for both OSes, or make her OS X partition more vulnerable to viruses. While the virus issue is slightly true, you actually have to put an effort into making that happen (as in, download it to the OS X partition and run it from Mac OS X, since their executables aren't even remotely close in file structure), something that at her skill level would be hard to accomplish.

    I dual-boot OS X and Windows and am happy with both of them. Can hardly wait for Lion!

  4. Guest Says:

    I like my Mac too, but I built it myself and can choose whatever OS I want at start up thanks to the work of some very talented people who have made it easy to run MacOSX on non-apple taxed hardware.

  5. dholyer Says:

    I started with an Atari 800 and 48K or RAM (now days the average data buffer is far bigger) on Christmas 1980. And I gave my old Atari Video Game (Atari 2600) to my brother. I had a good 19" color TV so graphics was good. In 1982 I bought a OS chip that gave me 80×25 text, before it was 40×24. In 83 I bought a 19" composite Monitor so I could read the 80 character text better, using RF channel 3 you could read the text but sometime you needed to know the word to read the letters.

    In 1986 after helping do a Laser Show in Sturgis I traded my Atari system (computer, monitor, disk drives, printer and modem in for a NEC (PC compatible) laptop and moved it's data content via 720k 3.5" floppy disks.

    In 1992 bought my first PC desk computer with a CD burning drive. And traded my laptop in for $$$ that went to buying software. Then in 1996 I started building my own PC's, started with a full Tower so I could keep adding new toys to it.

    In 2000 replaced the 386 mother board with a AMD64. After 3 64bit systems I am now using two AMD64/2 systems, one to connect to my DSL Internet link, and the other to keep modifying and doing Video work on, and is not NET connected, but do move files via a 320gig 2.5" USB powered Hard Disk.

    My computer systems have been much like what teen boys di with their first and later cars. I never got into cars because of vision problems. So computers and coke bottle glasses got me into computers instead.

    You can almost say I was born a Geek.

  6. Dave Says:

    Wholeheartedly agree – any technologist in the IT industry needs to be agnostic. There's far too many superiority complexes out there. I know – I've worked (and played) on everything from a ZX81 to top end mainframes, propriety to open source systems. Not having knowledge (or at least an appreciation of) other OSes, hardware platforms, applications etc leads IT professionals to make "safe" and boringly repetitive choices. It stifles innovation.

    However, in the consumer market, simplicity is key. The OS doesnt really bother a consumer – its how easy the user interface is, what apps are bundled with the OS, its price point, what apps are available etc. Yeah, fashion comes into it and thats why Apple have created a storm recently. Apple are doing ok, but will probably never have the market share of Microsoft. To be honest, who cares? The key point is that there is diversity out there, competition and choice.

    Lets hope that this continues and that those who live the life of multiple OSes, Apps and hardware only increase.

  7. Julie Says:

    Its good to know I'm not the only one, it depends on what I'm after when I use my mac vs my windows, I also move back and forth depending on what I'm doing. I also recommend one or the other depending on what someone wants.

  8. GratefulAl Says:

    I believe this might be the most profound statement in discussing OS favs and phobias: "Most of the software I run is available for both OSes, much of it is free, and almost all important file formats are as platform-agnostic as I am."

    We've come a long, long way, baby!

  9. IcyFog Says:

    Unfortunately my workplace is still predominately Windows-based. Otherwise I wouldn't use it at all. So I still know a lot about both platforms. The thing that perturbs me about anti-Mac people is they don't use them or have no basis for their prejudice.

  10. bd42 Says:

    Not sure how "I like Windows 7, but believe that Apple’s OS X remains the best, least hassle-prone operating system" is agnostic.

    Anyway, IMO, it's really not about the OS it's about the apps. OS X comes with a collection of well made and well integrated apps, while Windows is more of a blank slate that you have to add stuff to before using. And that, along with cost, is largely what determines which you will prefer and/or which you would recommend to someone.

  11. Harry McCracken Says:

    By agnosticism, I mean that I find merit in both platforms and don't root for one over the other.

    –Harry

  12. Mike Says:

    I owned a Fat Mac in the 80s, and sold it when it became apparent that the proprietary HW was too expensive. The Apple II was more open, and I really liked it. They should have stuck with that model.

    It's hard to be happy with both when Windows will run on a wide variety of hardware, whereas OSX will only run on proprietary HW (without a hack). If you separate the OS from the HW, I agree that both have their good and bad. If you factor in the HW, then for me Apple loses. I see Linux as the alternative, as I can load it on my windows box, and run both. Yes, OSX can run Windows, but it requires a hack to run OSX on a Windows box.

    I don't see Apple market share exceeding Windows, as long as the HW and OS are coupled.
    Both Windows and OSX machines are "PCs", but one is HW specific and much more expensive. I guess I just like to have more options when selecting a system. While I really don't care for Microsoft, it does give you more HW options.

  13. Jon Peterson Says:

    This reinforces an opinion I've had since 2007 (when, for college, I purchased my first and only Mac as a result of falling for that "Macs are better for graphics and video" misconception):

    Anyone who actually argues about Mac vs. Windows is an idiot.

    I don't particularly enjoy using my Mac, and would rather use my Windows system… but that's mostly because of the availability of software that meets my needs, and certain UI preferences. If I need to do anything on my Mac, I can do it. I may be missing some tools from my Windows machine that streamline the process, but I've yet to run into a problem that wasn't solvable on either platform.

    They both work. They both provide the basic requirements for doing computer things. Everything else is just differences in UI and available software.

  14. OfNoConsequence Says:

    -> Hey, a Mac is a PC.

    I tell people this all the time and also say "Windows PC", but the foolish "Mac only" people stubbornly refuse to accept that PC means "personal computer", not "Windows system".

    Their arugument generally devolves to "well why does Apple call their machines 'macs' and Windows machines 'PC'?"

    My answer: Stupidity and arrogance. But that's generally not a well recieved answer. :)

  15. Tomislav Says:

    First we talked about “IBM compatible PC” and they shorted it just to PC.

    And that PC means “personal computer”, what are actually IBM compatible, Mac, Amiga, Atari and other computers available for personal computing.

    Also, I sometimes hear PC computer (personal computer computer!)

  16. Microsoft CRM Says:

    I owned a Fat Mac in the 80s, and sold it when it became apparent that the proprietary HW was too expensive. The Apple II was more open, and I really liked it. They should have stuck with that model.

    It's hard to be happy with both when Windows will run on a wide variety of hardware, whereas OSX will only run on proprietary HW (without a hack). If you separate the OS from the HW, I agree that both have their good and bad. If you factor in the HW, then for me Apple loses. I see Linux as the alternative, as I can load it on my windows box, and run both. Yes, OSX can run Windows, but it requires a hack to run OSX on a Windows box. Their arugument generally devolves to "well why does Apple call their machines 'macs' and Windows machines 'PC'?"