July 27, 2006

The Operating System Landscape


The next twelve months presents some interesting choices for PC users. If you are in the market for a new PC you might consider waiting for the next release of Windows, called Vista before plonking down your hard earned money on a PC that will be out-of-date by the end of the year. If you are a Mac owner you might also want to wait until OS 10.5, codenamed Leopard is released. The question remains, how will these new operating systems stack up and is it worth holding off purchasing a new machine just in case.

Windows XP

In 2001 Microsoft introduced Windows XP and it was billed as the ‘must-have’ upgrade. The letters ‘XP’ stand for experience. XP was the successor to Windows 2000 and Windows ME/98. It was Microsoft’s first operating system to be based on the architecture of Windows NT – a secure and robust platform.

To date Microsoft has sold over 400 million copies of XP. Windows XP has been criticised for its lax security and continues to be the operating system of choice for virues and spyware authors.

Advantages
Fast
Stable
Compatible with many applications – including older applications that ran on Windows 95+
Integrates well with Microsoft Office and other Microsoft products
Plug-and-Play

Disadvantages
Susceptible to spyware and viruses
Hard to set-up
Performance degrades over time without frequent maintenance
Internet Explorer 6
Ineffective Search tools

Windows Vista
In 2007 Microsoft plan to release Vista. 6 years in the making the operating system looks and feels very similar to XP. Security has been beefed up – to the point (in Beta release 2) where it interferes with system usability. The user interface (called the GUI) is based on Aero – and looks and feels like Mac OS X. Search has been radically improved and Vista now ships with a reasonable calendar, address book and mail client. Internet Explorer 7 is also included with Vista and is very impressive. Until the final release in 6 months nobody can be 100% sure of what Vista will be like but early impressions suggest that it will be a ‘must-have’ upgrade for Windows users if for nothing else then enhanced security features.

Advantages
Much-improved GUI, larger icons display better on larger screens
Radically improved search tools
Good basic calendar, address book and email software
Improved security
Better use of internal and external memory
Internet Explorer 7

Disadvantages
Improved security can get in the way
May not run on some older machines
May not run some older software
Power Management functionality weak

Mac OS X – Tiger (10.4)
Mac OS X (pronounced ‘ten’) was released in March 2001 and has been improving steadily with each release. 10.4 marked the introduction of advanced search technology called Spotlight and Dashboard widgets. Along with ‘under-the-hood’ changes OS X is the best Mac operating system Apple has ever released.

Based on its BSD UNIX foundations Mac OS X is the most secure consumer-friendly operating system on the planet. In the same time that Windows users have been plagued by thousands of viruses Mac OS X remains virus and spyware free. It’s signature GUI has taken some time to improve but is now very functional. Mac OS X comes bundled with all the software you’ll ever need to use and is compatible with both the newer Intel based Mac’s and the older PowerPC variety. Mac OS X also runs on all Apple hardware with a G3 chip or better.

Advantages
Security
Stability
Ease-of-use
Search

Disadvantages
Slower on older hardware
Limited customisation options

Mac OS X – Leopard (10.5)

Not much is known about the upcoming Leopard. It will however run on both Intel and PowerPC hardware and will include some Windows compatibility layer as evidenced by the beta release of Boot Camp – software that lets your Mac run as a Windows PC. 10.5 will likely be released at the end of 2006 or January 2007. Steve Jobs will be previewing it at the Worldwide developers tradeshow in August.

Advantages
Capable of running Windows
Can run on both Intel and PowerPC chips

Disadvantages
Not yet released

Should I wait or buy now?

As with all technology as soon as you purchase your model will be obsolete. Luckily with computers you can upgrade them so they can run the latest operating system but beware - there are additional costs involved. If you are desperate for a new PC then you should make sure you buy one that meets the minimum Vista specs (A modern processor (at least 800MHz), 512 MB of system memory and a graphics processor that is DirectX 9 capable). If you do buy now then you’ll also need to pay extra to upgrade to Vista (about $300) so factor this in to the purchase decision. For Mac users all the latest Apple hardware is capable of running the latest OS however there will also be an additional upgrade charge for the Leopard when it is released (about $300).