Operating the operating systems

!– @page { margin: 2cm } P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm } –>I have been using now a pretty eclectic mix of different OSes (what’s the plural of OS in any case?) for some while now, on a daily basis. My ThinkPad laptop deals with the business matters with its Windows XP Professional, in home I edit videos and photos mainly using a Windows Vista Home Premium edition gaming PC, the home media and web server is based on Ubuntu Linux 6.06 LTS server edition, the living room Mac Mini is OS X Tiger, and there is also Laura’s XP Home Edition desktop upstairs, oh yes, and the Vista thing in basement can also multi-boot into an Ubuntu 7.10 desktop edition (and then there are all those gaming devices with their native operating systems). And all of those different packets of code have their problems, all of them. Too many problems to even start blogging about them. But there are individual strengths, too.Linux is … well, messy, but free, and you can modify it as much as you like. OS X and Mac is fair and pleasant as long as you do certain typical things, we mostly use it just for surfing, playing music and watching photos from our flat screen TV, and it is perfect for that. The user interface is, nevertheless, surprisingly clumsy (if you are not a ‘Mac-native’, that is): it is hard to resize windows and under the surface you are soon faced with a very curious kind of Unix which sets its own limitations e.g. to what peripherals and programs can work with that thing. Windows systems are probably the most boring, ‘all-around usable’ things, mostly because of their popularity: there are drivers, there is software, the usual stuff. You can simply use it (particularly XP, which is pretty stable by now) – but it lacks the excitement and innovation that Mac and Linux show in many areas.

Vista has been a rather painful experience with its crashes and compatibility issues. Lets hope that things go to better with SP1. Currently I am writing this with the Open Office Writer in Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon version), and happy that the new Nvidia drivers are much more stable now, and the X Window system’s locking-up problem does not appear as quickly as before (but it still happens, so we live in fear…) And I got the Compiz Fusion extensions as well as AWN (Avant Window Navigator) tool installed, meaning that in terms of user interface, this Ubuntu desktop is now pretty and capable of handling all the latest tricks. But purely in terms of polish it still lags behind its commercial cousins, Vista and OS X.

For a person whose relation to computers is purely instrumental – they are just tools for getting things done, aren’t they? — an older OS is perhaps the best choice. But if you are interested in the evolution of user interfaces, and in the design of user experiences, then all these new systems start to look fascinating.Ubuntu screenshot

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.

2 thoughts on “Operating the operating systems”

  1. I’m in a bit similar situation, multiple operating systems. And to be quite honest with you, I’m not very happy with any of them.

    I’m writing this on a MacBook which runs on Leopard 10.5.2. This is my first Mac and I agree there are several aspects of the physical laptop and the OS which aren’t so user friendly. I haven’t really experienced the hyped stability, easyness and intuitive UI.

    My other laptop is an Acer running on Vista Home Premium. I needed to immediately upgrade RAM from 1GB to 4GB (about 3GB recognized by the OS) to make it run properly. And yet it is still strange, slow and user-hostile. Luckily it’s mostly used now by my kids.

    My old desktop is now a multiboot system: Windows 2000 Pro and Kubuntu 7.10. Win2k is today the reliable old workhorse which has most of its bugs taken care of by now. Unfortunately it seems much of the newer software don’t run on it and manufacturers have largely stopped releasing W2k drivers for their hardware. The Kubuntu was a major disappointment. While it’s supposed to be one of the easiest distros ever, it was actually the first that I got running on my system at all. The first problem was getting my dual monitor Matrox system running. No luck with preinstalled drivers. No luck with official Matrox drivers. Finally found a hacked version somewhere. Another disappointment was what a resource hog it it. I mean isn’t a Linux setup supposed to have less overhead than, say Windows. Well, on my 2.2GHz Celeron system with 1GB of RAM, the whole system is sluggish. Even the mouse seems to drag sometimes. And lately, updating to the new kernel made my multiboot to remove the Win2k option and I had to manually edit a grub file. Talk about a user friendly system…

    My mostly-unused media server runs another Win2k ATM for some reason.

    And then there’s always the ancient kids’ desktop with Windows 98. I guess this must be the only PC left with it in the world. 😉

    What I’d actually like to run on several of these systems is a well-tuned XP but unfortunately my only license and media went with the broken laptop the Vista version replaced. And it just doesn’t seem to make sense to buy a new XP today.

  2. Nice to know I’m not the only one 😉 I actually hope that the future versions of Vista would be at the stability and driver support level of XP in a year or two… And then we would have a functional Windows version with an integrated, fast full text search function (which is pretty much the main benefit that Vista brings to a regular user).

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