Operating Systems
Microsoft Windows isn't the only operating system for personal computers, or even the best... it's just the best-distributed. Its inconsistent behavior and an interface that changes radically with every version are the main reasons people find computers difficult to use. Microsoft adds new bells and whistles in each release, and claims that this time they've solved the countless problems in the previous versions... but the hype is never really fulfilled. Windows 7 offers little new: it's basically Vista without quite so many mistakes built into it. The upgrade prices serve primarily to keep the cash flowing to Microsoft, to subsidize their efforts to take over other markets. A slew of intrusive "features" in the recent versions benefit Microsoft at the expensive of both your privacy and your freedom. Switching to Windows 7 requires buying new hardware and learning a new system, so instead consider switching to something better. There's an exciting array of interesting operating systems out there, and the overall quality of them is stronger than ever.
close match low price If you can't say "no" to Windows (which is understandable in many cases), you can still say "no more". The simplest alternative to Windows Vista/7 is a previously-installed version of Windows. Windows Vista/7 isn't a simple upgrade; it's a drastically different operating system, which may not work properly on hardware just a few years old, so installing the "upgrade" is a risk. Even if a software package says "for Windows 7", that's mostly a Microsoft-directed marketing ploy; check the fine print to see if earlier versions of Windows are also supported (XP usually is). The bottom line: if you already own Windows XP and it works for you, you don't have to upgrade; you can continue using it without paying Microsoft another dime.Windows XP runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Windows
close match high quality challenge MS The Mac OS user interface inspired the creation of Windows, and is still the target Microsoft is trying to equal. As a popular consumer product, there's plenty of software available for it, and it's moving beyond its traditional niches of graphic design, education, and home use, into general business use (after all, Apple Corp. runs on it). OS X (ten), uses Unix technology, which makes it more stable and secure than Windows. But the real star is OS X's visual interface, which shows the difference between Microsoft's guesswork in this area and Apple's innovative design work: it's both beautiful and easy to use. The main "negative" to Mac OS is that you need to buy an Apple computer to use it, but that's not much of a sacrifice: in addition to being stylish, they're top-notch in quality, and both faster and less expensive than you might expect. Apple has a section of their site for people wondering if they can switch to Mac OS. my choice Mac OS runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Mac OS OS X can also run many programs tagged with this icon: Unix-like
high quality low price challenge MS Linux ("LIH-nux") is a free Unix-like operating system, originally developed by programmers who who simply love the challenge of solving problems and producing quality software... even if that means giving the resulting product away. Not coincidentally, there's also a wealth of free software for it. Unlike proprietary operating systems, which are usually controlled in every detail by a single company, Linux has a standard consistent core (called the "kernel") around which many varieties (known as "distributions") have been produced by various companies and organisations. Some are aimed at geeks, some focus on the needs of business users, and some are designed with typical home users in mind. It has become a popular option for the makers of inexpensive "netbooks" and laptops to preinstall. You can test-drive Linux with versions such as Knoppix which runs directly from a CD without affecting the OS on your hard drive. Most individuals should start with one of the mainstream distributions, such as Ubuntu, Mandriva, or Linspire. Businesses might prefer RedHat/Fedora, Novell/SUSE, or CentOS. Geeks should check out Debian, Slackware, and Gentoo. Linux is a first-rate choice for servers; this site is a Linux system. my choice Linux runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like With the addition of CrossOver (a commercial package) or WINE (included in many distributions), it can run many Windows programs.Windows
high quality low price challenge MS Google's Chrome OS is still vaporware so far, and it's arguably just another flavor of Linux, but it promises to be a viable alternative to Windows on small portable "netbooks" which will come with it preinstalled. The user interface is going to be based on Google's web browser of the same name, and take advantage of technology to make online apps like Google Docs work even if you're not online. It is open-source software, so netbook manufacturers won't have to pay to use it.
close match high quality low price Haiku is based on BeOS, which was designed with multimedia in mind, including the kinds of features that Microsoft is just recently tacking onto Windows. Although Microsoft successfully drove Be Corp. out of business through illegal interference with their marketing efforts, reports of BeOS's death were premature. A team of BeOS users have banded together to re-develop it as Haiku, an open-source clone which will run all the old BeOS software, and then provide a platform to be upgraded for the present and future. Meanwhile, the original Be source code was licensed to a European software firm which created Zeta from it. And the free BeOS R5 Personal Edition is still available to download, and has been packaged with all the latest drivers and free add-ons as BeOS Max Edition. BeOS/Zeta/Haiku runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: BeOS BeOS R5 Personal, and updates 5.01 and 5.03 are archived here.
high quality low price challenge MS FreeBSD is commonly called "the free Unix". It's descended from the classic 1970's Berkeley Software Distribution of Unix (from before the OS became "UNIX"®), making it one of the most mature and stable operating systems around. It's "free" as in "free beer" (you can download it for nothing) and as in "free speech" (you can do pretty much whatever you like with it... like when Microsoft took code from it to add better networking to Windows NT). Unlike the plethora of Linuxes, there's only one current version of FreeBSD, with a consistent structure and an easy-to-use "ports" system for installing software. It can also run most Linux binaries. Much of the Internet infrastructure was built on FreeBSD, due to its combination of quality and cost. It's always been excellent for servers, but it's become comparable to mainstream Linux distros as a desktop OS as well. Its main platform is the Intel x86 architecture, with ports to a few others. FreeBSD runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like With the addition of WINE, it can run many Windows programs.Windows
high quality low price challenge MS OpenBSD is "the other free Unix". It's similar to FreeBSD both in the Berkeley code it's based on, and the licensing terms. One key advantage it has over its BSD siblings (and nearly any other OS) is that it's incredibly secure from attack, as implied by its blowfish mascot, and made explicit by their boast of only one remotely-exploitable hole - ever - in their default installation. (Compare that to Windows' hundreds.) "Open" is a reference to their code auditing process, not a welcome-mat for crackers. It's not as speedy as FreeBSD, but it's safer. It's also available for some hardware plaforms FreeBSD doesn't support, including Mac 68K, PPC, Amiga, Sun, Vax, and others. OpenBSD runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like
high quality low price challenge MS NetBSD is "the other other free Unix". It's the work of another group of volunteer developers using the net to collaborate (hence the name of their product). Their mission is to get the OS to run - and run well - on hardware platforms no other Unix supports. In addition to most of the usual suspects above, it's been ported to run on the NeXT box, MIPS machines, the good Atari computers, the BeBox, WinCE-compatible handhelds, ARM processors, and even game machines like the Playstation 2 or the orphaned Sega Dreamcast. So with NetBSD you can standardise your software even if you have a whole bunch of different, "incompatible" hardware, one of the strengths of the Unix-like system NetBSD runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like
low price challenge MS Darwin is a cousin of Free/Open/NetBSD, and the free foundation on which the commercial Mac OS X is built. Although its development was originally managed rather tightly by Apple (understandable, because their business depends on it) they've loosened the leash, making participation in the development more open. Darwin is making progress toward becoming an open-source OS in its own right. Any Darwin software will run on OS X, but software written specifically for OS X won't run on Darwin, because the Mac interface (and various other proprietary bits) are not part of Darwin itself. Instead, Darwin typically uses X11 with either TWM or KDE. Darwin runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like
low price Syllable is a free alternative OS for standard PCs. It uses some of the better ideas from Unix, BeOS, AmigaOS, and others, and is compatible enough with portable software written for Unix that many have already been ported over to it. It's not a full-featured OS yet, but it's functional enough to be used with built-in web and e-mail clients, and media players. Syllable runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Syllable
high quality Amiga owners used to taunt PC and Mac users with their smoothly-multitasking graphical operating system, back when the Macs couldn't multitask, and PCs weren't even graphical. Even though the "classic" Amiga machines are no longer being produced, there's been a lot of activity in Amigaspace in the meantime: The OS has been updated to support current technology with Amiga OS 4, emulation layers called AmigaOS XL and AMIthlon were created to run Amiga OS on modern PC hardware, Amiga Forever is an emulator for Windows and other operating systems, and a new hardware platform and OS called AmigaOne have been introduced to try to carry on the Amiga legacy. Amiga OS runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Amiga
high quality MorphOS began as a project to port the Amiga OS to the then-new PowerPC architecture, but has since morphed into an OS in its own right. It runs on certain PowerPC/G3/G4-based systems, and has better-than-standard-emulation support for Amiga OS 3.1 applications as well as native apps built for MorphOS. MorphOS runs Amiga OS programs tagged on this site with this icon: Amiga
high quality RISC OS is the operating system of the former Acorn line of computers (best known in the UK), which has been revived and updated for faster performance and to meet current OS standards (e.g. long filenames, large hard drives). It doesn't run on standard PCs, but on systems specifically designed for it (such as the RiscPC and A7000), using the high-speed StrongARM processors. The OS itself is stored in electronic ROM rather than having to be loaded into RAM from a hard drive. RISC OS runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: RISC
low price challenge MS GNU's Not Unix. In fact, that phrase is what G.N.U. is a (recursive) abbrevation for. It is a Unix-like operating system being developed as a long-term project by the Free Software Foundation to offer a fully-free alternative to the commercial and BSD versions of Unix. Although you'll find many key components of GNU used in Linux and BSD packages under the GNU General Public license (GPL), a fully GNU system will use the Hurd, GNU's own free-software kernel. The Hurd has some design advantages over the Linux kernel, but is still far from finished, and requires serious expertise with OS development to install. GNU runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like
low price challenge MS Minix is an open-source Unix-like operating system originally developed for educational purposes. Because of its relative simplicity and ample documentation, its creator says that a few months studying the source code should teach you most of how such things work. (It inspired Linus Torvalds to create Linux.) Versions 1 and 2 serve primarily as teaching examples, but version 3 has also become useful in its own right, intended for highly reliable uses on low-end 386-level hardware. Minix runs some of the programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like
high quality challenge MS There are also a bunch of commercial UNIX® systems, which are typically customised to run on expensive, high-end, proprietary hardware sold by the same vendor. Most of them have names other than "Unix" due to old trademark issues. They're better as alternatives to the server versions of Windows, not the desktop versions of Windows such as 98/XP/Vista. They include Sun Solaris, HP-UX, IBM AIX, SGI IRIX, and Mac OS X Server. Unix runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: Unix-like With the addition of WINE, Solaris and OS X can run many Windows programs.Windows
close match high quality IBM's OS/2warp was once supposed to replace MS Windows, back when Emperor IBM and Darth Microsoft were planning to rule the galaxy together. Then Darth decided he didn't need the Emperor, struck confidential deals with other hardware vendors and software developers, and made Windows (just barely) powerful enough to fill OS/2's intended role. Windows didn't really beat OS/2 technically, but it won the Marketing Wars, which is what mattered. Unfortunately, IBM has given up on OS/2's future. A third-party package called eComStation is a licensed effort to update and maintain OS/2. It's still a stable, useful, Windows-like operating system with a rather loyal userbase. OS/2 runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: OS/2
low price Believe it or not, DOS (with or without Windows 3.1) is still a viable option for many uses. There was an incredible amount of software developed for it, and it still works. Plus, DOS runs like a champ, on old hardware that no one else wants. You can even fit it on a diskette, to boot it on nearly any PC anywhere. In addition to Microsoft's DOS (which you can probably get a computing old-timer to donate to you along with some of his "vintage" applications like WordPerfect 5.1, Lotus 1-2-3 r2.2, and dBASE III), there are modern, compatible DOSes in active use from other sources: the complete open-source clone FreeDOS, IBM's PC-DOS, and MS-DOS compatible DR DOS. DOS runs programs tagged on this site with this icon: DOS
NOTE: If you want to use a different operating system, but still need to run Windows programs, you might be able to have it both ways. You set up your computer to run more than one OS, and pick which one to use when you turn it on. Boot Camp does this on Macs, and most Linux distros can be installed to coexist with other OSes. For even more flexibility, there are systems which will let you run another OS (or several) within your main OS, letting you click from one to another at will: VMware and Parallels (which support most x86 OSes on OS X/Linux/Windows), Bochs (Windows or Linux on Mac, BeOS, Unix, Amiga, etc.), Amiga Forever (Amiga on Windows/Linux/Mac OS). Another option is CrossOver, a package (based on the open-source WINE) that adds enough Windows compatibility to Mac OS X and Linux, so that many Windows programs (including MS Office) can run on them as if they were native to that OS.
close match a close match or substitute for Microsoft's product
high quality an especially high-quality alternative
low price an inexpensive (or even free) alternative
challenge MS offers a strong challenge to Microsoft's influence
my choice my personal selection
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