Get a Mac, or try Linux for free

They are better alternatives, so use them!

Have you ever had problems with your Windows PC? I’ve talked about those elsewhere on this site. What most people don’t know is that you have a choice. You don’t have to use Windows to get your work done. There are alternatives, and in some ways they’re even better. This is a beginners’ guide to the two main alternatives to Windows:

Mac OS X

Apple iMac computer

Apple's iMac, with OS X "Leopard"

Mac OS X is what Apple computers use instead of Windows. Apple of course are famous for the iPod and iPhone, and their computers are known as Macs. OS X is designed for Macs only. Although tech enthusiasts have managed to hack it to install onnormal PCs, you can’t just go buy it off the shelf and put it on your computer. You need a Mac.

The latest version of Mac OS X is known as Leopard. It looks nicer, and is faster, more stable, more secure and more advanced than Windows. Computer novices, you should find Leopard’s clean looks easier to use, once you get used to a few Mac quirks. Don’t be put off about having to learn a new system - you’ll get used to it in a few days. If you buy a new PC you’ll have to learn a new system anyway - Windows Vista - and we’ve all heard how bad Vista is.

“I’ve heard Macs are expensive”

There’s a common misconception that Macs cost more than Windows PCs. And it’s true, you can buy a Windows PC for less than a Mac (and Microsoft are currently running rigged adverts in the USA to highlight that). This is because 1) Apple don’t make cheap junk, so their machines often last far longer; and 2) They’re not particularly more expensive when you compare them like-for-like. i.e. if you look at the cost of a Windows PCs with similar specifications, then include the cost of finding equivalents to the award-winning software (like iLife) that comes free with every Mac. Plus, there’s all the time, money and frustration you’ll save by havinga computer that just works properly. Trust me, it’s worth it. You’re worth it.

You probably don’t need a new computer either

In these difficult economic times, many people understandably want to economize. Do you want a computer, but only need it for basic tasks like writing letters, e-mail, managing photos, watching DVDs, browsing the web and keeping in touch with your family and friends? Then an older Apple computer is ideal for you - Apple machines are built to last, and come with cool software to do all that! Buy a good pre-owned (second-hand) iMac or PowerBook/MacBook if you need a laptop from a friend/colleague/website like eBay or Craigslist. Or get a factory refurbished Mac Mini direct from Apple’s online storethen plug in your old monitor and keyboard. (Apple's factory refurbished section of the store is only open Wednesday US daytime, so get in quick to snap up a bargain, complete with warranty).

Macs are not Windows

NB: Mac OS X is not Windows. It’s a different operating system, it’s like it speaks a different language. That, plus the nicely-designed hardware is what makes Macs different (and better). Which meansyou can’t normally use Windows softwarein OSX - just like you can’t put petrol (gas) in a diesel car. No problem though, because most popular Windows software has a Mac equivalent; for example there’s Microsoft Office for Mac. I have a Mac and routinely work on and exchange documents with PC users, so don’t worry about compatibility. Here’s some answers to other common questions people ask about Macs.

You can even install Windows on a Mac though, and choose between Mac OS X and Windows at startup. Most people who buy a Mac for that end up spending 90% of their time using OS X anyway. If you only need one Windows app from time to time, there’s a more inexpensive solution:Crossover Mac, which comes with technical support and a money-back guarantee. Or if you’re willing to muck around a little, there’sDarwine, which is free and is how I run Windows games and apps without Windows. Crossover and Darwine don't run everything perfectly though.

You’ll be amazed at just how much easier to use Macs are. The first time I showed my father a PowerBook - an Apple laptop - he commented how much clearer and easier to use it looked. Go to your nearest Apple store or reseller and you’ll see just why he said that.

If you’re not in the market for a new computer, just fed up of Windows not working properly - or concerned your kids’ PC might get messed up - here’s an alternative you can put on your current PC:

Linux

SUSE Linux desktop

SUSE 11 Linux desktop

Have you heard of Linux? It’s the free, fast and secure alternative operating system you can install on normal PCs - and its logo is a penguin. Just looking at it, Linux seems much like Windows, so it’s not difficult to get used to. Yes there are some cosmetic differences, but no more than learning to use a new version of Windows (which you’ll have to do if you buy a new PC, and you’ve heard how bad Vista is). Linux is no ordinary penguin either - it has hidden powers and rock-solid security built-in.

Linux comes in many flavours, called distributions. Some of the most common distributions areUbuntu,FedoraandSUSE. The school where I teach uses SUSE. Small-to-medium-sized business: here are theadvantages of SuSE Linux Enterprise. At home: try Ubuntu first.

Linux is becoming easier and easier to install and use - it usually takes under 25 minutes to install and get it up and running; so you can be writing Word-compatible documents in Open Office, and browsing the web in Firefox (which you may already use). Just like Mac OS X, you can’t normally use Windows software in Linux. But Linux has great repositories of software to choose from, and you canrunmany- but not all - Windows apps and games if you installWine(free but difficult to get working) orCrossover Linux- which, like the Mac version comes with technical support and a money-back guarantee.

One word of advice: Linux isn’t perfect, but it is getting better all the time. You may find that ifyou have a really non-standard PC then certain things, like your laptop’s webcam, might not workat first. Then you need to go hunting the web for drivers (as you would for Windows). How can you avoid this? Makea note of the model name and manufacturer of your PC, then go check the compatibility page of your chosen Linux distribution before you install it.

If you’re worried, don’t be. You can install Linux side-by-side with Windows so you don’t lose anything, or download a freeKnoppix LiveCDto try out Linux quickly without even installing anything or changing your computer’s configuration. Download it, burn it to CD, restart and 5 minutes later it’s like you have a new computer. Just eject the CD and restart again and you’re back to Windows. Give Linux a fair try, it’s fast, safe and you might like it!