Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux for Small Businesses?
If you own a computer, phone, game console, or what have you, you deal with an operating system. It’s that handy layer of interaction which allows the user to interact with the bare metal of the machine, to make it do what you want it to do.
The purpose of this guide isn’t so much to provide a condensed history on the subject or make an argument for or against any of the major operating systems, but to provide a baseline for a small business who might be interested in purchasing or building machines for their own identified use cases.
With that being declared, there are three major operating systems, not counting my fondness for the BSD branches, that any business may be considering. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each.
Microsoft’s most famous product is perhaps the most ubiquitous operating system in the wild, accounting for a staggering 90.36% of all desktop and laptop computing environments. The amount of support and the breadth of products is staggering, but having such a massive market share also has its own fair share of problems. Targeted attacks, whether they be penetrative or infiltrative by design, are almost universally targeting Windows. The most recent, WannaCry, was developed to target Windows machines using backdoors and other security bypasses to target Windows.
• Widest range of support for any product on the market
• Plethora of software, which for many use cases is a huge boon
• Ease of use, the main method of navigating the system hasn’t changed much since Windows 98
• Frequent target of malware, spyware, and other attacks
• Legacy software support is a bit spotty, the built-in compatibility layers can help with this, but it varies per application
• Mandatory updates for their latest OS, Windows 10, can be scheduled, but for the unaccustomed user this could lead to lost work
All in all, Windows is a perfectly fine choice, and to many is the defining operating system for most users of any computer over the last 25-30 years, since its introduction and seizing of business oriented computing.
Mac OS X
Apple’s own off shoot of the very flexible and powerful BSD, though with their own bits and bobs injected throughout. OS X is surprisingly robust, beyond purely creative measures, being used by engineers at massive firms like IBM and Google for development purposes. The breadth of support experienced by Windows isn’t nearly as prevalent here, with some licensed support existing, but the lion’s share of technical work being directed towards Apple themselves. Spyware and malware attacks aren’t quite as prevalent on OS X, but being second place doesn’t mean it’s ignored.
• Adept at managing visual design, audio design, and any of the other technical aspects of the creative arts
• Some great alternatives and ports of Windows developed software
• Easy to use, the pleasing user experience is pretty much a no brainer to figure out in an hour or two if you’re bored
• High cost, the operating system pretty much solely exists on Apple hardware
• Lack of compatibility with Mac formatted devices on Windows systems, which can hamper the transference of files and the like if you’re swapping flash drives
• Lack of user driven upgrades, the hardware is pretty locked down without the intervention of Apple certified techs
Linus Torvald’s innovative take on a free Unix still sees much use past its novelty nearly 30 years after its introduction. Linux is free, though the support may not be, but it comes with many amenities and niceties we expect of a modern operating system. Most of the major software suites used for general productivity are available for free, and the ever present and popular WINE also allow for the use of productivity suites like Microsoft Office. Linux by and large is more of a specialized solution however, which requires work and effort to gain any degree of proficiency if you’re hoping to get the most out of it.
• Open source software provides abundant choices and extensions of system functionality
• Distros can often be configured for the individual use case, allowing you to drop packages and the like which might not be desirable
• Many great tutorials, guides, and other literature are available to make Linux everything from a graphical design powerhouse to a simple workstation handling point of sale.
• More complicated, on average, than the other major operating systems
• For the more powerful suites of software, they might be free but often have a support contract attached as opposed to having the support built into the cost of the software itself
• Open source drivers can be slow to adapt to more recent revisions of hardware, and can provide some headaches in getting a system fully operational
Linux is a very attractive solution if you’re not afraid of getting your hands wet and learning its idiosyncrasies. It is an operating system without training wheels however, despite all-in-one installation tools and guide being prevalent. It is just as capable as the other major operating systems however.
Which Should I Choose?
When it comes to picking an operating system for your use case, it’s pretty easy to default to whatever comes installed on the machine.
This is by no means a bad choice, since support and the like will always be present, but there are a few questions I ask you to consider:
- What is my intended use?
- What level of support am I comfortable with?
- Will my employees be willing to acclimate themselves to this?
I can’t give a clear cut answer as to what the best operating system is, and that’s a discussion best left for another topic. I use all three on a regular basis for very different use cases, but that doesn’t mean one is better than any other. Go with what suits your needs, suits your costs, and ultimately benefits you in terms of expenditure, both monetarily and in terms of time.