Political Analogies for Operating Systems

It's come up a few times that I'm currently using an 11" MacBook Air as my main computer. I bought it back in March because I was about to spend much of the next 8 months travelling, and wanted the lightest laptop possible that had more grunt than a netbook.

It's a damn good piece of hardware. I respect it. I don't, however, obsess over it with the kind of slavish admiration common to many Mac owners. I originally planned to install Windows 7 on it via Bootcamp, but decided to try out Mac OS for a while just to see what it was like.

Six months on, I still haven't installed Windows 7. Mac OS has a lot more power and flexibility than I'd expected. It also has some raging flaws that still drive me insane. To be fair though, so did Windows and Linux. At the moment, Mac OS' many benefits are just about outweighing its many flaws enough for me to keep using it.

As someone who has now spent extensive time with all the mainstream desktop operating systems, I feel qualified to give a reasonably objective view on the endless Linux vs Windows vs Mac OS holy wars that crop up with depressing regularity.

I think the easiest way to explain it is to compare the operating systems to government types.

Unix/Linux is like an anarchy. It's a free for all. You can do absolutely anything you want with it, and configure your computer to do anything. But compared to Windows and Mac OS, it's like claiming a piece of land in the wilderness and building your own city. It's complicated and difficult, and while you can get help from various places, there's no government to even try and guarantee the plumbing will work.

Windows is like a 20th century democracy. It's deeply flawed, but more or less gets the job done. Lots of things go wrong, but you have a reasonable level of freedom and things pretty much work. The government knows that things aren't ideal, and makes a usually decent effort to keep it all running. For an average citizen it's a lot better than anarchy. There's public transport. There's hot water. The trains are usually only 5 minutes late. And while there are restrictions, you're pretty much free to do what you want.

Mac OS is like a utopian dictatorship. Everything is pristine, perfect, orderly, and functional. Everything is provided for you out of the box. Everyone lives in peace and harmony. It just works. ...except when it doesn't. And as long as you don't want to do anything your own way. The government knows what's best for you. They will enact policy changesĀ (without informing you of the consequences) that will benefit the masses but may screw you over, and even disable your iOS apps remotely if they don't like them. Embrace the system, and you will be well looked after. Just don't rock the boat. And of course, taxes are much higher to pay for all the lovely pretty architecture.

Obviously that's a simplistic overview. Ubuntu is doing some wonderful things with making Linux user-friendly out of the box. And with the post-OS-X Unix core and the impressive flexibility of Applescript, Mac OS has become far more customisable in the past few years. Even Windows 7 has made life far more pleasant for people who actually want to play decent games or use versions of MS Office that don't suck (even as of 2011, the Mac ones are still pretty horrible).

One thing that I think will always be true though: if someone is definingĀ themselves, or judging you, by the operating system they're using... well, their opinion is probably pretty safe to ignore. It's what you create that counts, not the computer you do it on.




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