Each of the three leading operating systems are looking at some major facelifts this year. Everyone has their own (usually strong) opinions when it comes to OS’s, but with the direction personal computing is headed, there are a lot of things to consider.
Personally, I was always more of a Linux guy – until I got my MacBook Pro last year and joined the Apple cult, that is. Bottom line, I’ve never wanted anything to do with Windows, but after getting my hands on the consumer preview of Windows 8, I just might have been persuaded. We’ll get to that in a minute – first, lets look at what Canonical’s newest OS is all about.
Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin)
My favorite version of Ubuntu was unquestionably Lucid Lynx. Things started getting awkward when the interface began to take on a more mobile personality – more or less turning your desktop into a giant smartphone. Obviously Ubuntu isn’t the only one to go in that direction with its UI – each of the soon to be released versions of OS X and Win8 are similarly mobile-optimized. That said, rather than going on a rant about how a desktop is a desktop and a tablet is a tablet, we’ll judge the UI’s by which one makes for the best platform-agnostic experience.
Ubuntu is ultimately designed to be the end-user’s Linux distro. In its earlier years, whether or not it truly was so user-friendly was debatable. With Canonical’s assertions that its OS is effortlessly transitioned to from Windows, it seems like an endless amount of kids in their mid-teens are wiping the family PC’s hard drive and installing Linux. When they install all the updates and something goes wrong – like the display being stuck in low-graphics mode (or not working at all) and various hardware not functioning, along with the lack of support for their Microsoft software – they usually (in a rage) migrate back to Windows in no time.
Ubuntu’s most recent updates though, especially 12.04, make this flavor of Linux undeniably more friendly than its distant cousins like Arch Linux and RedHat.
Although I’m not a huge fan of the Unity dock, I have to admit that it seems perfect for the less tech-savvy crowd, and just as suitable for even the most advanced computer users as well. The thing that gets me about Unity is its overall lack of customization. Maybe I just didn’t dig deep enough into Precise Pangolin, but I saw no built-in means of changing the positioning of the dock or even any extensive customization options like transparency and other similar tweaks. It looks alright as-is, but I like to be able to change things up from time to time – especially with Linux.
As a whole though, Ubuntu 12.04 is a solid operating system – it’s still my favorite Linux distro, no doubt. Aside from the dock, Unity is alright with me. The OS has always mimicked OS X a little bit, and with the way maximized windows merge into the top panel in Unity, that’s now more apparent than ever.
I love the Windows 7 style window snapping feature included in Pangolin – allowing for a much smoother experience when doing things like word-processing in Libre Office while researching information in your browser. That’s the one thing that really bugs me about OS X; the window buttons are pretty useless in the first place – a snapping feature would be great, is all I’m saying.
The new Ubuntu Software Center has a nice feel to it, although it’s not a huge change from the previous version. It feels a lot like the Mac App Store, but more Linux-ey. I like the idea of Ubuntu One integration as well, but I think (for the price) Bitcasa will eliminate the need for that, once it’s released into the wild.
Another high-point of Ubuntu, or just Linux in general, is how amazingly lightweight it is. Canonical has always had a goal to make the entire Ubuntu install fit on a regular CD-R, which is just crazy when compared to the size of Win8 and Mountain Lion. Moreover, I didn’t want to make yet another partition on my HDD, so I’ve just been running it with VirtualBox, and it runs flawlessly. I can even switch over to another one of my Mac’s desktops and play a full-screen HD video no problem.
Like I said earlier – I’ve always despised Windows. Pretty much everyone has used Windows 98 back in the day, Millennium was a joke and XP was a little better, but still not something I’d ever be able to use every day. We all know how big of a failure Vista was, before being overthrown by Win7 – which was actually a decent OS, but same as XP; I couldn’t ever see it as something I would use on a daily basis.
Windows 8, however, blew me away. Yeah, the actual desktop looks pretty similar to Win7 – but I’ve always loved that look anyway… I just hated that stupid Start menu. It makes launching programs a little faster, but most Windows users that I’ve seen have a desktop crammed full of shortcuts anyway. What’s more, if you use the Start bar to launch everything, you have to sift through the unreasonable amount bloatware to find what you’re looking for.
The Windows Phone 7 style Start menu is perfect – and along with the lack of bloatware this OS comes with, the entire experience is dramatically smoother and more enjoyable. I didn’t realize how attractive such a simple menu, comprised of multicolor squares, could be. I liked it so much that I actually bought Launcher 7 for my MyTouch – and I’ve never been the type to try to make one OS mimic another, but I’ve also never seen such a clean and elegant menu design.
Without a button in the bottom panel, you might be wondering how you would go about navigating to the Start screen. A handy new feature introduced in this OS is something they call Charms. Somewhat like OS X’s ability to perform certain tasks when your cursor reaches a set corner of the screen, Windows 8 brings up the “Charm bar” when you hit the top-right corner – allowing access to search and sharing functions, as well as your control panel, devices and Start menu, of course.
I’ve been seeing a lot of mixed opinions regarding the Metro interface of Windows 8, more disapproval than approval – but I think it’s the best thing Microsoft has ever done to Windows. It’s one of those optimized-for-tablets things, but it looks great in desktop form too. It’s simple, but not too simple like Apple sometimes gets. I think the Metro-themed, Windows Phone 7 style Start screen will ween a lot of complete end-users off of filling the desktop up with icons – you get to choose what your Start screen has on it, which pretty much eliminates the need for both a Start menu on the actual desktop as well as the habit of becoming overcrowded with icons.
Not too long ago, Internet Explorer was considered by most to be one of the worst stock browsers out there. IE9 was a huge improvement, but it just wasn’t up to par with Chrome or even Firefox. Windows 8 ships with IE10, and I was completely taken by surprise at first glance – I quickly installed Chrome afterward, but IE10 was actually a decent browser. I wouldn’t use it as my primary means of surfing the Web, but the full-screen version is pretty nice.
Windows Live ID is also integrated, giving Win8 some cloud functionality. I didn’t actually get to test it out, but I do like the idea of carrying your settings and files from one computer to another, all with your Live ID.
Overall, Windows 8 is (in my opinion) the first acceptable version of Microsoft’s Windows. Beyond that, it’s not only acceptable, but enjoyable. The Metro theme looks amazing, and that ridiculous Start bar is pretty much dead, finally.
OS X Mountain Lion (10.8)
Strangely enough, Mountain Lion is my least favorite of the three – and I’m a Mac guy. I just really don’t like where Apple has been headed lately. I’m not saying “Steve Jobs died, so now Apple sucks”, because I have no idea what really goes into the company’s decision to do this or that. What I am saying though, is that it seems like Apple is just turning into another Microsoft.
A lot of people have always just assumed that Macs can’t get any kind of virus whatsoever, but with this recent Flashback malware threat, we all know that’s not the case. It’s definitely a lot more difficult to contract something on OS X, but the threats are constantly growing. That’s why Mountain Lion ships with a new virus protection program, Gatekeeper.
By default, Gatekeeper blocks the installation of all third party apps. That seems a little excessive, but you can always disable the setting. Still, it’s strange that an anti-malware application would completely disallow users to install anything but App Store software. I know Apple’s thing is “think different,” but it seems like they sometimes make it too much of a point to be different than other software companies. Macs have never really had virus protection, and it’s good that they’re showing some concern in that area now, but something more like Windows Security Center would have been fine.
On a lighter note, the new Messages app is great – a huge improvement from iChat. With Messages, you can send unlimited, free messages to anyone with an iDevice or another Mac – it can do everything iChat could do, but more. The interface of the app also feels more like something you’d see on iOS, probably because it’s essentially the desktop version of the iPhone’s iMessage. My only gripe is that you can only send an SMS to iPhones, but that’s to be expected from Apple.
Twitter integration is another interesting feature. The blogosphere has already been full of people talking about how it’s a slap in the face to Facebook, and that Twitter is “Apple’s social network,” so I’m not really going to get into that. I do, however, think that Twitter fits OS X’s personality a lot more than Facebook or any other social network; it has more of an elegant, simplistic interface than most other OS’s, and Twitter kind of follows that concept too. You can tweet from apps like Safari and iPhoto – which makes image upload and sharing Web pages drastically easier than using the actual site, and you also get all your updates right to the desktop.
I’m not too sure how popular Game Center is going to be – it just seems like a regurgitated version of RealArcade or OpenFeint. Some of the games available on there are alright, like Real Racing 2, but the whole idea of a social gaming app on a Mac just feels a little weird to me – it’s definitely a new concept for Apple. It would be a lot more pleasing to see games that people actually want to play being ported to OS X, than desktop versions of iOS games. I guess that’s more up to the third party developers though, and not Apple.
Unlike Ubuntu 12.04 and Win8, Mountain Lion isn’t designed to run on a mobile device, considering the fact that Apple already has a mobile OS that everyone knows and loves. Lion introduced a few iOS-fashioned features, like Launchpad and a handful of multi-touch abilities – Mountain Lion’s goal is to further expand on that premise. Instead of making one OS that’s cross platform, Apple is making both iOS and OS X closer together and more integrated. I think I like the idea of that a little more than having the exact same OS across all my devices, but still, I loved Windows 8.
Mountain Lion isn’t a huge change from Lion – it’s more or less just an expansion of what started with the latter. The slightly more mobile feel makes things a little quicker to navigate, and Twitter integration is nice for those who are addicted to tweeting, but it’s pretty awkward if you’re a long-time OS X user. There are a few additional finger-gesture enabled features, but nothing huge. It’s a solid operating system, but I think I’ll be sticking with Lion until it’s no longer supported. Out of the three, Windows 8 was unquestionably my favorite – I even did a Bootcamp install, and have been using it pretty much primarily – aside from when I need to use Final Cut or Logic.