I’m just buying a new laptop – I need it for work. I want one with a letter box-shaped screen and I think I’d like that screen to be 17 inches rather than 15.4 (or any other size). I definitely don’t want a sub-notebook. I don’t want to record TV programs (because I don’t want a TV card), but I do want to burn DVDs and have lots of windows open at the same time. Doesn’t seem too difficult a specification does it? But because of the date, I am unable to touch a machine like that running Vista at my local PC superstore – although I can touch a machine running XP media edition, or smaller machines running Vista.
Do you want Vista? That was the question the man in the shop asked me and I immediately thought yes. I thought of all the times in the past when new versions of software packages needed features in the latest version of the operating system to work optimally. But driving home (empty handed) afterwards I thought about the question and whether I wanted a Microsoft operating system at all.
If I don’t have Windows on my computer, what are my choices? Well, you know the answers as well as me – Mac OS X or Linux. Mac OS X is really a Unix-based operating system that is designed to be the iPod of PCs. It does everything very easily. I’ve seen it find wireless networks, and it’s good with audio and video files. It’s definitely a contender – especially as I have Mac software because I use a Mac OS 9 laptop some of the time at the moment. I know widgets work on Macs because that’s where they were first created.
Linux is a harder choice. Ubuntu seems to be the favourite at the moment, but very small distros like Puppy Linux are very popular with enthusiasts as well. Every one I speak to has their own Linux favourite for different reasons.
Going with Linux also involves finding alternatives to the well-known packages that Microsoft supplies. Again, this isn’t a problem – and it’s also not a problem on Windows PCs. I use Microsoft Office on my PC and Mac, but I don’t have to. OpenOffice is an Open Source alternative to Office that runs on PCs, Macs, and Linux machines. It comes, as you’d expect, with a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, and a drawing program. It also has a database program. It’s not totally compatible with MS Office, but in each version it gets closer and for all the standard stuff it does seem very compatible.
Of course, everyone who talks about Web 2.0 and AJAX is suggesting that these kinds of application don’t need to be installed, they can be used from a browser. The choices in that case are Writely and Freeform (www.thinkfree.com/common/main.tfo). Freeform allows you to work on word processing files, spreadsheets, or presentations. Writely, which is now owned by Google allows you to use word processing files and spreadsheets. You just need a Google account.
I never use Outlook – although I know many people do – so not having an alternative is not really a problem. I never used it because it was vulnerable at one time (every one in your address book suddenly starts receiving viruses), and I had an alternative address book and to-do software. So I just never started. For e-mail, I did use Eudora for a while, but I prefer not to download e-mails. They sit on various accounts –like Hotmail, Yahoo, etc – where I can view them and delete all the unwanted ones that get through the spam filters. I can then access my mail from any Internet enabled computer – whether it’s running Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. Yahoo mail offers a diary facility and I am sure that a search would find hundreds of freeware PIM software packages for every platform. I could use Google Calendar, which allows you to see other people’s calendars.
There are plenty of alternatives to Explorer as a browser. To be honest I find it quite OK. I use IE 7 with its tabs etc, and I also use Firefox, which I prefer because I have been able to customize it so it does exactly what I want!
There are also plenty of alternative to Media Player. Version 11 seems to think all I want to do is rip or burn or waste time creating playlists. It took me ages to find a way to find some music files tucked away inside a directory inside a directory. Once you’ve found your files it looks very elegant. iTunes, which obviously works on Macs, seems far more intuitive to use – but that is really the big difference between Apple and Microsoft! And there are plenty of other players like WinAmp and Real Player (which I have installed anyway to listen to some BBC radio programmes).
So, do I want to move away from Windows completely and never know the joys (/anguish) of using Vista? Do I buy a Vista machine and try using non-Microsoft applications until I’m brave enough to move off the Windows platform? I’ll let you know when I finally make up my mind. In the meantime, any helpful hints will be much appreciated – you can e-mail me at TrevorE@xephon.com.