We're at some sort of crossroads. If you're buying a new laptop or computer now, there are too many (bad) choices for what operating system to run.

For most people, there are a bunch of windows programs that it's hard to do without. For a few people there are some Apple Mac OSX programs they can't do without. The classic case is if you're in music production. But beyond that, every application area you probably want to run is available across Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

So the first question is what base operating system you need.

1) XP. It's going to become obsolete in a few months and hard to get, even though MS will go on supporting it with patches for some time to come. It works but it's irritating. And does your lovely new hardware have XP drivers? If your new hardware came with Vista on it, are you going to buy an OEM XP at £75 or a proper legal copy at £275 or maybe you've got an OEM copy lying around from the last PC.

2) Vista. Way too many horror stories. Maybe one day it will ok, and the hardware will have caught up. But right now it feels worryingly flaky. But of course, your new hardware probably came with it installed.

3) Mac OSX. If you buy into the whole Apple ethos, I'm sure it's great. but there's a cost. Not just in monetary terms.

4) Linux. Hooray! Complete Control! But sadly you need complete control to make it work. That's fine if you're smart. And even though it's pretty good now, there are still problems with fonts, graphics hardware, drivers that are not completely resolved. Ask yourself punk, do you feel comfortable with a command line?

Now that virtual operating systems are becoming reasonably mature, you then have the next choice. Do you dual boot, and/or run a virtualisation system? If it's the second, which one? So now we're into combinations. Dual Boot is really a bad option. It's ok for very occasional testing but you really can't use it every day.

1) XP + andLinux. So what Linux programs do you absolutely need that don't already have a windows equivalent or port?

2) Vista + andLinux. Same as 1)

3) Mac OSX + Parallels + XP. See above about the Mac ethos

4) Ubuntu + VirtualBox + XP. Lovely bleeding edge. Can you have USB 2.0 support in the XP system? Who knows. Maybe. With some work. At least you've got a base system that is solid.

And I didn't mention running OSX on an OEM Intel box. An option that is actually real now.

I have a highly tailored XP system right now that's just about stable enough to do useful work on. It only occasionally (once a week) makes me want to scream. For years I've been walking up to work colleague's machine and recoiling in horror at their default XP install. Recently they've been saying things like "I think I'll get a Mac next. I can't stand Windows breaking all the time any more". I'm expecting to actually find them with nice new Vista machines with default Vista setups and I'm going to walk up to the machine and want to weep.

So which of all those options do you recommend? I'm pretty sure I'm going to go for Ubuntu + VirtualBox + XP on a Dell Laptop. Am I insane?

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[ 26-Feb-08 12:10pm ] [ , , ]