All day long, I swivel back and forth between multiple screens running multiple operating systems.
I do my writing on a Mac and my testing on a Vista machine.
But every day, I find myself swiveling back to get tasks or hobbies done on the greatest operating system out there right now — Windows XP.
I know, you're wondering if I'm out of my mind. But it's true. We've all got a love-hate relationship with XP, but it's the only PC OS that can satisfy 100 percent of the people, 100 percent of the time.
I love Mac OS. It's more stable, secure, and elegant than XP. It's built on a more modern foundation, and Apple's consumer media applications are very close to perfect.
For basic users, Unix geeks or people willing to use Apple's apps as directed on the box, it beats the pants off XP.
I've recommended Mac OS to my mom (who took me up on it) and my grandma (who didn't). I reorganized my whole home computer setup in order to organize my photos in iPhoto '08 — the app is that good.
But almost every day at PC Mag, I run into various applications that I need but can't find on the Mac OS platform.
In a recent week, these apps included an affordable consumer video-editing program that handles MPEG2 files as input; the software to transfer music and videos to the Firefly flyPhone kids' phone; a browser fully compatible with our ON24 conferencing system; a way to activate a Sierra wireless 595 PC card; and an actual copy of Microsoft Outlook.
Those are odd applications — well, except for Outlook. But a lot of people have a few odd applications.
That's why, even on Apple's hardware, many technical types have chosen to dual-boot XP.
And here we get to XP's strength: its ecosystem.
XP's huge driver library and developer base are what keep me coming back to my XP box. If it's been dreamed of in the world of PCs, by now it's been dreamed of on XP.
Dozens of manufacturers build a wild range of XP boxes to satisfy all sorts of niche tastes. Don't like any of them? Build your own.
I love to mix and match parts and define my own PC experience, right down to the choice of the case and the fan.
That's an option that Mac OS doesn't really offer. While building your own Mac is possible, you put yourself in an uncomfortable legal position by doing so, and usually end up with a substandard experience compared with a brand-name Apple product.
There are two other players, of course.
Vista is basically XP with Microsoft clones of a bunch of third-party add-ons, minus a lot of driver and program compatibility. It's like your old best friend with an embarrassing and expensive new haircut. Yawn.
Want a desktop search engine? Rather than use the one built into Vista, with XP I can choose among at least three.
Linux is beautiful and stable, but the applications problem on Linux is even worse than it is on Mac OS. And even in this age of Ubuntu, desktop Linux users are expected to be comfortable with the command line and to forego online media stores like Amazon Unbox and iTunes.
XP isn't for dummies, but the culture around Linux demands that you join the Linux community to stay in touch with what's happening on the platform. That's too much for many people.
Yes, XP has security issues. But here's the thing about XP: With choice comes responsibility.
Rather than including one preset solution for a problem the way Mac OS does, XP demands a little more of you. It demands that you go out there, weigh competing options and enhance your system accordingly.
Yes, it's a little tiring to choose among three desktop search engines, five antivirus programs and six DVD-burning programs. Then you discover that only one of those DVD-burning programs fits your own particular workflow, and you're glad to be running the only OS with so many options.
Ah, but Vista is the future, you say. Maybe.
Vista is the future only because Microsoft is giving consumers no choice, slapping Vista by default on new PCs. It's a "success" only in situations where people have no alternative.
Vista's new features just aren't enticing enough to compel people to spend money on them, and Microsoft made no changes to major core underpinnings of the OS.
Vista will slowly creep over the world's desktops in a weirdly lethargic way, with users neither welcoming it nor working very hard to fight it.
You're probably a technology influencer, a relatively techy person who gives tech advice to others. So take mine.
Recommend that your mom get a Mac. (You'll thank me when she doesn't call you for tech support.)
Recommend that your IT department's Web server run on some variant of Unix.
But for your own PC, and for the PCs of people like you — it's XP all the way.
Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.