I want an operating system that doesn’t define me. Or perhaps, one that defines me better. In a sense this is why I use Linux. I can make all manner of choices with it which reflect my personality when it comes to computer use. However, I don’t think it does it well enough.
Some default ways in which OSs define their users in their and others’ eyes (perhaps subconsciously):
Windows: no defining going on. User is not fussed on tweaking the OS. Don’t really know or care what an operating system is. User wants to spend as little time on computer as possible – just get the job done. Computer is a tool, and probably a work one. Don’t really notice or care what it ‘says’ about you.
Apple: User appreciates refined design and interoperability at the (literal) expense of price. Want my computer to work seamlessly and beautifully. I don’t need/want to tweak the experience, because it was designed perfectly already. It lets me get on with my work, which is probably creative in some manner. I notice my OS, and it’s beautiful.
Linux: Technologically more proficient. Will put up with rough edges for better technology. Can tweak beyond my heart’s content, interface- and capability-wise. Not afraid of breaking something – I’ll just fix it again. Default install will not be perfect – will make adjustments myself, whether theming the windows or re-compiling the kernel because I need better media rendering. I don’t really care what it looks like, because my view is deeper beneath the surface.
So what’s my problem?
I’ve used all three OSs above, and I’ve never been perfectly happy with any of them. God, I’m such a… well, if there is a single word for it it’s not complimentary.
Windows: out of the box, works perfectly if it came preinstalled. But it’s full of technological holes, it will grind to a halt eventually and need reinstalling, and reinstalling is a PITA. Needs extra software post-install to anything useful. There’s nothing new or exciting in Windows, and that’s kind of the point.
Apple: beautiful, easy to use (keeps out the way). Doesn’t need tweaking appearance-wise. Works superbly (as long as you only use Apple products alongside it). But comes with all sorts of defaults which are harder to replace than Windows equivalents (Mail – why do you insist on adding an Apple ToDo folder to all my Inboxes? MS Office for Mac – why are you so… different? iTunes – can I just, *not* use you please? Please?). The main excitement comes from the amazing, holistically-designed interface. The hardware is distinctive – everyone knows what you’re using (e.g. white earbuds, glowing apple on lid), and that’s kind of the point.
Linux: ugly-sticked, unfinished feel to interface (icons all over the place in terms of size and style), drivers are hit and miss. Every time some new technology comes along it’s broken unless you’re a computer scientist, but if you use one of the more ‘stable’ distros you’ll be using Firefox 3.5 for a few more months too. But reinstallation is a breeze (because I have a separate /home partition, and installing e.g. Ubuntu includes Firefox, LibreOffice and Banshee, and Thunderbird is a few clicks away). Feel very secure, and don’t have to spend any money on shoring up poor programmings (with AV, firewalls etc). Linux is full of excitement for geeks – the newest software, software that does stuff you didn’t know you needed (MediaTome), and indeed, that’s the point.
So the bottom line is:
I love being a Linux user, but if the pretty Ubuntu doesn’t work properly (as it doesn’t on my laptop) I’m forced back to one of the other distros, which feels unfinished visual- and usability-wise. Ubuntu 10.10 was near-perfect for me, but now Unity is here to stay. It doesn’t work for big screens, but persisting in using Gnome 2 now feels like sitting on death row. Eventually, you’re number’s up. So no future in that.
I’ve been using Opensuse on my new laptop, as the drivers seem best in that (all sorts of mouse problems in Ubuntu). Interface has a less unified feel than Windows since 95, and too much tweaking is needed to make it look nice (why are so many themes downloadable as .zip, when they need to be immediately unzipped and recompressed to tar.gz to be used?).
So what’s the solution?
Use Windows 7 – everything works, but after a year i’m going to need to pay to keep it secure (and I’ll never feel that safe). And I don’t want to transfer all my files there, and re-backup.
Use Linux – and choose between dodgy (infuriating) mouse drivers in Ubuntu and Mint, and a condemned interface which I won’t be able to use very soon anyway, or the less-than-satifying Opensuse.
Is there an operating system which offers a good, complete interface, with plenty tweaking and top security? Maybe Elementary OS or Linux Mint Xfce (http://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=1725)? Either way I’ll have hardware problems, but at least with Linux I can try to my heart’s content.
If you’ve any other ideas on the perfect OS, do let me know in the comments.