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What is the best desktop computer operating system?

ComputerGuru -

There is no one size fits all answer to " what is the best desktop computer operating system?" Let me first tackle the differences between Linux, Microsoft, and Apple. Hopefully the tech purists won't beat me up too much for generalizing here.

The arguments of which operating system (OS) is best often focuses on the GUI (graphical user interface). Apple focused on being graphical from the start, and Apple focused on a creating single poweruser desktop computer. They have created their own very successful world.

I work in the world of enterprise computers, that's where many computers are talking together, working together, on local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). Some might say I have gone over to the dark side and become a Microsoft fan boy. I bashed Microsoft quite a bit over the years for inefficient operating systems. After spending more than 20 years working with Microsoft products in the enterprise environment I have come to appreciate Microsoft and all the technology they have created.

Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system. When I was teaching I always remember a line from a song when I described Unix, "It wasn't build for comfort it was built for speed." Command line functions, the non GUI stuff, is important to the people who use Unix. A lot of Linux, like Unix, is used by people running it on servers, they don't care about the GUI. That's why there are so many distributions of Linux, some are geared to people using it mainly for server based applications, and some Linux Distros focus on a pretty GUI. Distro is a shortened version of the term distribution. We will discuss popular Linux distros in our next article.

The Linux kernel

Let me use the analogy of building an automobile and say that the operating system kernel is like the engine and drive train of the vehicle. Some people argue the case for Linux based on the assumption that the Linux kernel offers the best engine and drive train to power our computer. That depends, the best for what purpose?

The question often comes up as to why doesn't Windows or Apple create services and applications and applications that work with Linux.

From a programming perspective Microsoft has spent billions of dollars creating services and applications that run on their kernel. What incentive would they have to start creating services and applications specific to a Linux kernel?

Apple seems pretty happy pumping out smartphones, some Apple fans are sad that Apple now appears more focused on phones rather than computers. Apple is the most profitable company on the planet. Why would they start creating services and applications specific to a Linux kernel?

Who has the best GUI?

If we get beyond the argument of why the Linux kernel is the best, the question assumes that we need a  Windows or Apple graphical user interface (GUI) to make the best operating system.  There are many impressive looking GUI’s in the Linux world. Take a look at all the Linux distributions we describe in our next article. Some distros have focused on the server geeks and server functions, some have focused on looking good with pretty GUIs for the desktop crowd.  For instance, Mint is a fork from Ubuntu, which is itself a fork from Debian. Mint was forked off Ubuntu with the goal of providing a familiar desktop GUI.

You can't make money on Linux

There are answers that suggest Apple or Microsoft could not make money supporting Linux. Some people don't understand the concept of open source and believe you can't make money by supporting it.

Richard Stallman, the father of the Open Source software movement, explains that Open Source refers to the preservation of the freedoms to use, study, distribute and modify that software not zero-cost. In illustrating the concept of Gratis versus Libre, Stallman is famous for using the sentence, "free as in free speech not as in free beer."

As Google has shown with Android you can straddle the fence successfully between supporting an open source operating system while still maintaining a fair amount of proprietary components.

As far as Microsoft supporting Linux, in case you missed it, Microsoft recently joined the Linux Foundation.

Why is Microsoft Windows so popular?

It's funny how questions on forums often start with "Why is Microsoft Windows so popular?" and then go on to give reasons why it shouldn't be so popular. Microsoft is popular, that is the reality. The reasons of why it shouldn't be so popular are typical perceptions of Linux users looking to stir up a debate.

Desktop computers and personal computers starting entering homes and offices in the 1980s. The world of what we then called "IBM compatible" was driven by computers that were command line operating systems. That meant you had to type in command, short words and ,to get your computer to perform various tasks. People came up with various menus and interfaces, but the desktop was not very graphical.

The mid 1990s was the perfect storm for Microsoft Windows 95. The world was just discovering the internet as online services began connecting to the internet for the first time. Microsoft began marketing Windows 95 as the Graphical User Interface to the desktop computer, and the graphical world wide web with Internet Explorer. Love them or hate them, Microsoft became the dominant desktop computer that people used in their homes, and connected to the web in the 1990s.

It is that Windows has become the predominant desktop computer operating system in the 1990s, in offices, and schools, that people have little reason to use something different at home. In order to get people to change the differences must be totally seamless.

Many Linux fans will say that Linux has become much easier to use, and the interface much more like Microsoft Windows. Many Linux users will call Windows too complicated and that switching over to Linux is easy. That is a matter of perspective. I have been supporting desktop computers for more than 30 years, I know first hand how people hate change. Give any windows user a different operating system and they will call it complicated, because it is different. When Blackberry's went out of style and people were forced to use Apples and Androids, I heard users complain about how they missed how easy their Blackberry was to use. It was easy because that was what they learned on, and now they were forced to change.

I keep hearing about how all the cool Linux distros are faster, sleeker, better, than Windows, but there has yet to be a computer company that has mass produced a desktop computer with a Linux distro. The closest thing to a home use Linux based computer is the Google Chromebook. I have a Linux computer at home, but it is just a web browser and email reader. Sure there are a few games on it as well. But there are too many applications I use at work that I could never bring home because they won't run on a Linux computer.

I am by no means a Microsoft Fanboy. Over the years I have had strong words for how Microsoft has done things, but in recent years I finding myself defending Microsoft because some of the negativity gets pretty silly at times. I am not going to force myself and my family to use a Linux computer just to prove a point. I don't see myself going down that road anytime soon.o

My perspective is also a bit different that the average home user, I am a systems admin. I need to worry about how well multiple computers play together with multiple users. The computer could be use as a toy, or a set of tools, what works best for you depends on what applications you need to do the job. There is no one size fits all answer to which computer should you use.

Sorting through the buzzwords and standards

In the OSI architecture "the physical layer" is used to describe the fundamental layer of computer networking. In more general terms the physical layer is the carrier of information between computers using a variety of wired and wireless technologies.

In addition to describing the the physical layer in the section on the theoretical OSI Reference Model, we sorting through the terms, breaking down the definitions and standards into smaller topics as they relate to some commonly asked questions.  The pages on the networking hardware are included in the section on common questions and basic computer concepts.

We approach our goal of geek speak made simple from the perspective of a network engineer relating things to specific technology standards, avoiding technology street slang or common buzzwords that are often incorrectly used.

Check out these related articles in your question to understand technology:

The Physical Layer of the OSI model


Singularity futurist predicts when humans and machines merge

Guru 42 -

As we study Geek History we explore the visionaries who have an idea and see what is possible, often before the technology exists to make it real. Ray Kurzweil has been a technology visionary since the 1970s when he invented a reading machine for the blind with a text-to-speech synthesizer. In the 1980s Kurzweil created the first electronic musical instrument which produced sound derived from sampled sounds burned onto integrated circuits.

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil believes the day that artificial intelligence becomes infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined is not that far off in the future. In his book, "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" written in 2006, Kurzweil predicts when this new phase of artificial super intelligence takes place. "I set the date for the Singularity—representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability—as 2045"

Is singularity a destination?

So how far is it from here to infinity? How long will it take us to get to eternity?

I often say that the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. The phrase "You don't know what you don't know" has been said many ways. It is a play on a well-known saying that is derived from Plato's account of the Greek philosopher Socrates, "I know one thing; that I know nothing."

Maybe I am looking at this from my simple minded human perspective, but three decades is a pretty short time period in the evolution of humans and technology. I have the experience of having worked in the field of technology for more than four decades.

I sound like a real old fart when I talk about using radios with tubes in the 1970s and working as various forms of technology as it transitioned to solid state electronics. I remember back in the 1980s when I tried to explain to people how they would be using personal computers as tools in their business plugging them into phone lines. The concept of the internet was not widely known back then.

No one can predict the future with any certainty. Of course, if you want to debate, there were always those visionaries ahead of their time. Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the greatest visionary to have ever lived. Leonardo saw the possibilities of flying machines in the 1500s, and designed in theory many examples of flying machines, centuries before the Wright Brothers launched their plane at Kitty Hawk. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or even feasible during his lifetime, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent in recorded history.

There were many people who could look into the future and see what was possible, such as a true visionary Jules Verne, who was quoted in 1865 as saying, "In spite of the opinions of certain narrow-minded people who would shut up the human race upon this globe, we shall one day travel to the moon, the planets, and the stars with the same facility, rapidity and certainty as we now make the ocean voyage from Liverpool to New York."

One of my favorite science fiction authors I read growing up was Isaac Asimov who told amazing stories of robotics and artificial intelligence. The technology of the 1940s and 1950s could not create the robots in the stories of Asimov. Today the stories of intelligent robots are no longer fiction.

Maybe I've read too many science fiction novels about the utopias and the dystopias? When I say, "You don't know what you don't know," I look at the examples given here. With every generation we are amazed with how far we have come as we look back to the past. But we also see the long journey ahead and are equally amazed as we look towards the future.



When the internet is down my radio still works

Guru 42 -

From time to time events in the world remind us that modern technology has limits, as we recently saw with the problems with Amazon Web Services, that took down many major web sites. People were having panic attacks because they were having issues getting to their favorite website.

Theoretically the internet was created to be a better more fault tolerant communications system. As the internet has exploded commercially it has become the exactly the opposite of the original goal. It has created the biggest single point of failure in our world. People forget there are other ways of doing things without using the internet, like using traditional broadcast radio for news and entertainment.

It scares me that some people think that we should use the internet for everything. Instead of making any more comments based on my subjective opinion, I felt inspired to do a little research.

It would appear that traditional radio is still alive and well.

Here are some snippets from Pew Research on radio broadcasting:

"... terrestrial radio continues to reach the overwhelming majority of the public."

As far as using radio for a source of news and information:

"Pew Research Center’s own survey work adds insight here, finding radio to be a common source of news among adults in the U.S. In research asking about how people are learning about the U.S. presidential election, 44% of adults said they learned about it from radio in the past week. "

Source: Pew Research Center Audio: Fact Sheet

To those who say terrestrial radio (traditional broadcast radio) is dead, might be surprised to see that the Pew research numbers show that the percentage of Americans ages 12 or older who listen to terrestrial radio weekly has remained pretty steady at over 90% for the years 2009 through 2015.

Source: Audio: Weekly radio listenership (terrestrial)

Why not always use the internet?

You use the simplest tool you need to solve a problem, why make things more complicated than they need to be?

I want to kick back after dinner, and unwind watching some mindless entertainment. I watch television. The internet can be a pain at times. Connections are slow, websites are take too long to load. Sometimes the alternatives to using the internet are more efficient.

I want to sit on the porch, enjoy a beverage, and relax. I listen to the radio. It is quick and simple. Why would I use anything else?

I am driving in the car, I want some background music to pass the time. I listen to the radio. Why do I need the internet?

What if the power goes out? What happens then? Will my wi-fi work? Or I just could listen to my battery powered radio to connect to the world.

Need any more examples?

Why it makes sense to receive FM Radio on your cell phone

Does it makes sense to eliminate FM radio in favor of digital?



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