The strange Mac vs. Windows holy war

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 14, 2007, 2:10 PM | comments: 0

A new OS X version was rolled out yesterday, which includes a number of security fixes. This has of course prompted the usual rash of "your OS suX0rz!!11" comments on Digg and various other places.

Before I get to my observations, let me just say that I really like Macs and OS X in particular. I switched a year ago and I've generally enjoyed using a computer more than I used to. Everything is more simple, and the OS rarely gets in the way of things I want to do (like get photos off my camera, find a network printer, connect to mysterious Wi-Fi spots, etc.). The greatest thing about OS X is that you hardly notice it. Oh, and I do love the hardware too. It's pretty and functional.

Then I go to work and deal with the constant disk churning I can't explain, reboots every couple of days, etc. I tend to wonder why it is my Web server just runs and runs, but I suppose that makes sense since all it has to do is run the same half-dozen processes all day. A personal computer has a lot more to do, opening and closing stuff.

The security update in OS X 10.4.9 covers a lot of really obscure stuff, much of it requiring you to have access to the computer. There are a few items I'd say would concern me, namely the disk image stuff and GIF previewing, but most of it wouldn't even be on the radar of things that I'd worry about.

But for a moment, let's talk about what "security" is. To me, being secure means nothing is going to happen to me. If I'm locked in my downtown apartment, I feel pretty secure. If I'm locked in my farm house in the middle of nowhere, I'm even more secure because there are a lot fewer things that can harm me. Critics will argue that part of the reason OS X has no viruses or spyware is because it's used by a small (although growing 30% year-over-year) share of the market. I don't deny that, but by my definition, that still makes me more secure.

Generally speaking, I feel that OS X is less vulnerable because you need to take deliberate action to install something. Nothing goes without my password. And it's not annoying like the "confirm or deny" feature of Vista that is inevitably going to get shut off. It's more annoying than "training" Zone Alarm back in the day when you first install it.

Where I think Windows really got it wrong was that Microsoft never had the nuts to just start over, because of compatibility concerns. Having used OS 9 back in the day, it had a good interface but the mess of "extensions" and other crap made it a dog too. Starting over did wonders for the new operating system. Vista is still trying to nurse ancient software that most people will never use. I don't know if all that bulk is what makes Windows crawl at times, but I'm sure it doesn't help. I know that compatibility is certainly a concern you can't ignore, but when I look at how relatively lightweight the .NET Framework is, and how you can write software against it, the Win32 world seems like a huge wasteland of bloat.

People are nuts for the Mac because it mostly delivers on the promises made by Steve's version of reality. It's certainly not perfect, but in the last year, the only thing I can remember encountering that frustrated me was that the wired LAN wouldn't take priority when I shut off the wireless. I can rattle off two or three things about Windows in just the last week that have annoyed me.

I don't know what makes an OS "better" than another, but for my money, it all has to do with how little I notice it.


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