The State Of The Personal Computer

“Everyone should switch to Windows Vista, but wait until SP1.”

“This year, Linux will reach the mainstream desktop.”

“The number of Macs at major universities is almost at 50%.”

It doesn’t matter whether your favorite operating system is Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux or you want a computer that just works—technology pundits are always writing about the “next big shift.” Every year, the predictions are the same: Windows users are frustrated, Linux/MacOS will take over. During the final months of 2008, we thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the state of personal computing and consider the future of each platform.

Indeed, 2008 is already shaping up to be a year of milestones. Microsoft Windows Vista reached SP1 status, making it the choice of new PCs across the board; AMD’s Radeon line once again became competitive against Nvidia’s recent GPU dominance; and the launch of Intel Core i7 marks the chip giant’s first major design change since the original Core Duo launch.

This has also been a year of transition and change for Apple Mac OS X and Linux. The release of Apple’s new unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro has created new interest in potential “switchers,” while Linux has seen its most mainstream success to date with the growing popularity of netbooks.

The question is: what will 2009 look like? Will Microsoft’s market share continue to erode after the lackluster release of Windows Vista and rising threats of malware? Will Mac OS X users still be willing to pay an “Apple Tax” and benefit from the relative lack of malware? Will Linux’ success with netbooks open the way for The Year of Desktop Linux?

For the record, I’m a user of all three operating systems. By this, I don’t mean “I’ve installed this OS or that one before.” I was predominantly a Windows Vista user, although I’ve switched to OS X 10.5 Leopard for my notebook and primary PC, leaving Vista on a HTPC only. My research workstation ran IRIX 6.5 from 2001 to 2004, and since 2005, I’ve done my work on Linux, beginning with Vector Linux, then SuSE, and now Fedora Linux.

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  • kyzarvs
    "For the average consumer, the transition to 64-bit means a more stable operating system."

    Huh? There was silly old me thinking that 64-bit computing referred only to allowing you to address more RAM...

    Such things were claimed about the switch from 16 to 32bit - the only difference is the amount of address space available. Stability and security still come down to the quality of the code written for them, not the system architecture as 32 and 64 bit systems are capable of being equally hardware-stable.

    My 2009 predictions:

    Business will stick with XP in the main until 7 is released and proven to be acceptable.

    Home users will go with whatever is pushed at them.

    Mac will continue to make obscene profits from great-looking but technically out-dated hardware. I will continue to not supply our staff with iPhones as the email hack is insanely inefficient compared to Blackberry for corporate mail. Hopefully I will stop getting harassed for them as the Storm and Bold 'berrys are released.

    Linux will continue it's current trend of building on it's successful server-base. There will be a small incremental increase of desktop installations thanks to Asus E and other machines. People won't realise that their phone, car, fridge and watch have linux installations so they will continue to see it as the 'work ob teh debil'. Smart IT managers will continue to deliver colossal RoI with open source solutions where appropiate, but only in the minority of organisations as it requires them to actually do their job.
  • rtfm
    1)Machines with Windows XP RTM are infected at a staggering 33.8 systems per 1,000, while Vista SP1 brings this down to 4.5 per 1,000 and 2.3 per 1,000 (32-bit and 64-bit). As a group, Microsoft estimates 10 in 1,000 PCs as a whole have detected malware. quote]

    Thats because people buy the tech without wanting learning how to use it safely, most computers users are bit like people getting drunk and having unprotected sex - both dont know what they're playing with and more often than not end up with a nasty virus from an unwanted download!

    2) Most people associate 64bit windows with flakey/non-existent drivers and software issues - not stability and security.
  • Belinda
    New Hardware, New Compatibility
    Or page two of why to buy a mac.
    Another example of an article trying to look fair while being pro mac.
  • Anonymous
    The main issue with Macs is that their philosophy is "my way, or the highway" and its more like the computer leads you around by the nose rather than doing your bidding.
  • Anonymous
    I really think the thing with Windows' domination is that the philosophies of our various software vendors goes a bit like this:

    Mac: Do it our way.
    Linux: Do it yourself.
    Windows: We've done it for you.

    No large companies really want to buy into the Mac's closed platform, not to mention Apple's own licensing really hindering the Mac's growth.

    Linux, from my growing-every-day experience is the operating system that claims to do it all, pretty much does, but makes it really hard to do. Particularly things like Internet connection sharing/network bridging which I have yet to configure without it doing something strange.

    Windows seems to be a quite polished from the end-user perspective, can be run on any X86 hardware you see fit and everything's extremely simple to do with an amazingly consistent user interface that you can use without even touching the command line.

    Really it's not that Mac OS X and Linux aren't viable alternatives to Windows, it's that Windows is the 'happy medium' for the vast majority of users between a completely closed but insanely easy to use platform (Macs), and a completely open but very difficult to get to grips with platform (Linux).
  • Anonymous
    Macs are for morons, Windows is for retards and Linux is for people who actually know how a computer works
  • luckyluke699
    For someone who has used linux for that long, I am somewhat surprised that the author has given this the review he has. I do not believe 2009 is "the year of the linux" but the sector could grow over the next ten years or so. Who knows?

    Specifically part of the article is quote below...
    "Imagine a stripped-down distribution with Open Office, Evolution, Firefox, F-Spot, Gimp, Brasero, Banshee, xgl/Compiz, and essentially nothing else. Finally, lock everything down to ensure adequate security."

    Ubuntu 8.10 (this means it was released in 2008 in October) comes with Open Office, Evolution, Firefox, F-Spot, Gimp, Brasero, Rhythmbox Music Player & Compiz by default out of the box. Exactly what was stated was "needed" in the article.

    it's all just there pre-installed (along with some games, a movie player, brasero cd/dvd burner, and Pidgin (msn messenger) amongst other things)

    The installation is as simple as any mac/windows installation, it comes in both 32 and 64 bit variants and you either stick to the LTS (long term) releases released every 3 years, or upgrade the platform every 6 months as most people do!

    For those that are not aware, software installation can be easy to if you want extra programs! just select the "package manager" and type what you are after (for example "wireshark" and click the "apply" button then it is installed for you).

    Take a look at, download it, and give it a try (you can dual boot it).
  • awilkins
    You have to question the impartiality of a journalist that waxes rhapsodic for five pages about obscure colour correction features and how the hardware has managed to catch up with the OS in the "Big Two" operating systems, and then gives Linux a single page, and spends over half of that page discussing why it isn't as good as Windows and OS X, instead of the ways in which it approaches or even exceeds their features. Approximately 20 seconds research is apparently more than he did - that's how long it takes to find a RAW plugin for GIMP.

    Let's flip this over ; for the vast majority of users, the marginal return of choosing Windows or OS X over Linux is now solely about familiarity, intertia, and market control. All "standard" Windows users who only use their browser, email, and office applications would be served well by one of the desktop oriented Linux distributions, and more secure. Their upgrade cycles would be longer - they could spend the money and time saved buying and setting up a new computer, and research and buy a nice Linux-compatible printer. They might even do something new with their computer after browsing through the package manager.
  • Lightnix
    I think some people don't give Linux a hard enough time... Tried Internet connection/network bridging with a crossover cable over a Linux distribution and tried to have it work exactly as it would in XP? Well first you have to install bridge-utils, before creating a bridge with the brctl addbr command, then configuring all the ethernet ports' configuration files you want to bridge with static IP addresses, adding the ports to the bridge, finding out you can't use the Internet on the computer you're using to bridge the connection any more, but it's okay, you can finally connect to Xbox Live!

    I've still got no idea how to bridge a connection and have the network connection work on the host computer under Linux, under Windows it's 'highlight two or more network connections, right click and press "bridge connections".' Seriously, Linux is great and all but it has some horrific usability problems.

    That said, Linux isn't the OS for people who know how computers work - it's the OS for people who know how Linux works.
  • Anonymous
    Setting up Linux takes the expertise.

    Using it for day to day stuff (web browsing, OpenOffice) just requires basic IT competence.

    I work for Contact, a Mental Health Charity and we had an Ubuntu Linux PC hanging around to let our members access the internet. It worked well enough that our other 2 internet access PCs are going to be converted to Ubuntu Linux as well.
  • luckyluke699
    Installin Ubuntu is as easy as using it, if not easier! It's as easy as istalling windows (or mac osx)!

    setting up Ubuntu takes putting a cd in and pressing return when "install" is selected and tpying your name and password in etc. That's it!

    Setting up Ubuntu can be done by anyone, people just assume it is going to be difficult!
  • Anonymous
    luckyluke699 has made some very valid points. I got Ubuntu ordered which was delivered to me for free. I then installed and within a few clicks i was up and running with much every already pre-installed. Unlike Windows where there's about 3hours of installation time awaiting u. Anyway, I also felt the article was a little pro-mac.