The computer I use for most of my work at home is about to break down. Basically it’s a windows box that I have built by using leftovers from my various media center projects.
So, it’s time to upgrade.
A little bit of history
My first computer was a Commodore 64. Entering my life back in 1982 or 83. Before that I played around with my father’s portable Kaypro II. The Commodore 64 took me all the way from playing games, programming Basic and eventually hacking around in assembly language.
In 1984 I also started playing around with my father’s new toy, a brand new Macintosh 128K. The C64 was later on replaced with a C128 and the legendary Amiga 500. I ended my Commodore adventure with an Amiga 4000. After that I was entirely on Apple Macintosh. Both at home and at work.
In 1998 I accepted a position as a consultant with Accenture and figured it was time to learn some Windows stuff as well. Doing it the hard way by building a computer from scratch and installing Windows NT. Took me about three months to get everything working. Three months that practically made me a windows expert. After that I have been using different Windows and Mac computers. Mostly Windows. All the way from NT to 2000 and now Windows XP and Media Center Edition.
How important is the operating system?
It used to be pretty important. Hardware was closely tied to the operating system. Most of the work was done in applications installed on top of the particular operating system you had decided to use. Networks, disks and file formats was alone on their different platforms. Once you were locked into an operating system it was hard to switch to another.
During the last couple of years the operating system itself isn’t that important anymore. I do 90% of my work in the browser. A computer running Firefox alone will be able to solve most of my daily work.
Outlook was entirely replaced with Gmail several months ago. Microsoft Word and the simple work i do in Excel have been replaced by Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I do my publishing directly in WordPress. Calculations are done with CalCooLate. I administrate and get my news through Google Reader.
All of this can be done fluently on Windows, MacOS or Linux. The operating system is loosing its importance.
So what’s left?
Why bother? If Firefox is the only thing you need why don’t you simply switch to the free and user friendly Ubuntu? Actually, I have considered it. But I still rely on some applications that are installed on my computer:
1. Image handling
I use Adobe Photoshop Elements to administrate and edit my images.
2. Video and audio editing
I currently use Sony Vegas Video to edit media.
3. Presentation work
This is actually a field where I don’t have a proper tool today. I use PowerPoint, but it is absolutely horrible. And the web based tools like Thumbstacks isn’t there yet.
In addition to this I use huge amounts of small more or less important helper applications to handle various tasks. You find some of my favourites here. And yes, after I wrote that article I have replaced ZoomPlayer with VLC and added Democracy Player to the list of important tools.
Some of the most important stuff that the operating system has to do is to run stable, be clean, uncluttered and fast and take care of some basic safety. I am quite happy with the work that Windows carries out on my boxes, but it is getting increasingly cluttered.
And my experiments with Vista has not been very convincing. They try to add security by restricting the user from doing anything. On one of the Vista boxes I use I am waiting for a security alert that would say something like: “Are you sure you want to type the letter “E”?. It could be dangerous”. I answer “yes”. The next box would say “Are you really really sure? Was it you that just typed the letter E? This is a security question to verify that your computer is safe”. So, when I try to type the rest of my name, “Are you sure you want to type the letter “i”? etc…
This, in addition to the sheer joy of some variation leads me to the temptation of some alternatives. And, it seems like Thomas Hawk has been pretty happy lately.
All of the tasks that I do in addition to what’s in the browser can be solved in Ubuntu, but I am afraid it’s not that user friendly yet, and that I wouldn’t find a video editing suite and image archive that would fill my needs. Please let me know if you have some recommendations. I know that The Gimp would probaly solve my image editing needs, but I also need a system to handle my 32 000 images with tagging and browsing.
So, I am considering to do the switch to Apple. For this house that would be to replace two old windows boxes with two brand new iMacs. And I would also keep my promise and replace my good old Thinkpad X31 with a MacBook Pro when the IBM laptop needs to be upgraded. The Media Center will stay for a while. The only real alternative there would be to install MythTV. Apple have no proper DVR software yet.
My old windows box is still running, but good advice is welcome in the comments! It seems like a 17″ iMac will be the happy and hard working box that will replace the one I am using right now. 17″ because there isn’t room for anything bigger.