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Long Live The New...Operating Systems

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The latest Windows and Linux flavors

This is the year we get, not only a new Philippine President, but also new operating systems. Desktop-dominant Microsoft has come out with Windows 7. Meantime, Linux mavens welcome Ubuntu 10–Lucid Lynx.

While most will agree that a peaceful and orderly transition in government is a good thing, do we really need to change our operating systems too? Yes and no.

Newer versions are supposed to bring improvements and new features. Bells, whistles, and wow factor aside, the most critical feature of newer operating systems is better security. On the other hand, older versions are more stable. This is why some companies (e.g., call centers) still use Windows NT 3.5, two generations older than current champ Windows XP.

XP itself has been around for so long that, in addition to its stability and security updates, it is comfortable for many. Lots of young workers today first learned to use computers with XP, so this familiar operating system holds no nasty surprises.

If anything goes wrong, it is easy to find people who can fix the problem and provide advice. Not so for new operating systems. So, if you upgrade to a new version of Windows, be prepared to deal with the strangeness and exert the extra effort to learn how to use it efficiently.

Also, one common fallacy is the notion that newer versions of Windows are faster. In fact, the opposite is true. Newer versions will be slower due to bloated software and new functionality. So unless you are buying a new, state-of-the-art computer or willing to spend on hardware upgrades, it is generally not a good idea to put a new operating system in an old computer.

These are some of the reasons why many individuals and even entire multinational companies deliberately 'downgraded' their new computers from Vista to XP.

Speaking of Vista, Windows 7 is at least getting better reviews. Microsoft was embarrassed by the negative reaction to Vista as many preferred to stick to XP. It looks like Vista will be another Windows flop, just like Windows Millennium, or the Ford Edsel.

Vista’s airy, fairytale look may seem cool. But it was sometimes confusing and, worse, consumed a lot of hardware horsepower. Microsoft says that it addressed these concerns in Windows 7.

Can you still stick to Windows XP for some time? Yes. But operating systems do expire. Windows 2000, the immediate predecessor to XP, will reach end-of-lifecycle by July 2010.

Fortunately, XP will still be alive and kicking (and supported with patches) until April 2014. So you have plenty of time to consider making the move and can keep XP around for about four more years.

If you’d like to try something new and your computing needs are mostly web-based (surfing, social networks, e-mail), then you may want to try Linux.

Many new users were first introduced to Linux via Ubuntu installed on small netbooks, and they found it eminently usable. The thing with Linux operating systems is that they have a much faster upgrade and improvement lifecycle, roughly twice a year. While some will want to keep up with the latest versions of their operating system, many of us would prefer something more stable.

This is the reason why Ubuntu has Long Term Support (LTS) versions. The preceding LTS version was Ubuntu 8–Hardy Heron, which was released in April 2008. It will provide desktop support until April 2011.

The current LTS version is Ubuntu 10–Lucid Lynx, which will be supported on the desktop until April 2013. Generally, then, if you don’t want too many version upgrades, it is best to install the last LTS version. Even if you install a non-LTS version, the good news is that Linux upgrades are far less painful than those of Windows and can be automatically done online, in place.

Various variations of Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com) are the most popular flavor of Linux in the Philippines today. The difference is in the desktop's look and feel.

Ubuntu itself has a Mac-like feel. It’s sister Kubuntu (www.kubuntu.org) will be more familiar to those who are used to Windows. For user-friendly coolness, there is also the new Linux Mint 9 (www.linuxmint.com), also based on Ubuntu 10–Lucid Lynx.

Aside from being free, these Linux flavors are also more secure than Windows or even Mac OS X. Linux will also run quite well on hardware that would be considered too old for Windows.

The downside is that, while you may need a techie to help you migrate to any new operating system, Linux techies are much harder to find than Windows ones. But they’re there and would be happy to help.
In the end it’s a matter of assessing your own computing requirements. What do you really need to do on your computer? How much effort are you willing to expend to make your computing more efficient?

There is really no need to upgrade to a newer version simply because it’s new. Consider whether you’re willing to tackle a new OS learning curve now, or if you would rather wait until the next Philippine national elections in 2013.

Print ed: 07/10


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