My Turn

Quandary: OS 9, OS X, or Linux?

Nancy Butts - reply by Dan Knight - 2001.11.07

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

What an interesting juxtaposition of articles you posted today (11/1): Kevin Webb's piece on being stuck between OS 9 and OS X; Jim Champlin's helpful overview of a "normal" user's experience with 10.1; and poor Walter's lament about the high cost of Apple repair.

It spoke to the quandary I find myself in since the introduction of OS X - not just when should I upgrade, but if I should upgrade. I am a "normal" user, by which I mean I use my Macs to get work done. I have weekly deadlines which require that I be able to print, sync with my Palm IIIxe, scan and fax documents, backup to an external hard drive, use an external floppy, and link to my trusty old PowerBook 170 via an AppleTalk network. There are all things I need to do-they aren't optional. But as I understand it, they are all things I either cannot do at all right now via OS X or cannot do without spending money to upgrade all my peripherals and most of my software.

So upgrading to OS X is going to cost me cash, and a lot of it. But it's also going to cost me something even more precious: time. I'm going to need time to install and learn a brand new operating system. And as thin as my wallet is these days, my store of spare time is even more meager.

Meanwhile, I have set up a nice little system on my Rev. B iMac using OS 8.6 that does everything I need to do and does it well. Analyzing my particular situation this way, I've concluded that OS X offers me no short-term benefits. I don't even see any reason to upgrade to OS 9.

However, I realize that as attached as I am to my low-end Mac home office network, the day will come when there is a piece of software I want or need that is only going to run on OS X. And as I understand it, in order to maintain and troubleshoot OS X, it's necessary to learn at least a little Unix. Thinking ahead to that day when I have to abandon my beloved old Mac OS, I am beginning to wonder - do I upgrade to OS X at all? Or should I think outside the Apple box and migrate to Linux? There are familiar GUIs that one can run on top of Linux, and much of the software is free. Either way I'm going to have to bite the bullet and learn the arcana of a mysterious command line interface again (as I did long ago with DOS).

I'm not a techie. I admit that there's a lot I don't know about OS X and its underpinnings, much less about Linux and how it works. And the idea of jumping the Apple ship and adopting Linux is scary. So I'm asking - what are the advantages and disadvantages, for a "normal" user, of OS X v. Linux? This is an article I'd love to see on Low End Mac.

I'm in a similar situation. I'd like to learn Mac OS X and get comfortable with the next great OS, especially now that 10.1 seems to have solved a lot of the speed issues and other shortcomings of the 10.0.x releases. Like you, I have no compelling reason to do so.

First, all of my software runs under the classic Mac OS. Sure, I could run it in classic mode under OS X, but why add the extra overhead. Second, there is no piece of software yet available that I need. Third, I am a creature of habit.

I've been using pretty much the same programs since the System 7.5.x era: Claris Emailer 2, Claris Home Page 3, ClarisWorks (now AppleWorks), BBEdit Lite, Mizer (an old and discontinued HTML compression program), TextSoap, ramBunctious, FileMaker Pro, Photoshop 4, GraphicConverter, MenuChoice, Default Menu, Copy Agent (formerly Speed Doubler), QuicKeys, and who knows how many other little programs and utilities. Some of these are available as X applications, but most are not. That means I would have to switch between OS X and classic applications constantly - it's so much easier to only deal with one OS.

As for Linux vs. Mac OS X, things are not a pretty on the Linux side of the street as Linux users might lead you to believe. For the most part, Linux applications are home-brew copies of Windows classics such as Word, Excel, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. Quality varies, and from my reading it seems that few, if any, of these cloneware titles have the polish, feature set, and support we're used to with commercial software.

Linux, which is itself not Unix but a clone of Unix, fills a niche for geeks and those who need rock solid servers. Mac OS X, on the other hand, is Unix, and the applications designed for Mac OS X offer the same kind of polish, features, and support Mac users expect.

Another point to consider is that Mac OS X is specifically designed for Mac hardware by Apple and may already be the top *nix implementation on desktop computers.

If you want to dabble, Linux and a spare Mac may be a great inexpensive way to do so, but for those with modern (G3 or later) Apple hardware, Mac OS X is definitely the future. For most of us, it's just a question of when the right piece of software will come along that forces our hand and gets us to adopt it.

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