The airwaves and Internet are saturated these days by the Microsoft media blitz for their first new operating system in five years, Vista. If you listen to the mantra, you must upgrade now or the world might pass you by. I find this ironic given that the computing world has largely passed by Microsoft in the last five years. They are no longer the leader in innovation that they once were. Other operating systems are now more advanced than the long in tooth Windows XP. Vista is an attempt by a former heavy weight to get back in the ring and duke it out with newer and younger competitors.
If you are one of the unfortunate masses still slugging it out with XP, you may be wondering whether you should make the investment to upgrade to Vista or simply let it be and continue on as you have been for the past half decade. You have many options available to you, which one you choose is defined by who you are and what you need.
If you simply must have the latest and greatest from Microsoft, and don’t mind relearning things in the spirit of “innovation” then Vista is for you. But unless you just, and I mean within the past year, bought a new, high end PC, don’t bother upgrading. Vista is a resource hog and needs a high end graphics card, at least a Gig of RAM and a very fast CPU. If your PC is older than a year, you will end up laying out several hundred more dollars than the actual cost of buying the operating system upgrade. At today’s prices, it actually makes more sense to buy a new PC, that way you get the hardware Vista craves and you don’t have to muck about upgrading hardware and software.
You say you like the features of Vista, and don’t have the money for all the hardware upgrades? You can still get Vista and just live with a stripped down user experience – kind of like Windows XP offers today. In that case, what you are really getting is a bogged down PC that will look new on the surface, but will be slower than if you just reinstalled XP and did the patches to make it safe. If it sounds like what you should do is just let it be and continue using XP, then by all means, save some money now, and put it towards a new PC a year or two down the line. If you wish you had some cool eye candy like Vista and you don’t want to pay for it, you could bite the bullet and make the switch to an alternative operating system.
Linux has come a long way in the last five years and it’s now easy to install and easy to use. No, you heard me right, easy to use. If you go with a popular version like Ubuntu, you can have a modern, stable operating system for free. Linux is not a resource hog and will run fine on any computer that now handles Windows XP. You can even test run Ubuntu and many other flavors of Linux on you current PC by booting into a CDROM and loading the operating system entirely into RAM. Give it a test drive, kick the tires, see what it feels like and then take out the CDROM and reboot back into your good old Windows. If your impression of Linux is that it’s only for IT geeks who program, you are sadly mistaken. Some of the most innovative software and user interfaces are being built on Linux.
If you are ready to buy a new PC and are willing to try something other than Vista, you can always buy a Mac. The Apple operating system has had many of the same features that Vista is touting, in fact, has had them for years. As long as you are buying a new machine anyway, go with an Intel based Mac and enjoy the best of both worlds. On the latest Macs you can choose to duel boot into any version of Windows that you may currently own. If there are some programs you simply can’t do without on Windows, you can still use them on the new Mac hardware. As with Linux, the OSX operating system has Unix under the hood and a very easy to use interface. You can say goodbye to viruses and attacks that Windows users face every day from the bad old Internet.
As you can see there are many different choices available for the average computer user today. You can stick with what you have now and press on or you can dip into the fascinating and innovative waters outside of the limited Microsoft world view. There has never been a better time to explore new vistas in computing. Bon-voyage!