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Windows 7 vs Mac OSX vs Linux : The best for student ?

Updated on January 15, 2011
A student on Campus with her Laptop
A student on Campus with her Laptop | Source

The OS's war. On of the eternal subject of nerd's fights. They have forever tried to prove that their Operating System was way better than every other imaginable. Here I will give my opinion about the best operating systems for a student moving to college, preferably with a laptop. Of course the answer is unique to each person, but there seems to be a certain trend in overall OS's use on campus.

Graphic design students : Here I recommend Mac OSX. Don't call me an Apple Fanboy yet, but in the case of this study program a student can benefit from the mac architecture. First because, as of 2011, the mac platform is the industry's norm in numerous fields of computer graphic. It is a tool that the student's will have to work with for most of his career. Also, most of the high end software used by professionals graphic designers is made for the Mac, and there is a strong tradition in graphic software firms to prefer the mac platform. The Macintosh were originally designed to work in the publishing industry, before expanding its capacities to 2D 3D work and professional video editing. Furthermore, most of the schools I have heard of uses Macs in their graphic courses, so having the same operating system as the school department can eliminate some compatibility problems.

A Windows computer is also possible, since except for apple's own pro solution (Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro and Aperture), all the graphic software from adobe is available on the PC platform as well. Windows is however not traditionally adopted in the publishing industry, nor among the professionals graphic designers.

Here Linux is not a viable option, as no professional software exists on the platform yet. It Is possible to see one day these programs on the Linux operating system, but not in a close future.

Science students (Engineering, Medicine, physics, Biology and Chemistry) : Here Windows clearly stands out of the crowd because of it's compatibility. Every physic's lab electronic lab probe will at least be compatible with Windows. Also on Windows, the office brand products are released quicker, and generally with new functions that will take a year or more to implement on the Mac. For a science class relying on Excel for calculation and data management, having the most compatible OS for this specific software can be an asset. More, most of the labs I have visited use Windows computers, as they generally cost less for more powerful hardware and less subject to compatibility issues.

Max OSX come as a second option here, although it is a road I would not recommend. Some scientific software is available on the Mac platform, but their number and quality doesn't match the Window's offer yet. Compatibility issues are frequently reported while using external lab measurement tools. Either the software was not tested for Mac OSX or there is simply not an available driver supporting the device. For these reasons I often see students with Mac hardware running a windows partition or virtual machine in their science classes.

For Linux expect even fewer programs available and it is unlikely that the existing windows applications will ever get ported to Linux. Expect frequent compatibility issues with the lab hardware as well as when sharing files Linux for science students is not a road I can recommend yet.

Social Science students (Literature, sociology, psychology, Marketing... ) : For these students I recommend Mac OSX over Windows and Linux. I came to this conclusion by observing carefully the real needs of these classes. Unlike in Graphic Arts or in Science, the Social Sciences departments usually don't provide any feedback about the preferred Exploitation System required, leaving the choice to the students. The Mac is generally seen has easier to learn, with a very gaphic and easy to understand Operating system. Installing an application usually only involve dragging an icon into the Applications folder. The installation process was made even easier with the new Mac App Store, were programs can be directly downloaded and installed automatically. Furthermore, the Mac comes preloaded with iLife so the student can have his photo library and edit video from his camera right away. Mac laptops tend to have longer battery lives then their PC counterparts and the software and hardware works extremely well together. Most of the time, Social Sciences students will only need to share and handle basic text without writing complex formatting so the compatibility in not an issue. In this context, the Apple iWork applications can be used, were it was impossible to do so for a science student. The last aspect that explain my preference for Macs in this case is the easy back-up solution proposed by time machine and the good overall system stability. It is extremely hard to damage a OSX distribution without doing it intentionally. Social Science students are generally not very interested in computer science, so having an easy to use computer that works most of the time is a definite plus here.

Windows is also an extremely valid alternative. Generally adopted by gamers and student who do not wish to pay the high price tag of Macs, they are as competent as their Apple counterpart for the task these studies requires. Microsoft Word is still the dominant bureaucratic suit of application so the user will not experience any compatibility issues. Only Windows is a little easier to damage, back-ups are harder to make for non-experienced users and the OS is generally a little less stable than Mac OSX. The stability issues are, however, reported to be lower than ever in Windows 7.

I would not recommend Linux for this student group. The installation process can be confusing for someone with little technical knowledge. Using a Linux distribution require tweaking frequently the system and should only be attempted by advanced users. Beginners can seriously damage their systems and encounter a high risk of losing files, as a badly installed linux distribution can be unstable. Compatibility is not an issue. OppenOffice is available for Linux and handle the format used by iWork and Microsoft Office. I frequently see students using the application, available for Windows and Mac too, on campus.

Computer science : For these students I recommend Linux. I had a lot of feedback from teachers and they generally told me that setting up a Linux distribution properly is a challenge that teach a lot to the students. They also learn how the exploitation system is made since Linux is Open Source. It means that students can actually see how the whole environment work, and can even modify it. It is sometime complex to achieve a simple task in Linux but definitively not impossible for a Computer Science Student. Note that Linux is used mainly in web servers and it is a constantly evolving exploitation system.

I could also recommend Microsoft Windows. It is today the most used development environment around the world. Windows systems are less likely to provoke compatibility bugs and some departments makes them mandatory.

Apple's OSX is not the reference here. The Cocoa API's used in this operating systems are unique to Mac OS X, and the platform is far from being the number one in terms of use among developers. Choosing a Mac computer for a Mac enthusiast can also be a fun experience.

To conclude, it is essential to remember that there is not a single perfect exploitation system around. Different needs will result in different OS being used and favored. As long as an environment feels right and does not stop a user from performing the task he desire, it remains a fully valid option.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      This is a very good writing on OS options especially for the new undergraduates. As a parent, I just have gone through this with my son who is a freshman at a state flagship college now. My son told me that at least half of the freshman kids are using MacBook on campus for sure. Due to the peer pressure and problem with the PC, I had to buy a MacBook Pro with Retina display for my kid to swap out the half-year old HP Windows PC (it's already developed problem in slow booting and we had to sent it back for warranty service, which would take 3-5 weeks. My son cannot wait for 3-5 weeks without PC for school work, thus the purchasing of the MacBook Pro for my son). The problem with MacBook for a engineering students is the issues on homework assignments. About 3/4 of the school work assignments from professors are in PDF format. More than half of the PDF files just cannot be opened by the MacBook. They will only work on Windows adobe reader or need Internet Explorer driver to open. Don't know why though. The kids who own the Windows PC are actually very popular because MacBook owners have to borrow their PC to finish the homework. Kids opt for the MacBooks even with these troubles because of the beautifulness and showy of the MacBook. Kids' behavior have reflection on adults as well, the Mercedes owners have the similar behavior. This writing is mostly from usefulness of a computer based on the scientific or engineering observation. This is a good writing, but not perfect unless somebody can soup it up from some point view of human psychology, why so many people prefer Mac over PC. I did ask my son of the Linux usage on campus. The answer was he haven't heard anybody talking about Linux nor seen people using the Linux. Most undergraduate college kids have no clue what the Linux is to be honest except someone who is in the CS major.

    • Alex Boroda profile image

      Alex Boroda 

      4 years ago from Bucharest, Romania

      Perhaps I am a bit late with this comment, but here it goes. Linux is an excellent option for a quantitatively-oriented social scientist. Statistical packages of varying degrees of complexity are available for this platform: R and RStudio (for advanced users), PSPP and Sofa Statistics (for light uses), TextStat and AntConc (for linguistic and textual statistics), SocNetV (for social networks analysis), among many others.

      On the other hand, the qualitatively-oriented social researchers are less lucky. There is a R package named RQDA and a few more obscure tools.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      "Science students (Engineering, Medicine, physics, Biology and Chemistry) : Here Windows clearly stands out of the crowd because of it's compatibility. Every physic's lab electronic lab probe will at least be compatible with Windows."

      Erm that isn't exactly true. Especially if you are Working with experimental Hardware (like my Brother does) things are completely different, because access to hardware without existing drivers is much easier in an Linux enviroment.

      Also free and easy availability of all kind of Compilers and Interpreters which are important for scientists (C/C++/Python/Fortran). The next issue is that many scientific libraries for scientific computing and related stuff in mathematics are open source, and it's literally a torture to set them up on a windows machine, while you can install them only with a few clicks on quite every Linux distro. And ever worked with LaTeX in Windows? I hate it ...

      But the following is true: Engeneers work mostly with Windows because of much software. But Scientists which very often work with experimental Stuff and scientific computing (like mathematics, physics, chemistry, and molecular biology) mostly use Linux (out of my experience. I'm mathematics PhD. Student)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I choose to switch to Mac OSX as it gives me the option to have a stable plaform that is a UNIX rather than deal with compatability and stability issues with Linux. I am currently studying computer science at the Master's level and I would say that Linux has yet to prove itself outside of a virtual machine. In addition to what I am finding, that you can find most of the programs for Linux available via MacPorts and will provide you the environment that you are looking for. With stable virtualization software like VMware Fusion and Paralles, you can have a virtual Windows computer and Linux for testing things out in those environments.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Linux is not as easy as you think... due to the fact that most people usually have their first computer experience with windows OS, working with linux can be a huge problem for an individual... besides, the true power of linux comes from an individual's knowledge on working with the command line... everybody can use a GUI, but what makes linux so special are the unlimited things you can do by using commands in a terminal window... as for the author's article, I think its right on the spot...

    • Gordon F. profile imageAUTHOR

      Gordon F. 

      8 years ago from New York City

      " I mean Linux being difficult to set up? and simple processes being difficult on linux? "

      I use Linux everyday... But let's say that, as a teacher, I know that some of my students would not be very comfortable on a Linux machine. Linux have made enormous progress over the years, but I feel that a lot of my students would still be a little confused on Linux. Because they are sometime clueless with a computer.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am not sure why the author thinks Linux is hard to set up and use. Ubuntu and Linux Mint are very user friendly and now Linux is my main OS. I just keep Windows for games. Linux is also a lot easier to set up for development than Windows. I have no experience with Mac OS X, so I will not comment on that...

    • profile image

      arran roche 

      8 years ago

      wow! you sound like a person that frankly knows nothing about computers? I mean Linux being difficult to set up? and simple processes being difficult on linux? wow. this article is something else.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      what about the linux ???

    • chan0512 profile image


      8 years ago from Camarillo, CA

      Love Windows 7 though I have many friends like apple OS as well. I guess it is all depend. Happy writing!


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