Let’s Discuss: Swapping Operating Systems

My first computer ran DOS. I was 2 years old when I installed my first computer game (I couldn’t say the word “setup”, but I could apparently spell it right) and I’ve been running on Windows ever since. 3.1, 98, ME, XP, Vista, you name it – my personal primary computer is running the release preview of 8.1 now, and I love it to death. You could call me a Windows “power user”, though I’m sure my Linux-touting friends would scoff at me. Your definition of the word power user may vary.

I’ve used Ubuntu and Mint. I loved the Macintosh G3 computers in elementary school and begged my dad for a pink one (I’m still holding out hope I can track down a case and do something cool with it) but at home, I spent hours living in Bill Gate’s operating system and developed a passion for computing that led to my job with Microsoft today. And while I love booting up my desktop to play around in the Mint terminal (I greatly prefer it to Windows 8 for Python programming), the one operating system I haven’t had the chance to learn is OSX – until now.

I’ve started using a Macbook Pro recently, because as a developer I find it important to be familiar with a wide array of computing environments. Personally, I think that the Retina display is wasted on OSX – but this has been my first chance to really get the ability to get to know Apple’s ecosystem a little better, so for now I’m sticking with it. And it’s just different enough from Windows to have me stumped.

First of all – the overall user experience. Prior to Windows 8, my experience with Windows was that it fit in nicely to a business environment – it was very organized, easy to find files and folders and programs to get your most important tasks done. I do not feel this way about OSX, not yet. Out of the box, it’s a beautiful computer with a lovely operating system that throws apps at you. iPhoto, iMovie – these are what greet you front and center. After customizing the dock, I do feel a bit happier with accessibility for programs, but I still find their user interface for folders and files difficult. It still feels almost like a toy to me – but that is probably because I’ve used an iPod touch and iPad for the last 6 years for nothing but entertainment, so the style doesn’t strike me as productive.

Thankfully, OSX has the terminal within easy reach, and I find it easier to use some standard Linux commands to find and edit system and application files than to use “Finder”. Worse than the Finder UI, though, is how difficult of a time I am having using the keyboard shortcuts. I spend very little time using my laptop trackpad on my Windows 8.1 computer, because I’ve gotten so used to using the various shortcuts that are built into Windows. Now, I have to learn new shortcuts and retrain myself to reach for the command key instead of the control key to perform simple copy-paste tasks. This gets considerably more confusing when swapping in and out of Windows virtual machines, but I’m learning.

I’ve only had a week or so to play with the MBP, so I’m sure that as time goes on I’ll get more familiar with it, but I want to know what you think. What have been your experiences when switching operating systems? Have you gone from Linux to Windows or Windows to OSX and had these problems? Do you think that “power users” of a system are more or less likely to stick with what they know when compared to your average user?

In my (albeit limited) experience, I’ve found that people who claim to be power users of a particular platform tend to know their operating system better and are able to do more with the OS they are used to. If all you need to learn how to do is launch Safari/Chrome/Firefox/IE, it doesn’t really matter which platform you’re using – you click the icon and go. Users who know how to change “invisible” settings, mess with the Windows registry, and write custom macros for their Linux terminals have probably spent a considerable amount of time learning those, and thus have much more to re-learn when they switch between Linux/Windows/OSX. Personally, I’m a huge fan of learning how to use different systems – I think in terms of computing I’d rather be “good” at using multiple operating systems than “fantastic” at just one – but I’m curious as to whether or not other people feel that way. I know that right now, I definitely feel more productive on my Windows computers, because I don’t need to take the time to learn how to do a task, but I think that spending more time on the MBP will narrow the gap there.

Until then, I will proudly continue to wave the flag of the Windows fangirl, and continue to use my charms, Win key shortcuts, and happily use CTRL for all my shortcut needs.

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