5 things Linux does better than Mac OS X

On security, customization, hardware, reliability, and price, Linux blows Apple’s contender out of the water.

Were it not for Windows' long-standing installed base and overwhelming market dominance, it seems unlikely that anyone would argue seriously for the merit of the operating system, plagued as it is by high prices, security problems and vendor lock-in.

Apple OS X, however, is another matter. Though certainly a minority, Mac fans are passionate and vocal enough to make it clear that Apple must be doing something right--whether that "something" has anything to do with the technology or not.

As an outspoken fan of Linux, I'll make no bones about where my preference lies--and that I think the success of the Mac is mostly a matter of marketing. Whatever your own personal beliefs, though, there's no denying that there are certain things Linux clearly does better than Mac OS X. If you're trying to decide on a platform for your business, these factors are worth keeping in mind.

1. Security

The Mac might enjoy a smaller installed base than Windows does, meaning there's less of the monoculture effect and less of a lure for malicious hackers, but Linux blows them both away when it comes to security.

First is the question of permissions: Linux users are not automatically given administrator privileges on their computers, meaning that viruses and malware don't automatically have access to everything in the proverbial "castle." So, when a computer is compromised, the most the malware can typically do is trash the user's local files and programs.

With Apple, on the other hand--as with Windows--social engineering is painfully easy. Just convince the user to click on something, and away you go, with the castle keys in hand.

Apple is also notorious for trying to "protect" users in its "walled garden," keeping all the inner workings of the computer secret and out of view. It's even more extreme in this respect, in fact, than Windows is. The only ones who can see and watch for vulnerabilities in the code, then, are Apple engineers, who understandably have their own priorities and timetables.

With Linux, on the other hand, there is a world of users examining the code every day. No wonder, then, that Linux vulnerabilities can be found and fixed more quickly.

Recent data backs this up. Research firm Secunia recently found that Apple now "outshines" even Windows in the number of security vulnerabilities associated with its products.

2. Customizability

I can understand that there are some users who want to live in a walled garden, and are content to do things the way Apple wants them to. For the rest of us, however, the restrictions Apple puts on the user are just unacceptable.

With Linux, virtually everything is customizable and configurable, so that you can make pretty much everything the way you want it to be. Don't like the GNOME desktop that Ubuntu comes with? Try KDE then--or another one! The choice really is yours, as it should be.

3. Hardware

Hand-in-hand with the question of flexibility is the fact that OS X--like Windows--is very restrictive in the hardware that it will work with, requiring pretty much the latest and greatest hardware to run well. Try it on anything less, and you'll pay the price.

One of Linux's most endearing virtues, on the other hand, is its capability to run on just about anything. In fact, there are even distributions of Linux designed for really limited computing environments, such as Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux.

With OS X, Apple tells you what hardware you must have; with Linux, you tell it what you've got and go from there.

4. Reliability

Systems crashes and downtime are pretty much a fact of life when you're a Mac user, but Linux offers a completely different experience. Many Linux users, in fact, have never experienced unplanned downtime. No wonder, then, Linux is so often the operating system of choice on servers. What business can afford unnecessary downtime these days?

5. Price

It almost seems too easy to point this out, but, well, Linux is free. Macs? Not so much--they're even higher-priced than Windows machines, in fact.

Sure, there are proprietary vendors who will try to convince you that Linux's long-term total cost of ownership is higher. That, however, is just a myth. For one thing, as I've noted before, such arguments typically don't factor in the cost of being locked in with a particular vendor.

There are also numerous studies confirming Linux's cost advantages. Then, of course, there's all the anecdotal evidence in the form of governments and organizations around the globe turning to Linux in growing numbers every day.

No operating system is perfect, of course. But Linux has so many advantages over its desktop competitors that any business enterprise would be remiss not to give it a chance.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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Tags Macunixopen sourceLinuxhardware systemsdesktop pcssoftwareoperating systemsnon-WindowsApple

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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