The best desktop OS is...

Dear me. Just because I recently talked about Windows XP SP3's virtues and vices, some people seem to think I've turned away from my beloved Linux systems. Nope, I'm still a rock-solid Linux desktop user.

In fact, I'm writing this tale on my #2 desktop, which runs openSUSE 10.3. But, just because I use Linux all the time-my current office's desktop offerings include the aforementioned openSUSE, Mint 4.0, Ubuntu 8.04, MEPIS 7.0, Freespire 2.03-doesn't mean that I don't run other desktop operating systems. I do. XP SP3 has the lead with three systems running it-two on virtual machines under Linux and one natively; two Macs running Tiger and Leopard; a copy of the newest OpenSolaris that I'm still tuning, and one system that I tolerate having Vista SP1 on.

Some people collect baseball cards, I collect operating systems. It keeps me off the streets.

So, I really do know a fair amount about Windows and Mac OS X, as well as Unix and Linux, actually do the things they do at a deep level. And, that's why Linux desktops are the ones that I personally use and recommend.

To take one example of why I'm in no danger of switching to Windows anytime soon, security continues to be a fundamental problem in any variety of Windows starting with Windows for Workgroups to Vista SP1 and Server 2008. In fact, the newest Windows still have the same breed of problems that plagued the 16-year old Windows for Workgroup: they're single-user systems trying to be secure in a multi-user networked world.

The classic example is that Windows applications have been designed to interoperate easily with each other. Thanks to such technologies over the years as DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange), OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) and ActiveX, it's mindlessly simple to move data from Internet Explorer to Excel to Word and so on. That's great, if you could trust either the data or the data-connection to only be used correctly.

On a single-user system, that's not much of a problem. On a network, it's a real security problem, and on an Internet connected PC, it's a disaster. It's why ActiveX is always showing up in security problem news.

Microsoft does try to makes it systems more secure, but the problem is too deep in Microsoft's operating systems and applications to ever be fixed. The boys from Redmond decided ages ago that the interoperability goodness was more valuable than attempting to reorganize their entire software stack to make it more secure.

So, instead, all Microsoft can do is to keep pasting patches over each crack as it appears. But, just like if you built a house on a leaky, sandy foundation, you're never going to stop pumping out the water and shoring it up. Of course, you can, as all too often happens, not patch it up. It's those millions of under-protected Windows PCs that provide the fertile fields for botnets.

Linux, like its ancestor Unix, on the other hand, was designed from the first to be multi-user networked operating system. Privacy and security protection were baked in from the start. That does make transporting data from one program to another more difficult, but it's a lot easier to work out data transfer protocols than it is to get security right.

For me, it's really simple. Even if desktop Linux were as popular as Windows and had as many would-be crackers working on its locks, it would still be inherently far more secure than Windows.

Can Linux be cracked? Sure, any system can be cracked. That's not the question. The question is: Which system is fundamentally more secure and easier to keep secure?" The winning answer by a mile is Linux, and that's why I'm sticking with it for my primary desktop.

RSS feed icon

Like this stuff? Subscribe to the RSS feed.

Other Opinions

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon