Thursday, June 12, 2008

XP, Vista, or OS X

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My father is wanting a new computer, and I am trying to help him decide what he really wants. To refresh your memories, my father is retired and currently is using an XP desktop. I have already discussed laptop versus desktop. Next, we need to decide what OS to use.

Ubuntu is not an option. Even though it is quickly progressing as a mainstream OS, Ubuntu still requires too much tinkering under the hood. It will continue to get more popular, but it is not ready for primetime yet.


XP seems to be the easy, logical choice. Dad is already comfortable with much of XP’s interface. If he decides to use a laptop, he is going to be learning about networks, trackpads, and a whole bunch of other new stuff related to that. Adding a different operating system on top of it all might be too much. All of his old programs and hardware will still work fine. Plus, he can always decide to upgrade to Vista at a later date.

However, if my father is wanting a new computer, he is probably not really enjoying his current computing experience. He has already asked me about upgrading to Vista when it first came out. He certainly seems to be anxious for a change. 


A switch to Vista would give most of the advantages of XP. (Vista Video Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here) For the most part the interace is very similar. In fact, you can even switch Vista back to an XP look. Most of his current software and hardware is likely to work too. On the down side, Vista only improves the user’s experience on a few fronts. Some of the changes to the user interface are confusing. Vista contains a lot of annoying bugs. Plus, Vista is treated poorly in the community, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Vista fades quickly much like Windows Millennium did.


Changing to an Apple system with OS X would be a big leap. (OS X Movie Tour here.) OS X is a much better, much easier (but also very different) interface than windows. Most day to day activities are more simple on OS X, but learning a completely new operating system is tough. Spyware, viruses, and bugs are much less of a worry on the Apple system. However, much of his current hardware and sofware are unlikely to work. Many of the day to day activities such as editing and printing pictures would need to be retaught and relearned. Most of the games and software that he uses now, he would have to give up. (Parallels or Boot Camp would be way over his head.) The lack of a nearby Apple store for training keeps things tough. If dad can get over the hump and learn OS X, his overall experience is likely to be better than with a Microsoft system. That hump just seems to be large.

If dad was not already comfortable with an operating system, I would suggest starting with OS X. However, now that he knows XP, should I reinvent the wheel?

22 Responses to “Dad’s New Computer: XP, Vista, or OS X”

shamanstears Says: 
May 24th, 2008 at 2:56 pm 

My vote would be for using Windows XP. He would get to stay in familiar territory and use a stable OS. If he goes with a laptop, he will have to get used to wireless networking, monitoring battery life, using the trackpad, etc. why complicate things more by changing him to a different operating system? I would recommend going with hardware that could be used for a future OS upgrade to keep his options open, maybe Vista will be less buggy down the road (maybe SP2?)
shamanstears Says: 
May 24th, 2008 at 4:07 pm 

I think the Vista/Millennium comparison might be a bit harsh. A better comparison would be Windows Vista/Windows 2000. Both are “half-baked” but workable. Windows Me was a major waste of time, and a step backward. Just as Windows 2000 led to better things (XP!), Vista will also lead to better things.
ash Says: 
May 24th, 2008 at 11:43 pm 

even tough he is unfamiliar with it, switching to os x would be smart. it is true that he would have to relearn some of the basics, but the when it comes time for the next iteration of operating systems, you won’t be faced with the same quetion that you are facing now.

in other words, if he learns 10.5, when 10.6 comes out he will already know how to use it. consider the contrast… to switch from xp to vista would be alost be as cumbersom as switching from xp to os x. 

i guess my point is to take the time to teach him how to use a mac now and you won’t ever have to do it again. teach him how to use vista and in a year you will just have to teach him how to use vista’s replacement.
Ingvo Says: 
May 24th, 2008 at 11:46 pm 

To give up things and start something new and refreshing will be an exciting thing. Your dad is retired so why should he bother with a system from the business world? Why should he play the old games? Honestly – your dad will love a Mac. Go for it. It is just beautiful.
ozofeliz Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 2:14 am 

Clearly, osx. it’s more confortable. And if you want run xp , you have vmware fusion with a little price. If your father don’t move, the best option is a imac.
Richard Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 2:34 am 

I suggest a Mac with VMware’s Fusion and a Windows XP Home VM. He gets a great new OS and can still use the very familiar XP.
davak Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 2:49 am 

I see the mac vibe is strong on this one so far. 

If he had to use some XP programs, just keeping his desktop around may be easier than trying to teach him emulation software like vmware or parellels.

@ozofeliz Dad originally requested a laptop, but the imac is not a bad idea. It would eliminate some of the new complexities a laptop would add but he would still get the better OS.
davak Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 2:53 am 

@shamanstears 

In the terms of quality of software, I think the Vista upgrade now is much better than the ME upgrade was back then. Even as an OS junkie, it was really hard to get me excited enough to install ME back in the day.

Eventually, however, it’ll be the market that decides. If Vista is around and the popularity grows, you will be right. If Vista continues to struggle enough that Microsoft has to release something very quickly and much different… then Vista = ME may stick.
rislejay Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 3:01 am 

If he is comfortable with XP, stick with XP. Why try to change his user experience? Most users do not want to change. Why force a change on his computer? Let him use another OS on a machine he doesn’t own for a few weeks and let him decide after the trial.

@virtualization suggestions - Why do this for a regular user? Waste of time and too much confusion. Load an OS he may not want or even like so he can load an application to get the OS he likes. Take it a little further, the author doesn’t have time to show him how to edit pictures in OS X. Uh I’ll load your application in the XP VM. Great! Tell me again why OS X was the right choice for me if every time I need to do something you tell me to fire up the XP VM?

Stick to what he is comfortable with. There is a time and place for change and this doesn’t sound like the time or place.
Burt Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 6:07 am 

OSX without a doubt. I’m retired and a Mac user. As I get older I’m glad I (probably) won’t have to learn a new OS. Just upgrades. Now is the time to get the simpler, more reliable, easier to maintain system. He’ll never be more capable of moving onto that path than he is now.
qmchenry Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 6:33 am 

I’m a little farther along than you are in this process. My folks are retired and about to move. A year ago, I suggested that my mom (who travels extensively as a consultant and gives presentations to medium sized groups) ditch her Windows Something laptop for a MacBook Pro. I’d been Mac for about 18 months and showed her a few things and she agreed (mostly contingent on my accessibility for her “long and difficult” adjustment period). Her learning curve was very short and I found it interesting to watch as she shed her armor from a lifetime of Windows battles. With a Windows machine, she was barely able to generate presentations that looked pretty shoddy. She frequently lost presentations and a general distrust all computers had festered in her soul.

Six months later, she has re-created her presentations in Keynote and they are gorgeous. She’s so comfortable with her system that she IMs me to tell me about applications I’ve never heard of and now she’s making screencasts demoing applications to include in her Keynote presentations. In her case, she has blossomed under OS X.

Stage II:

In preparation for their relocation across country, I made a passing recommendation that my dad ditch his desktop PC running XP and use my mom’s MacBook Pro which she could replace with a MacBook Air. I was shocked the next day when they said they were ready to do just that. It’ll be interesting to hear about how that transition goes as it’ll be up to my mom to guide him through the differences. In his case, the only applications he requires are browser, email, spreadsheet and.. oh, that reminds me, does anyone know of a good solitaire app for OS X? @davak what’s your dad’s current photographic workflow? 

Some of the reasoning my mom had in pushing for this change included the awesomeness of the MacBook Air for frequent travellers (she’ll adore it), the desire to have one platform in the house, her positive experiences with OS X, and, I think perhaps most importantly, her research that changing things up at their age helps the brain stay young. 

So, right now, without knowing those details, I’d recommend a MacBook (or Pro depending on fiscal and optometric concerns) running OS X. If he hates OS X (unlikely, but worst case) he still has an excellent piece of hardware to taint by running Windows. Also, laptops have much simpler connections to the world than desktops, quite possibly just power. I nearly had a panic attack as I looked behind my parent’s desktop, saw the cable soup and thought about directing the reconnection proceses over the phone.
Rob Says: 
May 25th, 2008 at 7:24 am 

I started my dad on Mac OS 9 and moved to OS X and would never look back. He was a complete novice and asks about one question every 3-4 months. He has figured out how to do a lot more than he is willing to admit himself.

Having said that, if I had started him on Windows XP, it would have been a nightmare until he got used to it. Of course once he did I would not have put him on a Mac. I love the Mac, but it would simply be too much change for my dad.
davak Says: 
May 26th, 2008 at 3:07 am 

Thanks, Everybody! I really appreciate the advice and experiences that you have shared thus far.

@qmchenry Thanks for the details of your parents’ computer journeys. I did know that your mother was thriving under OS X. My gut feeling is that the transition might be a little harder for my dad than for your mother… but who knows.

Right now my dad takes pictures off his digital camera or a CD, mainly crops or resizes, and then prints. I think iPhoto would probably help him a ton. Of course, his current printer probably will not work with OS X which would require another purchase/relearn there.

The buy macbook and install windows if the OS X experiment fails is a good idea.

@Burt and @Rob both confirm my fears that OS X may be much better but that “breaking up (with an old OS) is hard to do.”
seamonkey420 Says: 
May 26th, 2008 at 4:15 pm 

@davak

dang, your lucky i didn’t have internet. hehe. honestly i’ve been warming up to Vista quite a bit more but then again i am prob a bit more on the ‘experienced’ side of os’s than your dad.

OS X prob i the best bet; i doubt i could get my parents off of XP since thats all they know and really need to (they don’t email or use the web since isps in rural areas is very limited and still kind of spendy).

i hope to run vista and osx on my new laptop! 
Bedros Says: 
May 26th, 2008 at 5:29 pm 

I had the same issue with my Mom. I got her a Mac Book to replace her aging windows xp desktop.

to my surprise after spending about 2-3 hours total time with her over couple weeks, she picked up on all common tasks in OSX. and when she has a new question, I click on ichat on my laptop and remotely log into her computer while voice chatting with her showing her how to do whatever she asking.

She’s using firefox for all internet browsing; heavily using Neo Office (OS X Openoffice) for all her letters (she writes a lot) iphoto for her photo management, google’s picasa web plugin for sharing online photos, ichat and yahoo messenger for her online chatting.

I’m so glad I made the switch even though I was worried at first, and she’s very proud of herself and her new MacBook. She’s 65.
bill Says: 
May 26th, 2008 at 6:17 pm 

It depends on what you (and he) means by ‘not enjoying’. 

If he can do what he wants, but he has to work at it — figure out the commands, find the software, get it installed — then Apple would be my choice. They wrote the book on the user experience. Its not all or nothing, either — Apple does allow different flavors of Windows programming — Boot Camp, for one — to run either as an alternative to its own OS or in a window — so going with Apple would not have to mean relearning software or buying new stuff. There would likely be some, but not an overwhelming amount. The flip side is, you pay a substantial premium for the Apple logo on the box.

If he doesn’t really have a problem getting what he wants, and is comfortable in the Windows genre, but he don’t have enough raw power — ie, he wants to do numerically-intense computing, like simulations or graphics — then an upgraded operating system *in conjunction with* upgraded hardware should make him happy — ie, Vista. Vista’s got a bad rep, but that doesn’t mean it should be casually disregarded.
davak Says: 
May 27th, 2008 at 4:01 am 

@seamonkey420 Yeah, you are a lot more experienced. He’s not hacking phones when he gets bored.  

@bedros That sounds like an excellent parent windows to apple transition to me. That makes me feel better if dad really decides to test the apple waters.

@bill Wow, I think you hit the nail on the head. Dad and I really need to figure out why he is not happy with his current desktop. If he is happy with everything but just wants to update… then we should stay with windows. If he is not finding windows comfortable and productive, then changing to OS X might be his best option… even if it is a much harder transition.

Guys, you rock.
einstein52007 Says: 
May 28th, 2008 at 4:03 am 

Although he wants a laptop, I would look into buying a Psystar desktop machine. Psystar’s Open computers are able to run ANY operating system including Ubuntu, OS X, XP, and Vista. The are $500 and have top of the line dual core processors. I definitely recommend.

With a laptop, go with a mac. Everything you ever need to think about doing is already included and they never crash and are super fast although really expensive.
Dave Soulis Says: 
May 28th, 2008 at 9:05 am 

I have heard so many complaints about Windows Vista, I ordered a new PC in March through Dell and chose the Inspiron 530 with the flat screen and Windows XP. Some believe you can’t buy a new PC without Vista however you can. 

I also purchased Small Business Office 2008. Windows completely changed the programs from earlier versions. I had to spend hours adding short cut icons to all the programs as the menues are not easily accessible for even things as opening and closing documents, save as and save as the former programs were configured.

Hope this helps.
John Andrews Says: 
May 28th, 2008 at 10:15 am 

I have heard all the issues of XP vs Vista and OSX
I run all of them and can see benifits in all as well as the problems. I am 63 and began PC life in trash 80s,and have seen PC life change dramaticly. Your dad may feel more comfortable in XP depending on what he uses the PC for.
Vista has grown up a bit in the last year and the best part (over XP) is what you don’t see.
The basic operation (multitasking, networking) is much improved and is good reason to bite the bullet and use it. OSx is a fine product and the online side is very good, but the change from Widows to MAC can be jarring if he is not willing to endure the learning curve.
Karen P Says: 
May 29th, 2008 at 9:11 am 

I’m 61 and purchased a Dell 1750 Inspiron laptop in March. The larger screen was only available with Vista. When I started using computers, only DOS was availble, so I’ve had to learn all MS operating systems. For quite a while I was very frustrated with Vista and was unable to get much tech support–my employer’s IT department even wanted to work on the computer to see what was happening so that if/when we upgrade they would know what was happening. Finally, on my own, I figured out that my virus software (purchased) was the source of all my problems. I removed the program, installed AVG free (which I’ve used for years), and haven’t had any problems since. Shortly before I purchased my laptop, my office computer was switched to Office 2007. To me, working with Vista is easier than Office 2007.




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