Personal Computing: Your Four Choices

Your Choices in Personal Computers

My wife recently asked me for my personal computing recommendations for a laptop as she is considering a more mobile computing option.  I haven’t looked for a computer in a few years, so I needed to start my research.  What I am sharing is both what I found and some of my own opinions of things.

First off, you really have only four choices in Personal Computing:

  1. Get a Windows PC with Windows 8
  2. Get a Mac
  3. Get a Linux-based computer
  4. Live in the cloud with Google Chrome

Windows PCs with Windows 8

Let’s start with an analysis of a Windows PC.  The good thing about Windows PCs these days is the inexpensive price.  You can get a real deal for about $500 and if you put a few hundred more into it, you get a really nice hardware system. The interesting thing is this statement used to only be true of desktops, but now laptops are really inexpensive.  Go to Dell or HP and you will see exactly what I am talking about.  Inexpensive hardware.

This got me really excited until I realized that all the new computers out there by the big box stores and the online retailers are all coming with Windows 8.  No exception.  Well, okay a Microsoft Surface tablet comes with Windows RT, but that doesn’t count in my search for a laptop for my wife.

Most of you are probably thinking okay, so what is wrong with Windows 8?  Well, it is the first Windows product since Windows 95 that has changed the user interface drastically.  For almost 20 years we have been living with a start button, a task bar and varying window sizing.  With the new Modern/Metro Interface is a dramatic change to not only the look, but how you work with the computer.  It will be a big change for a lot of people.  More importantly, it will be an expensive change for corporations who will have to be a lot of money to train up their users.

The most critical thing for many people is that the old apps will not run on Windows 8.  You will have to invest in Windows 8 certified apps for all of the old programs such as Quickbooks, MS office, or other desktop applications.  So while the hardware is inexpensive the overall upgrade could be very costly.

Most of the reviews I have read have panned this new operating system.  A good example is this post that discourages people from buying the new Windows 8 for Black Friday.

It used to be that I would simply recommend a decent Windows PC for as much as the budget could manage. So I am taking a real pause now and re-thinking my approach.  Windows 8 may not work for my wife or many other people at all.

Macintosh computing

I have always been intrigued and turned-off by Macs.  I find them elegant, simple to use, and an amazingly well-put-together in terms of hardware and software.  They are just beautiful.  They are also through-and-through an Apple product.  If you want to do something it has to be blessed by Apple.  You cannot tweak, hack, get into trouble and do things the way you want to.  You have to do things the way Apple wants you to.  I find it ironic that the original 1984-ish advertisement that Apple was so famous for was about breaking free of the status quo and being original.  But if you are a Mac user, you are one of the many drones following the lead of one company.   I know I will probably get a lot of flack for that, but that is how I see this blind devotion to the Apple brand.  Okay, enough rant.

Considering I would have to pay at least $1799 for a 15″ Macbook Pro.  Too expensive for my budget and not worth it for what my wife is looking to do with it (web, word processing, etc.)

So although Macs are a wonderful choice for some people, they don’t work in my world.

Linux Computers

I have been a fan of Linux for more than 10 years.  I remember installing my first distribution on an old computer I had laying around.  It was Mandrake Linux, now it is called Mandriva. (Now bankrupt and closed.) I forgot the version, but it was a very early distribution.  I am now a big fan of Ubuntu Linux   It has a clean interface and has been designed for the non-techie on the surface (but retains all the good old Linux guts underneath.

What I am finding is that Linux laptops are actually more expensive.  Wait, isn’t it a free operating system?  Well, yes, but the hardware that is running these systems is actually more powerful than what you would find on your inexpensive dell computer.   They are built for power users and not your average college student.  So it is not unusual to find a $1000+ laptop running Linux.  But, you are getting twice the machine.   One reasonable set of laptops I found was at Linux Certified.  These were decent Lenova machines costing around $800.

Google Chromebooks

The last option is for those people who pretty much do all their computing in the cloud.  I have to say this is my life more and more.  I am finding that I am hardly using desktop applications anymore.  I am now pretty much living in a web browser, so why not have an Operating System that is the web browser?

Google Chromebooks are easy to use, lightweight, long battery life computers.  The operating system is based around the Google Chrome browser.  It is likely the fastest browser available and if you are using a lot of the Google products, such as Gmail, or Google Docs, then this makes a lot of sense.

I spend my days as a Cloud computing consultant, so I pretty much work in Google products along with  Both of these are entirely on the web.  I am finding too that most of my favorite desktop applications such as Nozbe for task management, or Evernote for notes and archiving are all have web based options.

If you are looking at desktop options, there is the Samsung Series 3 Chromebox, which is a desktop version of a Chromebook. It has a small form factor so it would take no space what-so-ever on your desk.

My Personal Computing Summary

But the real question is this right for my wife. Well the answer is, I am not sure.  If I were shopping for myself, I’d get a new Chromebook, but I’m not shopping for me.  At this point, I think the safe bet is on a laptop that is inexpensive and still has Windows 7 available.   But that will have to last a while, because the upgrade is going to be painful!

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