One of the attractions of web development is platform independence. Your web pages can be accessed and viewed by anyone using any browser on any OS. (OK — it’s never that simple, but we can dream!)
Unlike many people in IT, web designers and developers have more freedom of choice and can select which ever OS they prefer. There are a few caveats — for example, Flash and Silverlight developers require appropriate Adobe or Microsoft tools — but standard web technologies can be developed on any device using any OS.
Let’s look at the three most popular options.
Windows is the most widely used OS and is installed on more than 90% of PCs. It’s the obvious system of choice for ASP.NET developers. (It’s possible to write code on another OS and deploy to a Windows server, but it’s not particularly practical.)
Windows offers choice and it’s the closest thing we have to a standard. The OS is stable, you’re unlikely to experience hardware support problems, there’s a huge variety of free and commercial software, and compatibility between versions is excellent.
- Windows is expensive compared to the hardware it runs on. You can build a PC for $200 but need to spend the same amount on the OS.
- The OS has a reputation for being insecure. It’s less of an issue today, but Windows remains the most obvious target for hackers and spammers.
- Finally, it’s the least exciting OS. Everyone is familiar with Windows; few people will be impressed by your latest PC.
Macs have around 7% of the OS market. It has a reputation for being a graphic designer OS, but more developers are using it. Apple provide glorious hardware and software; you gain a stable, secure and cohesive experience without driver or configuration issues.
Not everything is perfect…
- Software choice is more limited than other OSs. Apple dominate the market; you often have to do things their way or not at all.
- Apple rarely strive for compatibility between versions of Mac OS.
- The combination of Apple hardware and software typically makes the PCs more expensive than the competition.
Linux comes in a variety of flavors and it accounts for around 1% of the OS market.
Perhaps the biggest advantage is the cost — Linux is open source and you can install it anywhere. It’s highly configurable, security is excellent, and it offers a wide range of free software. Linux and Apache HTTP server dominate the web so it can be a logical choice for developers.
- Linux is regarded to be a geek’s OS. That’s a little unfair: many distros have an easier installation process than Windows. However, those with limited IT knowledge may find it tricky to diagnose and fix problems.
- Hardware support is more restricted and manufacturers do not always create Linux drivers.
- Few PC vendors offer Linux as an OS option. You’ll often need to rely on your own skills and support from the community.
What do you use?
The Windows vs Mac vs Linux debate has raged for years. Each has their strengths and weaknesses — none is perfect.
But this isn’t about what’s best: I want to know what OS you’re using. You may detest the system but have practical reasons for using it.
I suspect Mac and Linux usage may be higher among web designers and developers than other industries — but I’d like some evidence. Please cast your vote on the SitePoint home page or leave your comments below.
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.