In this article, I’m taking Linux (Debian and others), Macintosh OS X (Panther) and Windows XP and comparing them to find the ideal operating system for web design and development. After using Windows, Macintosh OS X and Linux (in various incarnations) each for extended periods of time over the last 4 1/2 years, here is what I’ve found.
Advantages: The obvious advantage to developing on Linux is that you’re working on the OS that you’ll probably be running your site on. It’s nice to be able to save locally and view your content on a local webserver. This is also possible in Windows and OS X so it’s not necessarily a major advantage but it’s nice.
Other advantages of Linux are that it has great text editors (Quanta, Kate, gEdit to name a few) and there is no lack of FTP tools. In my mind, that’s about it as far as advantages go.
Read on for disadvantages of Linux and my insights on OS X and Windows.
Disadvantages: The biggest disadvantage of designing for the web in Linux is the utter lack
of good graphics software. Sure, there’s the Gimp which
isn’t a bad piece of Open Source software, but in all honesty it does not compare
to Photoshop or even Fireworks. For one, it’s lacking any “save for web” feature
to make optimizing images a quick and easy process. That alone is enough to
make me choose photoshop over the Gimp, but there are a host of other disadvantages
to the Gimp which I won’t go into here. You can now run Photoshop in Linux
Crossover Office but in my experience, Photoshop does not run nearly as fast
under Crossover Office or as well as it does using it on a native platform.
If you’re looking for vector graphics software, you’ll also come up empty
handed. I do 99% of my layout work in Illustrator or Freehand and
there is nothing even close on Linux. SodiPodi and a couple others may be contenders
later on down the road, but right now they are far from being serious competitors
to either Illustrator or Freehand.
Macintosh OS X (Panther)
Advantages: One of the principal advantages of using a Mac to design is
that the GUI of OS X promotes good design. You may disagree, but I feel that
working in such a clean, polished environment helps you clear your mind and focus
on design. I personally have changed the theme of OS X to the iPod
inspired theme using ShapeShifter to
remove some of the bright colors OS X has by default making the OS X experience
Exposé. Exposé makes working with several applications (which
is very common in web development) a breeze. It even makes working with the
Mac version of Photoshop tolerable. Many of the Mac users I work with love
how there is no "gray box" behind Photoshop for OS X. Personally, I like the
gray box on the PC–it blocked out all the clutter of the desktop and other
app’s while working on graphics. In addition, double clicking it quickly
brings up the "Open File" dialog and by minimizing it, you quickly clear your
Another advantage with OS X is that it has a native SSH client. I love being
able to open the Terminal and ssh to the server without having to use Putty.
This is also (obviously) available in Linux. In addition to SSH, Apache, PHP
and MySQL run well on OS X (probably better than on Windows)
Disadvantages: I use Dreamweaver
MX 2004 and Flash
MX 2004 quite
a bit. On the Mac, the interface to both of these programs is not nearly as
nice as on a PC. On a PC, using the numerous panels and palettes necessary
to use both of these programs is almost effortless. On the Mac, I find myself
constantly rearranging them. While both Dreamweaver and Flash allow you to
save your panel layouts, using the programs in OS X is not as efficient as
using them on a PC. I also miss the tabs you have on a PC when working with
multiple documents. In addition, I have found Flash MX 2004 to be much less
stable on OS X than on a PC, with semi-frequent crashes of the sort where the
entire program just disappears.
Advantages: I’ve already mentioned several of the advantages to Web
Development on a PC (Dreamweaver/Flash interface advantages, Photoshop "gray
box" etc.). In addition to these, there are a few other things that make designing
on Windows nice.
Browsers. This is a big one. The majority of Internet users use Microsoft
Internet Explorer on a PC. It’s essential to be able to test your sites on
IE, whether or not it’s the browser you use (I prefer Firebird)
and IE on a Mac is significantly different from IE on Windows.
FTP clients. I’ve had much better luck with using FTP clients on Windows than
on either Linux or OS X. Maybe it’s that I haven’t searched hard enough, but
I haven’t found anything that I like better than (now discontinued) Leech
FTP and FileZilla. Both
are free, fast and fully featured.
Disadvantages: Well. Say what you will, and your comments are welcome,
but there really aren’t many disadvantages. If cost isn’t an issue (and it
almost always is), most good software is written for Windows. With
Windows XP stability isn’t an issue anymore (hasn’t been for me anyway). You
can run most web servers you can run on Linux or OS X on Windows, Apache being
the most important, (though I’d never consider using Windows as a server).
The only thing left to complain about is the proprietaryness (is that a word)
of Windows and Microsoft, but as far as the OS itself, in a strictly utilitarian
sense, there isn’t much to complain about. On the server side of things, I’m
100% for open source software and I use it exclusively there. On the desktop,
it’s a different story altogether.
While web development is possible, even enjoyable,
in all three OS’s, I’ve found Windows to be the best all around. Really, what
it comes down to is the available software and it’s ability to run well on
the OS in question. All three are very stable operating systems with all the
necessary server side tools to work with. However when it comes down to the
availability and usability of software, Windows still can’t be beat.