Five operating system alternatives to Windows 8 and XP

Five operating system alternatives to Windows 8 and XP

Summary: XP's end of life-support is in sight and not everybody wants Windows 8. So, what are your other choices?


On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will stop supporting XP, but most people are not moving to Windows 8. Indeed, according to a TechRepublic survey, enterprise XP users are especially reluctant to move to Windows 8, so what are you going to use for your desktop in 2014? Here are my five suggestions in the order I think you should consider them.

(Image: Screenshot by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNet)

5. Android Tablet/Apple iPad

You really can use a tablet for some work purposes, but it works far better if you're primarily an information consumer rather than an information producer. So, sure, if you're looking up data from a spreadsheet, searching the web, or reading email, they're great. But if you're putting data into a spreadsheet, creating web pages, or writing long emails or documents, the platform can quickly become annoying.

You can solve those problems with a Bluetooth keyboard and a mouse, but do you know what you call a tablet with a keyboard and a mouse? I call it a laptop computer, myself.

I find it very telling that Charlie Sorrel, a true hard-core iPad-for-work user, recently had to throw in the towel because of "Gorilla Arm". This ailment, which had been known about long before the iPad was a gleam in Steve Jobs' eyes, happens when you're always bringing your arm up to touch a screen. Even with a keyboard, Sorrel found that after using an iPad day after day for over a year, the result was so painful that he would "sometimes rush through posts just to get them finished".

Jobs could have told him that. In fact, he did, back in 2010. "We've done tons of user testing on this and it turns out it doesn't work. Touch surfaces don't want to be vertical. It gives great demo, but after a short period of time, you start to fatigue, and after an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off."

So, go ahead and support bring your own device for tablets if you like, just don't expect them to replace PCs. They won't.

4. Mac

I know, I know, if you're a Windows user you don't want to hear this, but Macs really are fine PC replacements. You can run many Microsoft office applications on them, such as Office for Mac and Outlook. True, they're not the newest versions, but if you have to have Microsoft applications, they are there. In addition, thanks to virtualization software like Parallels, you can still run your native Windows applications.

The downside, as always, is that Macs are never cheap. They'll also require you to learn a new way of doing things. That said, the learning curve from Windows to the latest version of Mac OS X, Mountain Lion, isn't as steep as from, say, XP to Windows 8's Metro.

3. The Linux Desktop

What's always been far more secure than Windows, a great deal more stable, and with the right combination of distribution and desktop interface? And it actually looks and feels a lot like XP. That would be desktop Linux; in particular, Linux Mint with the Cinnamon interface.

The downside is that it's more trouble to run Windows applications on Linux. It is not, however, impossible, thanks to a program called Wine and its commercial incarnation, Crossover Linux. In addition, just like the Mac, there are ways to run Windows virtually on Linux, such as Oracle's VirtualBox.

Frankly, though, for most office work, I find that LibreOffice and Evolution are better than their Windows counterparts, Microsoft Office and Outlook.

Don't believe me? Give it a try. You can download Mint and use it for free. You may just find that Linux is the operating system for you.

2. Chrome OS

Google thinks you don't need a fat-client desktop — any version of Windows, Mac OS X, and most Linux editions at all. Instead, all you need is enough Linux to run a system and the Chrome web browser for all your needs. With Chrome OS, they may be right.

I've been using Chrome OS on older PCs, and chromebooks for almost two years now. I've found that it works really well for most purposes. Better still, Chrome OS will run well on everything from cheap, $250 ARM-powered chromebooks to the fast, beautiful, and pricey, $1,299 Chromebook Pixel.

Perhaps the best thing about Chrome OS and its chromebook is that it has no learning curve whatsoever. If you can use a web browser, you can use a chromebook.

Is it right for you? Sit down and take a long, hard look at what you and your staff actually do all day. If you find — and I think many of you will — that most of their work can be done with software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps such as Google Docs and Gmail, then Chrome OS is your natural choice.

1. Windows 7

What? You thought I was going to tell Windows users that their best move would be to anything else but? Technically, I think Linux is better, but for total cost of ownership (TCO), it's hard to beat Chrome OS. If you're really wedded to Windows, Windows 7 is your best and most natural move.

I would only urge you to at least give the others a look. I really do think you may be surprised at how well they might work for your enterprise.

You should keep in mind that in the long run, it appears Microsoft really does want to switch you over to a Metro-style interface as part of the "evolution" of Windows 8. If that idea gives you hives, then now is the time to start looking for alternatives.

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Topics: Windows, Apple, PCs, Tablets, Operating Systems, Microsoft, Linux, Laptops, Google, Cloud, Windows 8

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  • Sounds like I need ...

    1. One Windows machine for Adobe software and MSFT Office.
    2. All the others Chrome.
    3. BUT where am I going to get a fast WAN solution foe when I'm offsite? I mean like RemoteFX or PCoIP.
    • Chrome Remote Desktop?

      I'm not sure if you need something more robust but Chrome remote desktop works beautifully for remote controlling Windows PCs from a chromebook.
      • how dumb or fanatic you are

        to suggest purchase of a chrome OS when one still needs to Remote into a windows OS? WOW i hope you realize the cost of that compared to just having a Windows 8 tablet with Direct Access built into it. i feel pity for people like you
        • This is not a rational objection

          Many people have more than one computer. If one of them is mostly for surfing but occasionally has to admin a windows 2012 server, then what was proposed is a viable solution if you have the RDP CALs to spare.
          • He's just trolling

            Soon he will be back to his parents' basement.
          • Re-He's just trolling

            I don't think he is trolling, his point while in the right taught process might have been too colorful.
            It is important to use the writer's framework of his article to response. He addressed folks using this devices for work and very eloquently pleaded with enterprise sectors.
            So, If Enterprise can get powerful(1.e i5 CPU like) thin/Light Ultra book between $600 - $700 price range for WIN7, and you can virtual Linux. Why would you need another PC in the office to Remote desktop to?
            Now between your single device and work server you only manage one device and lest I forget, Enterprise work and workload wise, it can do everything an iPad, Chrome book, Mac and Linux (Which you have virtualized) can do. But you will need a bit of all these other OSes to do what the Windows 7 Ultra book can do.
            Alfred Soyemi
          • so if it is just for surfing

            why to spend lot extra dollars on a chrome device and on top of that for RDP cals? you get that with a windows based tablet and yes the surfing is even better.
          • you can

            buy a $600+ ultrabook, or buy a $200-250 chromebook and remote to the larger computer you already have that's sitting at home/in your office. chromebooks are not a solution in and of themselves, but they are excellent portable companion devices for a low cost.
          • and of course

            you can also put linux on them and they become a solution in & of themselves. or you can dual boot, which is what I do.
          • I can somewhere agree with you

            but when you say use that device to connect the larger computer specially in office, it requires license and security infrastructure and that's an additional cost. chromebook was a low cost option for consumers mostly for surfing purpose but then how many different devices you want to buy. when you compare that with surface RT you can do surfing plus more with Office and other quality stuff and it's cheaper for your company to let you use that device to connect to office.
          • The very explanation why the iPad is a great business device ...

            ... is that you can use it as a thin client to "get real work done".
            This has, inexplicably, sold many businesses on the viability of iPads.
          • and it's another good option

            I like my chromebook because the keyboard is absolutely perfect- as good as a keyboard for a desktop. if you find a keyboard for your iPad/android tablet, there's no reason that won't work too. iPads are a bit handicapped because they can't use a mouse. android tablets and obviously chromebooks can. I'm also not familiar with how good remote software on iPads are. on the chromebook it's insanely easy and seamless.
          • Re: iPads and Mouses

            There are dozens of wireless mouses, from dozens of vendors, for iPads.
          • MAC wireless keybord

            Is perfect for typing on iPad. The same about mouse. Chromebook, in compare to iPad, is, obviously, total BS. IMHO
          • Wireless mouse and keyboard

            ...indeed make the iPad usable for many tasks, but then again, now the cost is higher and a case is needed to carry around the keyboard and mouse with the iPad, so what is the point? If that is what is needed for the tasks at hand, might as well buy a MB Air or Windows ultrabook and be done with it.
          • Except that

            no one uses an iPad at work except to browse the web. iPad is hard to manage from a security perspective as well.
          • Re: Pad is hard to manage from a security perspective

            This is utter nonsense. An iPad is more secure than anything else you have and there are very good security hooks in the OS to manage it any way you like.

            Granted, Microsoft management software doesn't know how to manage iPads, but that's the Microsoft management software's fault. Other management software vendors apparently can. Just use what works.
          • iOS is a known bug magnet..

            I read about it here and on TR all the time. My clients get hit and wonder what happened? Android is worse, of course, because of the way vendors chop it up.
          • "no one"?!

            Seriously you are speaking for millions of people using iPads at work? I work on an iPad all the time…and not just for browsing. I use the iPad for collecting information, presentations, building/editing proposals, setting up tests…and the list goes on.
          • Are iPads really that practical?

            Not everyone can use an iPad at work. As a matter of fact, I think it's a hilariously impractical device as a pc replacement for most users. Can your iPad store 2TB of data? Can you design and implement a website in Adobe CS with all custom graphics made on your iPad? Can you manage 100GB of zipped archives on your iPad? Can you hold 480GB of files on your iPad while a NAS hard drive is replaced? Can you batch process and sort 1000 images in a half hour on your iPad? Can you reformat and partially rewrite a 60,000 word document on your iPad (quickly)? These are all things I did this week on my lowly and much maligned PC.