Is Windows 7 the Greatest OS Ever? Let Me Count the Ways

Steve Ballmer recently stated that Windows 7 is the best version of Windows ever. Now that Windows 7 is officially out, the public at large can join that debate and determine if Windows 7 is the best version of Windows yet, or even the greatest operating system of all time. Let's consider the hypothetical question of whether Windows 7 is the greatest operating system of all time.

Before the flaming comments start flowing about what a Microsoft fanboy I am, let me begin by stating that it's a hypothetical question, not a statement of opinion, never mind an assessment of any empirical facts.

How do you even measure such a thing, though? Choosing the ‘best' operating system is a little like selecting the ‘best' religion. They all have their pros and cons and the decision is very subjective because what one person considers a feature, the next person considers a bug.

Windows 7 has been favorably reviewed thus far and it seems to be doing well out of the gate, but, let's take a look at some factors you might consider in trying to choose the best operating system ever.

Price

Price alone can't determine the best operating system, but it can certainly be a factor. You have to be careful about how you calculate the price of the operating system though. For example, the Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade edition costs $120, compared with Snow Leopard, the recent upgrade for Apple Mac OS X, which came in at $29. However, comparable hardware to run it on costs two to three times more for the Mac OS X system, and the cost of compatible hardware devices is typically higher as well.

Linux is open source, which means that an operating system like Ubuntu can be downloaded for free. There are some intangible costs to the learning curve if you aren't already a Linux-user, as well as some additional effort to adapt other hardware and software to work with it. But, overall the winner on price would appear to be Linux.

Market Share

This is arguably one of the more widely-accepted measurements for ‘best' operating system. However, there are subjective ways to measure it. Is market share determined by the number of systems sold with a given operating system? Many users report having purchased a system with Windows Vista, but wiping it and replacing it with Windows XP, or some variant of Linux. How about the number of virtual systems running a given operating system, or the number of users who have multiple operating systems?

According to netmarketshare.com, Windows XP has 71.51 percent of the operating system market, followed by Windows Vista at 18.62 percent. Lumping versions together, Windows has 92.77 percent, followed by Mac at 5.12 percent, with Linux coming in third at just under one percent. Judging by those numbers, the market share winner is easily Windows, or more specifically Windows XP.

Vulnerabilities / Stability

Maybe price and market share are too arbitrary? You can argue that you get what you pay for and that free doesn't mean good, or that just because corporations deploy Windows XP by the tens of thousands doesn't make it ‘best'. How about the most stable operating system, or the one with the fewest vulnerabilities and patches?

Fair enough. I have two caveats to point out for this measurement. First, the number of patches can vary greatly from the number of vulnerabilities and may be misleading. On Microsoft's monthly Patch Tuesday one Security Bulletin or update often addresses a number of outstanding vulnerabilities. Similarly, some updates for Mac OS X patch a large number of holes all at once.

The other caveat to consider is to look at the big picture. When Microsoft releases updates each month it includes patches for Windows, Microsoft Office software, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, and other Microsoft software like SQL Server and Exchange. An operating system like Ubuntu may be able to boast fewer vulnerabilities, but unless you are only using the core operating system you have to include the vulnerabilities for the web browser, media player, productivity software, etc. that make the system as a whole functional.

I'd call this one a draw.

Device / Software Support

Continuing the perspective that it's the system as a whole that provides value, not just the core operating system, another measure of best operating system could be the number of compatible hardware devices and software applications available to use with it. No operating system is an island, and the flexibility to install a wide range of additional hardware and software greatly enhances the overall ownership experience.

Judging by what I see on store shelves at Best Buy, or what I can find online from retailers like Amazon, or CDW, I would say this category easily goes to Windows, but figuring out specifically which version of Windows would take a lot more digging.

Longevity

Any vendor can crank out a new whiz bang operating system every year or three and capture the attention of users. The new operating systems also become the de facto standard installed on new hardware purchases which gives them a decided advantage. So, when a legacy operating system still commands a significant share of the market, it says something about how capable and respected that operating system is.

Given that Windows XP users outnumber Windows Vista users almost 4 to 1, and that three out of four users still use the older version of Windows, the reigning champ in this area has to be Windows XP.

The bottom line though is that only you can determine what is the best operating system for you. Determining the ‘best' operating system is, in fact, a matter of subjective opinion. Surveys and statistics may be useful, but what matters is how it works for you to do what you want a computer operating system to do.

It is too early to measure Windows 7 against most of the factors I listed, but I do think given time it could emerge as the best version of Windows and maybe even the best operating system.

Now you can commence flaming.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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