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Which platform?
Choosing a password
Network File System (NFS) Tuning
Infiniband on FreeBSD
Running an Open Source OS on an Intel Mac

Selecting a Computer

The key to making a good selection is to first identify the essence of your needs. Set aside all assumptions about what kind of hardware or specific software you need. For example, clients often tell me they need Internet Explorer. If I ask why, it almost always becomes clear that they simply need a web browser, and Internet Explorer happens to be the only one they're familiar with. Likewise, they might say they need MS Office, when in fact they simply need a word processor and spread sheet, or that they need Mac Mail, when any other mail client will serve their needs.

In some cases, a requirement to run specific software (e.g. for compatibility with the workplace) will dictate the operating system you need. Far more often, though, needs are dictated by what you want to accomplish, and nothing more. Your experience with computers will be far easier and more enjoyable you focus on the latter whenever possible. Don't be afraid to try new software applications, new operating systems, or new hardware brands. Chances are, doing so will improve your situation. Being aware of choices is better for you, and the competition forces vendors to offer better products and services.

All that said, you probably came to this page to get some recommendations, so here they are:

Disclaimer:

Unlike many other consulting companies, Acadix has no affiliation with specific vendors. We fully support all common hardware and operating systems, including Mac, Windows, and Unix-like systems. The recommendations provided here are based solely on our clients' best interests.

The Average User

If you're an average home computer user who simply needs to browse the web, create documents, watch videos, etc., the choice is a no-brainer: Get a Mac. You'll likely pay slightly more than you would for comparable quality Windows PC hardware, but you'll save a lot of time, money, and frustration over the life of the computer.

Don't make the mistake of comparing a Mac to the dirt-cheap PC hardware currently flooding the market. Cheap PCs have a much lower reliability rating and shorter life expectancy than Macs and other quality PCs.

The main reason for getting a Mac, however, is not the hardware, but the operating system. The Mac OS X operating system is far easier for the average person to use and manage than anything else, and much more reliable and secure than Microsoft Windows. If you use Mac OS X, you'll spend the vast majority of your time doing what you want to and very little time dealing with computer problems.

If you need to run Windows applications, this doesn't necessarily rule out getting a Mac. All Macs sold since around 2007 will also run Windows, both independently and in a virtual machine. You can use OS X for most of your needs, thus avoiding the many problems with Windows, while retaining the ability to run Windows applications when you need to.

Everyone Else

If you're not an average user, and need or want to get something other than a Mac, you have many choices for both hardware and operating systems.

To select your hardware, go to your favorite search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) and entering "computer brand reliability". Many studies have been done comparing customer experiences with common brand names like ASUS, Dell, IBM, Lenovo, etc. Most such studies are not very scientific, but by reading multiple studies, you can get a good idea about which brands to avoid.

For operating systems, there are many choices available. If you must run specific commercial software, this will likely dictate your choice of operating system, since most commercial software will only run on one or a few OS's. Remember, though, that you may not really need specific software so much as specific functionality. Focus on what you need to do, and then look at all your options before choosing your software.

Most users' needs can now be completely met using entirely free, open source software. There are many full-featured free web browsers, including Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, etc. The LibreOffice and OpenOffice free office suites offer comparable functionality to Microsoft Office and iWork. There are thousands of quality free software applications available to do just about anything you need, including managing your finances, video and audio editing, graphic design, etc. There are also very high-quality free operating systems to run them on. A few options are described below.

With the availability of free virtual machine software such as VirtualBox, it's now easy to try out new operating systems without replacing what you currently use. All it takes is a few gigabytes of extra disk space and some time to play.

PC-BSD

If you're a fairly typical computer user who wants to try out some of the major open source applications, PC-BSD is the easiest system to start with. One of the unique features of PC-BSD among open source operating systems is the PBI system, which makes installing and upgrading software applications as easy as it can possibly be.

PC-BSD is based on FreeBSD, which is also the base for Mac OS X, and the system used by Yahoo! and many other Internet companies.

Ubuntu

Almost as easy to use as PC-BSD is the Ubuntu Linux system. Like PC-BSD, Ubuntu and its variants have a simple installer, and a point-and-click software management system based on Debian packages. Debian packages are easy to install and uninstall. Upgrading is also generally easy, but can be time-consuming and in very rare cases, problematic. Unlike PBIs, Debian packages contain interdependencies which can require a large number of packages to be upgraded together. These interdependencies are not a bug, but a design feature aimed at making the overall system as clean and efficient as possible, and are preferred over PBIs by some users. The potential problems are only mentioned here for the sake of beginners who want to keep their initial experience as quick and easy as possible.

Others

For more adventurous users, there are many other BSD and Linux systems freely available to try, as well as OpenIndiana, a free system based on Oracle Solaris. Each has its own target audience and advantages. Users are encouraged to try multiple such systems before settling on one.