Which platform?
Choosing a password
Open Source OS on Intel Mac

Selecting a Computer and Operating System

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:


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.

Joe 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.

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, start by going 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.

Note that every operating system you're likely to use except Microsoft Windows is Unix-compatible. This means they can all pretty easily run programs that were developed on other Unix variants. For example, programs developed on Linux can be easily run on BSD Unix and programs developed on Mac OS X can be run on Linux (as long as they are written to Unix standards and do not use proprietary Apple features).

Need more than one OS?

If you need to run Windows applications, this doesn't necessarily rule out getting a Mac or running Unix on your PC. All PCs and all Macs sold since around 2007 will also run Windows, both independently and in a virtual machine. You can use Unix (including OS X) for most of your needs, while retaining the ability to run Windows applications when you need to.

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 sufficient disk space and RAM for two (or more) operating systems and some time to play.

Free Unix for PCs

FreeBSD Derivatives

If you're a fairly typical computer user who wants to try out some of the major open source applications, there are several desktop-oriented systems, such as GhostBSD and NomadBSD, a live system for running from external media. These systems are based on FreeBSD, which is also the base for Mac OS X and the system used by Netflix, Whatsapp, and many other Internet companies. They provide a simple installer and system management tools, along with the ability to manage software via the FreeBSD ports system, a huge collection of prebuilt software packages that can be very easily installed, removed or upgraded.

Linux Derivatives

Similar in concept is the Ubuntu Linux system. Ubuntu and its variants (one for each supported desktop environment) have a simple installer and a point-and-click software management system based on the Debian package system. Debian packages are comparable to FreeBSD ports from the novice perspective. There are major differences between the two systems, but they are not important to someone who just wants to quickly install Firefox or LibreOffice.


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.