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Windows is better, you Mac people are morons” or “Mac OS X is the single greatest operating system in history, and you’re stupid for thinking otherwise” or “shut up, all of you, and install Linux. Now“.

Stop the flame war. It matters less and less every year what operating system you use, because every year we all spend more time on our computer using nothing but the browser. And browsers are cross-platform.

Want to have an argument about which systems are better? You really should be arguing about browsers, because they are now what matters most. In a web app world, most software works with every operating system, making your choice of systems less and less important.

What Do You Do On Your Computer?

What’s the first piece of software you start on you computer? If you’re anything like me, it’s your web browser. You open your (web-based) email, then perhaps check the news or your social networks. Only once you’re done with this routine do you move on to using other software for work-related things. But even then, more and more of these work-related things can be done in a browser alone.

And more of them are being done in the browser.

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When Google Docs launched, many in the technology press thought it a curiosity. Why would people stop using their beloved Microsoft Office programs, which run on their computer under their control, for a web-based program? Surely Microsoft will dominate the Office sphere forever?

Five years later Microsoft hopes to keep dominating, so they launched Microsoft Office web apps Use Microsoft Office for Free with Microsoft Web Apps Use Microsoft Office for Free with Microsoft Web Apps Read More . It was a necessary move: thousands of companies are switching to Googe Apps for its instant collaboration and ease of use. The fact that Microsoft felt the need to offer a version of Office, a very profitable product, for free, tells us a lot about the future of computing.

The Web App Future

The future is one of web apps. Whether you want to edit images Edit Images Online with The Aviary Photo Editor Suite Edit Images Online with The Aviary Photo Editor Suite Read More or use QuickBooks, an increasing number of things that were previously only possible in Windows are now possible on any computer with a web browser. Heck, even your music collection is accessible from your browser now, thanks to Google Music Google Music Puts All Your Tunes Online [Currently US Only] Google Music Puts All Your Tunes Online [Currently US Only] Upload your music to Google's servers and stream it from anywhere. It's called Google Music Beta, and it just might change the way you listen to music. Uploading your music to Google is a bit... Read More  and services like it Five Streaming Alternatives To Google Music, Amazon Cloud Drive & Apple's iCloud Five Streaming Alternatives To Google Music, Amazon Cloud Drive & Apple's iCloud Steam your music from the cloud right now, without waiting for invitations or paying for the privilege. The headlines may currently be dominated by Google Music, Apple iCloud and Amazon Cloud Drive, but cloud-based music is... Read More .

Take a look at the MakeUseOf list of the best web apps. You can find a web application to do just about anything you spend time offline doing now. If you can’t, rest assured that someone is developing a web tool for the job, and we’ll use those web tools. As with Google Docs, we’ll appreciate the ease of collaboration. We’ll like that we don’t have to install software updates constantly, and that we can switch computers without disrupting our workflow. We will like that information is backed up automatically, so that hardware disasters cost us only money and not data.

Simply put: web software is easier, and people like that.

Jumping Between Systems

The more of your computing life you put on the cloud, the less you notice when you switch between operating systems. I regularly switch between Ubuntu Linux, Mac OS X and Windows 7, heck, sometimes I even use Windows XP. Asethetics aside, I barely notice which operating system I’m using anymore. I open a web browser and I get to work.

What about you? Is more of your computing life moving from desktop programs to your browser? Do you regularly switch computers without missing a beat? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to recommend some more great web apps.

Image from XKCD, which you really should be reading regularly if you aren’t.

  1. Kelsey Tidwell
    July 5, 2016 at 12:37 am

    Heh, Justin, Happy 4th of July!

    I just read this article for the first time. Having recently converted an overheating Windows 10 laptop to Linux Mint, I decided to go back and read every single MakeUseOf Linux article to glean information on good programs to try.

    You were being pretty prescient when you wrote this one. Yeah, global bandwidth still isn't where it should be in order to function well web-only, but it's getting there what with Google Fiber and other solutions. And I believe like others that certain types of software may never be primarily web-active. But wow look how far it all HAS come!

    One thing always stays the same and will probably never change...some people will embrace the next big thing, but some people refuse to be open to big paradigm shifts. Does it really matter if work is done on the computer or on the web? Of course not. And web apps (at least the ones I have experience with) synchronize your work on the web with your computer now, so the old criticism about, "what if the internet goes down?", isn't nearly as world-ending as it used to be.

    I've made a reminder in my online calendar to check back here after another five years to see where we stand. And read the newest grumbles about the latest upheaval of the good ol' status quo.

    Thanks for this, um, time capsule of text.

  2. daniyal141
    December 13, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Sorry, I mostly disagree with your opinion. But I can accept the fact that every OS is for certain people. I like to have a challenge in computing with little risks while I do it. That is why I chose Debian (Linux, yes, there is a Hurd version). Windows was my main OS for about 5 years and by then I knew about every bit of it. I was just frustrated that Microsoft didn't release a version of Windows that was better for the intermediate rank in computing. I didn't want something just too easy. Also, my only uses of the internet is downloading files(mostly Linux distros) and reading great articles like this one right here. So it does matter for me. Not much, but I hope you get the point of what I said.

    • Justin Pot
      December 13, 2015 at 7:12 pm

      I do get your point! Though I must admit, it's been so long since I wrote this article that I don't remember writing it. Seems decent though. :)

  3. Ns
    September 4, 2011 at 2:33 am

    what happens when the internet goes down?

  4. Mike
    September 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Call me crazy but I still don't trust the public cloud so an OS still means a lot to me. In my opinion, the web app future isn't great unless you have an offline backup option. If not, what good is it when you lose Internet service? What good is it if it's hacked? Also, at the end of the day, your ISP determines how much it'll cost you to access your own data. Web apps are convenient but I'm not ready to rely on them for anything important.

  5. Bogdan
    September 2, 2011 at 8:54 am

    So there is no reason to use Windows and MacOS. Linux ftw!! :))

  6. Tim Tipton
    September 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    eh, for me - When "cloud" apps start being able to render high rez images in CMYK (for printing) - then I'll agree with you more - but until that happens, there's an entire industry (print) behind the PC "machine" keeping the specific OS's alive and relevant...

    Maybe there are some cloud services like this - if so, please let me know, as I'd LOVE to join the "freedom cloud" world/plane.

  7. kn0w-b1nary
    August 31, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Since many things are done through a browser, for many people the OS doesn't matter. But for others it does matter. My ubuntu always logs in faster than windows, and doesn't lag. I use the commandline often. Frankly, command prompt on windows is pitiful. What's with the backslashes? Where is pipe? Some people just want to pay money and it works, then a Mac might be their perfect fit. Some people just want to run exactly what their friends do, with out any thought on their part. Windows might be for them. Some want to control everything about their computer. Linux could be their dream come true.

    Beside that, there is a privacy factor.

    So, I agree with stopping the flame war, but I personally disagree with not noticing much of a difference. The difference to me sticks out like a sore thumb. But then again, I am much more immersed in the computer when I use it.

  8. Jeffery Fabish
    August 31, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Sure, it doesn't matter if you don't possess any personal values. I use Linux because I firmly believe in sharing and the open source movement. If values aren't a concern for you, or you for some reason like to bend to the will of your corporate masters, yes it doesn't matter which operating system you use. Personally, there is no reason for me to spend $300 on an OS when I can do the same and more on Linux and meanwhile have way more freedoms.

    Plus, Linux isn't an operating system, it's a kernel.

  9. Donviejo
    August 31, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    In the 1970s I authored a book ("Who Owns the Computer") which examined the pros and cons of the then raging controversy in higher education between the the prevailing centralized main frame paradigm and the newly emerging decentalized personal computer approach.

    It really was a fight over who controls the computer: centralized IT management or the individual user?

    We all know how that one worked out:  a mixed system where the virtues of each are maximized. It was the newly developed operating systems (Windows, by way of example) that made this choice possible.

    Now we are back to the same type of discussion. It is not whether cloud computing will push out the individual pc but rather, what works best, in what environments and with what types of tasks.

    And yes, operating systems do matter. I love Linux on my little traveling Netbook but what am I to do without Evernote? I am sure there are numerous other examples of the special aspects of specialized software that do not fit into the centralized approach.

    • Aibek
      September 1, 2011 at 6:41 am

      thanks for the input

  10. iBookmaster
    August 31, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Macs are still more enjoyable to use. That's why they sell so good. Why else would a computer that costs twice as much as the competition sell so good?

    • metazai
      August 31, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      Personal opinion, iBookmaster.  I appreciate that you find them well suited to your workflow, but I personally  find Macs less intuitive and much more inflexible than Windows or Linux . . . why else would they have 5.5% of f the market share versus 87.6% for Windows?

      • iBookmaster
        August 31, 2011 at 8:17 pm

        Sure it's personal opinion but, isn't that what you and everybody else is giving here? They have less market share because they don't license their OS to all computer makers. It would be a different story then. Steve Jobs didn't want that. He wanted to have something special. Apple is the second most successful company in the world putting their operating system on only one platform. That is amazing. In defense of Microsoft though, Windows 7 is much better than Vista.

        • Philharmania
          September 1, 2011 at 2:16 am

          ‘they don't license their OS to all computer makers’ because they are not able to maintain the hardware compatibility of that range, which makes Linux such an amazing and awesome OS.

      • DarkDuck
        September 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm

        I tried Macs several times... and neither of those I was happy with my user experience. Starting with hardware (where is my touchpad clicks and buttons?) and ending up at the cost. Why would I pay so much for something which is so rigid and inflexible?

        • James Bruce
          September 5, 2011 at 8:47 am

          I have apple trackpad and have no problem either clicking (with a haptic "click", not just touch based), nor right click. You can also customise the multitouch gestures, which isn't exactly what I'd call inflexible. 

          Cost.. meh. You're right ;)

  11. Anonymous
    August 31, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    personally i would love to switch to linux, however, xserver has a very particular problem about not wanting to let 3 lcd screens work on two graphic cards that are not the exact same model. makes me a sad panda

    • Justin Pot
      August 31, 2011 at 11:40 pm

      Wow, that's an insanely specific problem to have. I hope they get it working eventually!

  12. Badger1802
    August 31, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Only if you care about getting work done. I'm sorry to all the Mac fanboys out tuere but as a software developer there is really no substitute for visual studio and SQL management studio. The tools and utilities for Mac are so lacking they are almost nonexistent.

    • Rodrigo
      August 31, 2011 at 10:03 pm

      Yeah, that's what makes the variety important (and beautiful, why not?). I'm a windows user, but I reckon each operating system has its pluses and minuses. For example:

      Windows: can do pretty much everything a computer can, but you often find yourself troubled with hardware incompatibility issues;

      Mac: Especially good for design related work (graphic design, video editing etc), not because it has this or that software, but mainly because its monitors come color-calibrated from factory. But you're stuck with the few hardware options Apple has to offer. And, for some kinds of work, there's too few, if any, softwares available;

      Linux: Gives you almost unlimited freedom and control over your system. Also, as the majority of it's software, as the system itself, is free, it's the first option to be considered if you want to run your business legally (i.e. not using pirate software of any kind) but have an extremely low budget. However, most of the "Industry Standard" software out there do not have a Linux version, be it actual pieces of software, like Adobe stuff for example, or some device drivers, altough it's a bit of a rare ocasion.

      • Justin Pot
        August 31, 2011 at 11:39 pm

        I'm an avid user and fan of all three major operating systems. 

  13. Rodrigo
    August 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Like Deskcom, I also agree to a certain extent. Bescause this is only true for simple office work. When you go into the realms of engineering, design, video and sound editing, and other specific kinds of work, the operating system you choose plays a huge role on your work (not that it makes it better or worse, just different) That is also true for the whole "cloud computing will replace offline computing" talk. There are things for which you simply can't trust the "cloud". Like storing sensible industrial information, managing votes on a presidential election, or keeping people alive in ICUs. Cloud computing may (and probably will) revolutionize offices around the world in the near future, but I tend to believe that's about it.

    • metazai
      August 31, 2011 at 7:48 pm

       Nailed it, Rodrigo.  This is a retread on an old idea, that of the "dumb terminal" interface for computing.  There are advantages to such a system, but I believe that any serious push in this direction will have the opposite effect of the one intended, in that it will fracture personal computing into different groups, and therefore fracture development and services, making the experience worse for everyone.  The only way I could see it working is the way it works now, with a few applications cloud-based and most not.  Unfortunately, I fear that the serious push is already underway, and it will leave those of us off the cloud with higher prices and crappier products and those using the cloud with higher levels of corporate control and . . . well, also crappier products.  Not to sound paranoid or anything, but the possibility of greater control over products by their providers is exactly why the future is looking so grim.  It might . . . MIGHT . . . have worked at Apple, because they have such a lockdown on their hardware, but I don't see such a pleasant result coming from cloud computing for the PC.

      • Justin Pot
        August 31, 2011 at 11:38 pm

        It's true, this is an old idea. The difference is that now it's happening. Desktop software will eventually become a novelty used by artists and geeks, whether you like it or not.

        • Dan
          September 1, 2011 at 3:41 am

          Except for the 80% of the world which do not have reliable broadband access. Try living in the clouds in Africa, South America, or Asia (outside of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore). Heck even in the US and western Europe broadband access can be spotty. As long as the infrastructure isn't there, and I don't see it changing much in 20 years especially in the aforementioned non-industrialized regions,  the cloud will be more of a gimmick than a platform killer.

        • james
          September 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm

          Yeh, I'm not buying that. I've used gmail - but I still prefer to access it through Apple Mail everyday. Web interface is for an emergency only. Same with office software - the cloud just doesnt cut it. And I'm damned if I'm going to start using some ridiculous online image editor!

          I really hope the web stays as the web, and doesnt try to become a full computing experience. 

          Perhaps you're right about a new generation that only needs a browser to exist, but if this ever were to happen, it ain't gonna be for a long time. My grandchildren might be saying "put your 'puter away pops, I got the internet right here!", but not quite yet. I think you're just ahead of your time, Justin!

      • Actingman
        September 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

        I can speak to that.  I was temping at a company in NYC that had their Office Apps load from offsite...took forever, constant outages, problems with one server or another.  I had to figure out a trick as to which app to start first to avoid the one server I knew was a bad one.  I heard if you were on good terms with IT you might get a local copy of the app installed so you could actually get something done.  Thomas Friedman in the NY Times is always mentioning how the U.S. is lagging behind many parts of the world in broadband speed.  When I moved down the block, I agreed to the suggestion of $10 more a month for faster DSL.  The company's machine would not let the Customer Rep add the change to my account, because they simply could not deliver the speed with the existing phone lines, and the system had been programed to recognize that.

        For me, cloud computing at work or home would be an unwelcome nostalgic return to dial-up best.

  14. John Penland
    August 31, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Aside from the price differences, the main differences are within the realms of the proprietary software that is produced by Apple and Microsoft. Anything else is possible, given the right combination of know-how and programs.

  15. Deskcon
    August 31, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Point Taken and I agree to a certain extent. However they become much more distinguishable at the cash register or when you want to upgrade hardware. 

    If all things are equal, why pay such a premium for expensive to upgrade produce?

    • Justin Pot
      August 31, 2011 at 11:36 pm

      I got a great deal on my netbook because it came with no operating system. I set up Linux, and thanks to the cloud I can do just about anything on it. So I agree with you. 

  16. Anonymous
    August 31, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    A web browser is still software that can vary in performance depending on your operating system on Linux I prefer Firefox to Chrome and vice versa on Windows.

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