Not so long ago, at a nerd convention far too close for comfort...
“”What is an operating system? Is it a layer between the user and the hardware that runs applications and manages resources? Hell no. It’s a political statement and you need to use it to fight a great evil.
Operating System Wars take place wherever nerds gather: Internet forums, game stores, 7-11s at 3 AM, postgraduate offices, and most of all, RationalWiki. There are largely two camps: The Mac Users and The Windows Users. The fact that these words are capitalized emphasizes the near-religious zeal with which these positions are held. They argue constantly about which is the Superior Operating System, always overlooking the fact that 1) all computers are shit, and 2) there are alternatives.
- 1 Windows
- 2 Macs
- 3 Linux
- 4 Unix
- 5 Android vs. iOS
- 6 RationalWiki's position
- 7 And if that wasn't enough
- 8 Metaphors and similes
- 9 Road map to peace
- 10 Give war a chance
- 11 The origins of computer related religious wars
- 12 External links
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
Windows is famed for being on 90% of the world's computers, its pathetic attempts at user friendliness (remember Clippy?), crashing more often than a myotonic goat, and for making any change to software or hardware as difficult as possible. Windows 7 seemed to buck the trend, as even some IT people—who by default hate Microsoft—like it, but even the final release version wasn't immune to some form of "[insert whatever feature the error generates] of death." Subsequently Windows 8 threw it all away and made everyone hate Microsoft. Windows 9 was never even released, but Windows 10 seems to be ok.
Windows users are characterized by any one or more of the following traits:
- Swearing, usually at what the computer is doing wrong/the difficult way.
- Being your average office drone.
- Calling IT support because there is something wrong.
- Assuming that hardware will always be cheap and readily available and that any application will run on their machine.
- Terrified that other operating systems might actually be better.
- Cursing at people with the correct drivers installed for the amount of shiny devices they can connect their computers to.
- Cursing at people without the correct drivers installed for not knowing how to connect their shiny devices.
- Thinking that this is 'way cool dude.'
- Insisting Windows 7 was their idea.
- Cursing Windows 8 (a completely understandable response, given Windows 8's obtuseness)
- For incompetent users who make novices look like Bill Gates: Either not installing any malware protection (anti-virus, anti-spyware, etc.) and getting the computer so infected that human infections tremble in fear, or installing so much of it that the computer crawls down to a halt and becomes completely unusable.
- For the same users as the above: After tech support installs programs for protection against malware, uninstalling it, getting the malware back, and getting it to "be stupid" again and calling a now-frustrated tech support person who at least gets paid to fix it.
Macs are famed for their user friendliness and
shitty, annoying innovative user interface. Windows users think this prevents the users from actually having to know how their computer works making them counterproductive for software development. Macs, like all Apple products, are also known for their extra-specially-user-friendly two-step upgrade and/or repair procedure: Step 1: throw your old one out Step 2: buy the new one.
Mac users are characterised by the following properties:
- Over-emotional attachment to what is actually a bloody machine.
- Calling IT support because there is something wrong with them because they can't find out how to set the printer to two-sided.
- Generally being complete tossers, except of course for Stephen Fry and Douglas Adams who have a get-out-of-jail-free card for reasons of being Stephen Fry and Douglas Adams.
- Owning iEverything even though they are just like (or sometimes worse than) any other mobile phone, mp3 player, tablet, etc.
- Thinking that BSOD is some kind of sexual fetish.
- Thinking the same of BSD, despite using it.
- Cursing at Windows users for the number of shiny devices they can connect their computers to.
- Wondering what this newfangled 'right click' thing they keep hearing about is. Do some people prefer to wrong click?
- Driving IT people insane with demonstrably false statements like "No, it can't be malware. I have a Mac. Macs can't get malware." While Macs are indeed less susceptible to malware attacks (primarily due to a lack of market share), they absolutely can and do get malware.
- Really scary Mac users are a twisted hybrid of Mac addicts and Unix geeks who can tie a cherry stem in a knot with nothing but an AppleEvent-aware Perl script.
- Having excessive money to be able to afford overpriced products.
Not to be confused with the vast majority of smartphone users, most of whom don't particularly give a damn about the fact that the Linux kernel runs their Android phones, and that Google decided to reinvent the wheel with many of Android's components so they could avoid certain licensing requirements.
The year Linux took over the desktop was in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, 2016, 2017, maybe not 2018, but again in 2019, and Linux will continue taking over the desktop every year thereafter.
It would appear that there is a strange and obscure usage of the words "year", "desktop", and "taking over" that we're not familiar with.
Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to mass-market adoption on the desktop is the lack of quality games. Most of the open-source games are pretty shitty with only a few notable exceptions (and those are usually clones or reimplementation of commercial Windows or DOS games). The first serious attempt at making commercial games available on Linux was by Loki Software around the turn of the century, which ported some popular games. After they went tits-up in 2001 there have been very few commercial releases outside of some obscure indie releases. This changed in about 2013 due to a combination of Valve's SteamOS console (which runs a fork of Debian) and that the presence of better-funded indie games (Kickstarter ftw!). The offering on Windows is still vastly superior, but the offering is fairly decent on Linux and 2015 was probably the first year you could play PC games and not have a Windows machine. By 2018, Steam has added their own custom Wine backend called Proton, essentially allowing anything released before 2016 to be played on Linux without (too much) effort. Consequently, we predict that 2020 will be the year of the Linux desktop![citation NOT needed]
Of course, none of the above applies to servers or supercomputers, the overwhelming majority of which run Linux.
Linux users are characterized by the following properties:
0. The START OF EVERY LIST
- An unhealthy desire to recompile the kernel at every opportunity.
- A disdain for newcomers who don't know how to recompile the kernel.
- Constantly rebuilding their machines because a kernel recompile failed.
- Thinking those who don't compile on their own computers or don't use shell scripts and terminals on a daily basis are not real Linux users.
- Constantly having incidents reported for not being in the sudoers file, but not being sure who their being reported to.
- Believing vowels are over rated, especially when it comes to naming important programs you expect to use every day.
- Cursing at Mac users for the number of shiny devices they can connect their computers to.
- Either cursing that they need root, or cursing because they ran something as root that they really shouldn't have.
- Believing a windowing system is a very clever way of having lots of command lines on screen at the same time. Like screen only less clever.
- Arguing with each other over which distribution to use.
- Arguing with BSD users over their OS of choice.
- Arguing over whether to use a GUI or command line.
- In the case of GUI users, arguing with each other over whether to use one of the following:
- KDE Software Compilation (a modern-day version of an -school free desktop)
- GNOME 3's GNOME Shell (a radically different version of an -school free desktop)
- GNOME 3's more GNOME 2-like mode (a less radically different version of said -school desktop)
- Unity (a tweaked version of GNOME 3 without GNOME Shell, made in reaction to the latter, and with an even more Mac-like interface, dock and single, universal menu bar included)
- Cinnamon (another reaction to GNOME 3 that somewhat resembles a GTK+ version of KDE, or the GUI from pre-8 versions of Windows)
- MATE (as in yerba mate, not g'day mate; another reaction to GNOME 3 that completely ignores it in favor of forking GNOME 2)
- One of the many lightweight desktop environments, like Xfce, LXDE, or Enlightenment
- Or the minimalist purist like xmonad, ratpoison, or i3.
- Arguing about whether Emacs or vi is better. (Obviously vi is way better. No question. Unless you're Richard Stallman or another member of the Church of Emacs.)
- Arguing about which language is the best for writing scripts (essentially the modern-day equivalent of the Tcl Wars between Tcl and GNU Guile's implementation of Scheme).
- Complaining that we're calling it Linux and not GNU/Linux.
- Interjecting for a moment to explain why it's actually GNU/Linux
- Complaining that we're calling it Open Source and not Free Software.
- Constantly complaining about virtually all sorts of random, obscure problems such as their computer randomly shutting itself off at 9 pm on Mondays.
- Complaining that this list is not indexed from 0.
- Believing that time started on January 1970.
- Being able to understand this list.
“”At first, I just did it on weekends. With a few friends, you know...
We never wanted to hurt anyone. The girls loved it. We'd all sit around the computer and do a little UNIX. It was just a kick. At least that's what we thought. Then it got worse.
It got so I'd have to do some UNIX during the weekdays. After a while, I couldn't even wake up in the morning without having that crave to go do UNIX. Then it started affecting my job. I would just have to do it during my break. Maybe a `grep' or two, maybe a little `more'. I eventually started doing UNIX just to get through the day. Of course, it screwed up my mind so much that I couldn't even function as a normal person.
I'm lucky today, I've overcome my UNIX problem. It wasn't easy. If you're smart, just don't start. Remember, if any weirdo offers you some UNIX,Just Say No!
Unix boxes are big, black and live in caves called Data Centers. It's also Linux for people who think Linux is too popular.
Unix Users (but not Mac; back up a bit if you want that)
Unix users are characterized by the following properties:
- Sporting the famous Unix beard (this is the most important requirement by far).
- Not knowing how to use a GUI even if they had one. (Maybe twm with the .twmrc they've carried from job to job for the last 25 years.)
/bin/vito be the system's graphical control panel.
- Considering anything less than a terabyte to be small beer.
- Feeling totally superior to mere users, as well as users of operating systems merely Unix-like such as Linux.
- Cursing at Linux users for the number of shiny devices they can connect their computers to.
- Annoyance at everyone thinking Linux and UNIX are the same, to the point of many college "UNIX" courses actually teaching Linux. (Note that Dennis Ritchie, co-creator of Unix, was not particularly bothered at this himself.)
- BSD users argue with Linux users over the OS of choice.
- Cursing even more at Mac users for having a Unix-based OS that can connect to even more shiny devices.
- Getting pissed off when, at a party, someone says "I hear you work with computers—can you fix my Internet?"
Android vs. iOS
The most recent of OS wars, and possibly the first one in at least two decades in which Microsoft's contribution is entirely irrelevant. It's a bit of a one-sided battle; there are a lot fewer smug jerks on the Apple side than there used to be (they still do exist, though), and most people just happen to like their phones, but there is a special place in voice mail hell for a small but gratingly loud subset of Android users known as Fandroids. (Note: although there are a lot of differences in terms of strengths and weaknesses, to all intents and purposes, iOS and Android are largely equals on a technical level, making this the single most petty and pointless OS war of all time.) This particular war has even reached RationalWiki. Duck and Cover everyone!
- They hate Apple.
- They really hate Apple. 
- They think tech specs on smartphones are as significant as they are on PCs. (They aren't completely irrelevant, but they're not that important either.)
- Having basically zero grasp of the "computer as appliance" concept of the original Mac that inspired iOS, they consider the iTunes App Store to be a fiendish plot to... um... make money or something.
- Their concept of "innovation" seems to consist entirely of checklist features and UI facelifts. New APIs? Manufacturing processes? Design integration? A Fandroid knows nothing of these things.
- They really, really, really hate Apple.
- Most of the "OSX Users" list.
- Feeling superior.
- Feeling really superior.
- Worship of saint Jobs.
- Hate against Android as it stole everything from Apple.Do You Believe That?
- Preparation to shell out twice as much as what the competition offers on said phone.
- Using their ridiculously expensive phone at the most inappropriate moments (then again, so would we if we wasted so much money on it).
- Going in a foaming mouth grammar Nazi rage when someone spells it as Iphone or, god forbid, IPhone.
Eventually though, the iOS v Android war comes down to something called imessage which iOS users can't seem to live without, despite it being functionally identical to whatsapp.
RationalWiki does not endorse any specific operating system and believes people who argue over it should get a life. That said:
- RationalWiki prefers Windows because, uh, it... well, it has the best games.
- RationalWiki's users prefer Windows 7 because it was their idea. (Sure, Windows 8.1 is better than plain Windows 8, but that Start Screen is no Start Menu).
- RationalWiki prefers Windows Phone because it's Windows for phones.
- RationalWiki prefers Windows because Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience. If you were in the middle of something, you're screwed. Sucks to suck.
- RationalWiki prefers Mac OS X because it was designed by people who are rather anal about interface design and coherency and evolved to fit the needs of the very demanding graphic design, publishing, and multimedia markets, as well as the lucrative sitting-in-a-cafe-looking-cool market. And, it's Unix anyway.
- RationalWiki prefers iOS because there's an app for that.
- RationalWiki prefers Linux because it's free software—wait, let's repeat that: free software — and almost anything you need to do that doesn't involve gaming or custom applications that are written by sub-par vendors who won't even release the specs can be done with something you download for free.
- RationalWiki prefers Linux because it's on the Raspberry Pi.
- RationalWiki prefers Android because it takes some of Linux and puts it in a smaller package.
- RationalWiki prefers GNU/Hurd because of its frequent updates.
- RationalWiki prefers Unix because it was written by techies for techies and everything is a file. It's also heavily imitated, down to everything being a file.
- RationalWiki prefers BSD in particular, because if there's a platform that doesn't run NetBSD at the very least, it's not worth using. And FreeBSD, for obvious reasons.
- And OpenBSD because of its developers' obsession with doing things "the correct way". And DragonFlyBSD, because it's different.
- RationalWiki prefers OpenIndiana because it's a Unix System V OS that people are free to screw around with the source code of.
- RationalWiki prefers MINIX. It was the inspiration for Linux! Lately it's even become more than just a learning tool, borrowing several pieces of NetBSD (except the kernel, Dr. Tanenbaum won't have a filthy monolithic kernel in his OS).
- RationalWiki prefers DOS, because, uhhhhhhh... line, please?
- RationalWiki prefers DR-DOS running on an Osbourne for obvious reasons.
- RationalWiki prefers FreeDOS because it's more old-school than most other FLOSS operating systems.
- RationalWiki prefers the Commodore 64 because there's nothing a programmer on a modern platform can do that a C64 developer can't do in half the memory, in 8-bit machine language, with a dark ages character set and some truly hairy raster interrupt tricks.
- RationalWiki prefers analogue. Especially where thermionic valves are involved.
- RationalWiki prefers running Rule 110 in a desert.
- RationalWiki prefers RISC OS because it was made by the good people who gave us the BBC Micro.
- RationalWiki prefers MenuetOS because it is written entirely in assembly code, making it run hyper-efficiently and the whole OS fits on a floppy disk. Try that with Windows Vista! (Ok, Gentoo Linux kinda does that too, but not as well.)
- RationalWiki prefers BeOS because it was one of the first operating systems designed from its very beginning for multiprocessing. Still want to use BeOS after Palm/HP threw it away? Haiku intends to reimplement it in a compatible manner, though it isn't yet complete.
- RationalWiki prefers OS/2 because it brought true GUI to the IBM platform in April of 1987 while Windows 2.0 wasn't out until December (and Windows 1.0 was a GUI facade for DOS, not its own operating system).
- RationalWiki prefers ReactOS because it's free/open source and is also basically Windows for cheapskates. Sure, it's still alpha, but let's see somebody modify Windows code without getting sued.
- RationalWiki prefers Plan 9 from Bell Labs because not only is it intended to succeed Unix, it's named after a famous B movie.
- RationalWiki prefers z/OS because you can't cash your paycheck without it.
- RationalWiki prefers vxWorks because it is absolutely everywhere. Your printer. Your car. Mars.
- RationalWiki prefers a Lisp machine because Lisp is far superior to any other technology.
- RationalWiki prefers a Turing Machine, because not only is it the original, it's provably equivalent to any of the others. So there.
- RationalWiki prefers the Analytical Engine because it was Turing-complete 100 years before the above "original" was ever described.
- RationalWiki prefers the Antikythera mechanism because of its lower power consumption and carbon footprint.
- RationalWiki prefers Chrome OS because that's all some people have.
- All of the above is a lie. RationalWiki's true preferred operating system is most certainly TempleOS!
We do, however, laugh heartily at Amiga users because they compensate for their persecution complex by collecting Transformers, working at porn studios, and writing furry comics. What's that about being ten years ahead of their time and being the first multimedia-specific computer? Nah. Couldn't be.
And if that wasn't enough
Don't forget to have friendly discussions about:
- The one true brace (Use Psion's bracing style to annoy people, thanks)
- Python vs. Ruby vs. Perl vs. Java.
- Real men use C!
- Emacs vs. vi, again
- Enjoy using vi? Brag about whether Vim or nvi is the better free (as in speech, but also beer) implementation. Prefer Emacs? Well, do you use the One True Emacs™, GNU Emacs, or are you one of those XEmacs heretics?
- Or screw them both and use nano. Or do you prefer pico?
- Or you could look to unite both sides by running Spacemacs in evil mode, thus effectively trying to emulate VI in emacs[note 1]
- Tabs versus spaces. Burn the heretics who say the tab key should emit between two and four spaces!
- Linux is a Communist plot. Please report anyone using it to homeland security so they can be dealt with by our friends at Blackwater.
- Choice of web browser (best summed up as Internet Explorer vs. everything else on Windows, Safari vs. everything else on Mac OS X, and numerous open source web browsers vs. other open source web browsers (Firefox often comes pre-installed) on non-Apple Unix/Unix-like operating systems).
- Colossal Cave vs .Zork
- or for the graphically inclined, NetHack vs. Angband (should be hack vs. moria, really).
- or if you want to be extra controversial, say you prefer Myst instead.
- If you're a gamer, then there's the issue of whether you use your computer to play them or a video game console.
Metaphors and similes
The ferocity with which OS users will defend their systems sometimes borders on that of fundamentalist religion, and occasionally the rhetoric they use to back up their position would make a homeopath look well versed in current literature. Indeed, one of the best ways to engage a geek in conversations about politics would be to give an analogy to operating systems. Want to give them a deeper understanding of how global politics works? You could do much worse than start with "it's like Microsoft and Apple." Religious and social tension due to diversity? Driver conflicts! Airport security? Get Firefox! The complex issues in Palestine? Have you seen what happens when you put an XP installation disk into a machine with a Linux partition? And so on. You could even make a case for explaining 9/11 as akin to the first virus for Macs; everyone thinks they're totally immune to that stuff, but they're not really, they're just waiting for someone to have the balls to try it, and when they do, it'll be big. It totally works.
Road map to peace
Here at RationalWiki we are about conflict resolution so we propose the following:
- Type your documents in LaTeX (there is a version for every system) and build to PDF (so the poor Mac Users don't have to open postscripts).
- If you must use a WYSIWYG word processor, then, after typing something in your word processor of choice, save your files using the OpenDocument Format (ODF) text (.odt), since it's an open format (i.e. everyone is free to implement it without restrictions) and is supported by numerous word processors (current versions of Microsoft Word, Apache OpenOffice Writer, LibreOffice Writer, and Mac OS X's plain TextEdit text editor, among others, support it). Building to PDF may be a good idea for people who don't have a word processor installed (or just suggest that people download LibreOffice or AbiWord since they don't cost anything and are open source).
- Use comma separated variable spreadsheets or the OpenDocument spreadsheet format (.ods) using either LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice.
- Send plain text emails.
Give war a chance
However, should you wish to incur the wrath of the internets, consider doing any or all of the following:
- Type all documents in Word 2003 and be sure to save in .doc format.
- If saving in .doc or .docx format, be sure to embed large image files, preferably reduced in scale on the page. Feign ignorance when your "friends" get shirty when you send them a 15mb file for a two page document with one or two small images.
- Be sure to use Incredimail to send all your emails, and share your love of animations with all your "friends."
- When designing your webpage, or interface for programs, think outside the box and use slightly bizarre screen resolutions to test your visual masterpiece, ideally something almost impossible to achieve without having to delve into the darkest depths of your monitor's OSD, like say 960x760. For best visual impact, and to ensure backward compatibility, dither all graphics, and stick to 16 colors.
- Make all help files and interfaces monolingual. Everyone speaks English anyway.
- When setting IT policy in any organization, think security! Ensure all users must create a fresh password at least once a month, composed of sixteen case-sensitive characters, with at least two numerals and punctuation signs.
- When sending image files for publishing, be sure to put them in a highly compressed .jpg file, as these save space on their hard drive, and upload more quickly as well.
- When discussing the latest games and accessories you got for your PC, be sure to include your Mac and Linux-using "friends." They love to hear about the latest games and gizmos.
Here we present evidence that computer geeks arguing over trivialities is as old as the programmable computer:
The English mathematician Charles Babbage, who conceived programmable computation, wrote to the young poet Tennyson. "In your otherwise beautiful poem," he said, "one verse reads,
“”Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.
" ... If this were true," he went on, "the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest [that the next edition of your poem should read]:"
“”Every moment dies a man,
Every moment 1 1/16 is born.
"Strictly speaking," Babbage added, "the actual figure is so long I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry."
- To clarify both sides will only unite long enough to hunt you down and burn you on the stake as a blasphemous heathen before going back to their own petty squabbling, but it's something...
- That is supposed to reflect the behaviour of Linux advocates, though it can be argued it applies to TM Repository itself just as well.
- And the real hardcore alternative crowd just use a slide rule!
- Malware suspected of 'Black Screen' issue, BBC News
- As opposed to a necessary step to exorcise the suck from the NT line after Vista
- The users, that is, not the developers. The Mac actually has quite a few bells and whistles that Windows has never quite been able to equal — AppleScript, for one. Also, OS X is Unix. Has the trademark and everything.
- Fuck you; it's all about nano. (Nano?! Why don't you just use Notepad? Emacs is far superior.)
- ComputerWorld.com article: “What Android fans think of iPhone users.”
- Certified as an official Unix operating system via The Open Group's Single UNIX Specification. It even comes with a full set of developer tools, which Windows doesn't.
- Everything runs NetBSD if you need it to. PCs. Macs. Amigas. Toasters. Teddy bears.
- This is what happens when you mix sex and computer nerdiness
- Specifically, based on Solaris code.
- This is anecdotal, but if it's good enough for Stephen Fry and QI, it's good enough for RationalWiki.