Mac OS X, Linux, Windows – Which Operating System Works Best For Photographers?

I have been using Mac OS X for years now. When I bought my first Apple computer more that 10 years ago I was amazed how well everything worked. Though in recent years I’m not too happy anymore, which basically started when Apple decided to switch to Intel processors. (My current computer had to be repaired a couple of times – something I never experienced with Apple hardware before!) I have the feeling that there are much more problems and the system itself needs much more resources. I’m especially unhappy with some programs needing a lot of time to just open (and I’m not talking Photoshop here, but programs like Apple’s iWork programs, or their browser Safari). On the other hand, I like Apple, because there are still a lot of creative programs around that do not exist for other platforms and therefore I like to keep true to Mac OS X.

However, when I travel I sometimes end up in little villages where you can not really do anything at night and so I like to work on some photographs that I can also upload here from the road. I mainly used a tablet computer but as you have to use several apps which all save the picture a new, the small hard drive is full very quickly. Also, some apps down-scale the photos, which is okay for the web, but not really if you want to do large prints.

Therefore I recently decided to buy a notebook which I can use for traveling. However, the price for a simple Apple notebook is very high, considering you can find a good laptop for less than a quarter of the price, which also comes with a DVD drive and a card reader.

The notebook I bought came without an operating system and I tried several Linux distributions till I finally decided that Ubuntu works best. It was the only system that seemed to have all the drivers to make full use of the hardware. I also like the graphical interface with makes it really easy to use and the office programs and browsers available all work very well.

A Computer Left On The Beach

However, when I started to try out the software available for processing photographs I was not really happy. The best program probably is Gimp which has some functions similar to Photoshop. However, cropping and masking elements in a photo is not as easy because the tools don’t work as sensitive as in Photoshop. But the lack of sensitivity I noticed all over the program and a lot of photos I tried to process with Gimp I deleted and then started again in Photoshop. Might be that the problem is that I use the advanced features too much and therefore I miss a lot of things and might get used to it over time.

But working with other programs was really disastrous: All the RAW programs available put some brownish colour over all the pictures that I couldn’t get rid of (at least not very quickly) – and the HDR program only produced ridiculous results that all looked much worse that even the high or low exposure pictures.

Windows, on the other had, I only know from work where I don’t really use it to process photographs. Though I know that with my Photoshop license I can install the program on another computer – and due to CreativeCloud I can also install the program on a Windows machine as well. However, switching to Windows would require the additional costs of the license and I’m also a bit worried about the security which is something you don’t really need to worry about on a Mac or a Linux system. (And at work we have technicians that take care of it.)

So, what are your experiences? Which operating system do you use? How does it work for processing photos? Do you think you can get used to Gimp and other Linux programs if you keep using them? Or do you think it is better to switch to Windows for the second computer where you can use photoshop and other programs as well? And, if you use Windows, how do you protect your computer?

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Postscript:

1. Apple

As some of you mentioned Apple a lot: I usually use Apple computers and have been doing so for nearly 15 years now. When I bought my first Apple I was completely happy with it. I liked the simplicity that focused on the functions you really need. And so, my first two computers were just working – and were doing so very fast.

However, since a couple of years, I have the feeling that the company lost its touch. Some programs have become monsters (especially iTunes), a lot of programs take ages to start (strangely, complex programs like Photoshop work much faster than programs like Safari) and you can never have enough RAM.

Also, the hardware seems less efficient – my first two computers never had any problems as all. My current one I had to have repaired several times already and I still think that some problem was there from the start that could never be found. Also the design wasn’t changed much, except that the products get slimmer and slimmer and therefore cannot have things like DVD drives anymore.

So yes, I don’t really like Apple anymore.

2. Linux (Ubuntu)

When I bought a cheap notebook to have something to take when I’m on the road, I instantly though about running Linux. I tried various distributions, but the one I liked best was Ubuntu. To me, it seemed like they developed their own concept, without trying to imitate either Windows or Mac OS X. I installed the current version including all the drivers and everything was working instantly. The operating system was running fast, as did all the programs I tried. Problem solved, you might think…

…but now!

As much as I liked Ubuntu, as much I hated nearly every program I could find for photographers. Certainly, Gimp is not a bad program, but if you are used to Photoshop and use all the advanced features, you feel really limited. Other software I tried didn’t really do a convincing performance at all.

3. Windows

When Adobe announced their CreativeCloud I was completely against it. However, when I heard that I can run it on two different computers that run different operating systems, I thought I give Windows a go. After installing Windows, I noticed that I still have to install all the divers manually, which really was a lot of work. But finally the computer was up and running. Well, it first downloaded and installed countless updates and I had to wait hours (literally! I didn’t exaggerate here!) till I could use it. A little game that continues to play until you finally find out how to switch off live updates, because setting up Windows is not easy task. There are far too many system settings that are too well hidden. Though all the programs started very quickly, working with them seems more complicated. I have the feeling I always have to click a lot more and also open a lot more programs for one task.

The installation of Photoshop (and Lightroom) worked very well and I’m happy with that. However, on my Mac I use a lot of small programs that do some tasks more quickly that Photoshop and therefore I started to explore some other programs that were out there. However, I didn’t really find anything convincing (here I should mention that I didn’t try commercial programs with a high price, more like smaller programs or plugins).

4. Hardware

A quick word on the hardware: I noticed, that a cheap computer is not really the best choice for editing photos. I especially noticed that the display of graphics is not really good. Though I paid attention to buy a fast computer, I didn’t really bear in mind to take a look at the graphics board and the picture quality of the screen. Though it isn’t a big problem, I would advice you to consider that as well.

5. Conclusion

If you are basically looking for a computer to do some basic stuff, like surfing the internet, writing and some easy creative work, like a little photo editing, I would recommend Ubuntu (or other Linux distributions, if you think they work better for you).

If you like to edit your photos a lot and if you need Photoshop I would recommend Apple. Though it seems to get more and more flawed with the years, you still have the best choice of additional photography software, and for other creative work as well. I also appreciate that you can change things easily in the system settings that help optimize your workflow. (A thing that works well in Linux too, by the way.)

For using Windows, I didn’t really see any advantage (maybe if you are a gamer, but I’m not). Hey, wait, there is one: You don’t want to spend about 1000,- EUR for a notebook, but still would like to use Photoshop.

You certainly might have come to a different conclusion. But that is, how I experienced the three operating systems and their use for photographers.

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