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Five Things to Consider When Buying a Computer


When shopping for a PC, your first, and most important, decision lies in picking the operating system (OS) you intend to use. This determines the software and hardware available to you, and how much effort you'll have to put into securing and maintaining your PC.

Windows 7
Windows is the dominant player in the computer world, and with good reason. It has the largest catalog of available apps (including plenty of great free options), is compatible with more hardware than are its competitors, and, like it or not, is the OS of choice for most businesses. While OS X and Linux are catching up in terms of available software and hardware compatibility, they still can't quite match Microsoft's product, especially when it comes to games.

On the downside, Windows is the most vulnerable OS when it comes to viruses and other malware (although that is largely due to its popularity). With its largest competitor, Apple, claiming a mere five-percent of the market, Windows makes the most attractive target for scammers and hackers.

If you opt for a Windows PC, make sure you get a 64-bit version of Windows 7. The Home Premium version will suffice for most users, but geeks and professionals who might need some of the advanced networking features and XP emulation will want Professional.

Macs are known for their ease of use and sleek design. They've long been the standard choice for creative types and excel at such applications as audio and video editors. Thanks in large part to Apple's popularity with hip, tech-savvy types, more companies have been making sure their software and hardware are compatible with the platform. If you absolutely must have a Mac, but still need to run Windows software, there are options like Boot Camp and Parallels, but they require that you purchase a copy of Windows and have at least some computational acumen.

Thanks in part to its relatively small market share, OS X users are not frequently targeted by cyber-criminals, and the OS, thanks to its Unix underpinnings, is more secure than Windows. With its robust set of included apps, such as iTunes, iMovie, and iPhoto, OS X is an excellent choice for the user who wants to put minimal effort into their computing experience.

Linux has grown by leaps and bounds over the last five years. Most hardware on the market is compatible with this open-source operating system, and it has become infinitely more user friendly than its "geeks only" reputation would have you believe. While there are plenty of great free apps for Linux, you won't have access to many modern 3-D games or to Microsoft's Office suite. Many Windows apps will run with the help of an emulator called Wine, but it's far from a perfect solution.

Linux shines, though, if you're a heavy user of Web apps, like Google Docs. Its lightweight nature makes it perfect for netbooks, and it's even less susceptible to hacking and malware than OS X. That said, despite having an extremely active and helpful user community, Linux is often more difficult to troubleshoot than either OSX or Windows.

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