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Choosing an Operating System for Your New Build

written by: •edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 2/27/2009

Building a new PC and trying to decide on an operating system? You may have more choices than you think.

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    Operating System Choices

    Nowadays, people are starting to realize that there are a lot of benefits to be gained from building a custom PC rather than buying one off the shelf. (By the way, if you’re considering this option but you’re not sure where to begin, see J.F. Amprimoz’s guide on building a PC.) Going this route allows you the luxury of getting the exact configuration you want, and it can usually save you a nice chunk of change, especially if you’re looking for a decent gaming machine. But, what are your real options here when choosing what operating system to run on this new build?

    Rather than have another one of those discussions about which operating system is really the best, we’re just going to take a look at what the current options are, and we’re going to stick to those that fall in the Linux or Windows category.

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    Windows or Linux?

    The first thing to decide, obviously, is Windows or Linux. If you use a lot of Windows-only software or you’re an avid gamer, then you’ve probably already narrowed your choices down to some form of Windows. If not or if you’re willing to experiment a little, it could be worth trying out a Linux alternative.

    One of the biggest advantages of Linux distributions is the cost factor since most are completely free. So, by choosing one of these options, you can save even more money or direct those funds toward purchasing better hardware components.

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    Linux Options

    Since Linux operating systems are free, you have a little more leeway here when experimenting. If you try one and don’t like it, you can easily dump it for a new one without wasting any money.

    Ubuntu and its derivations are clearly the most popular Linux distributions currently. First-time Linux users are often surprised at how it easy it is to install and use these alternatives. If you’re still a little leery, read through Barry van der Linden’s step-by-step walkthrough for installing Kubuntu.

    Linux Mint is another distribution that’s starting to become popular among those who appreciate sleeker interfaces and a Windows “feel”. For more options, check out Linux: Choosing the Right Distribution for Your Needs.

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    Windows Options

    There are a lot of Windows users who have been putting off buying or building a PC in anticipation of the release of Windows 7. However, since Windows 7 is currently in full public beta, a very unique opportunity is presenting itself – the chance to get a free, legitimate copy of a version of Windows.

    Normally, I wouldn’t recommend choosing a beta OS as your primary option, but in this case, it’s something to consider. If you don’t want to invest in Vista because you plan on upgrading to 7 when it makes its official debut, you might be able to manage with the free beta version for awhile. Just remember, that the beta version will expire so it’s wise to have a backup plan.

    That brings us to another question – is it worth buying Vista now? That’s a tough call. There are rumors circulating which state that those who purchase Vista anytime after July 1, 2009 could be eligible for a free Windows 7 upgrade later on down the line. Because of the price tag associated with Windows operating systems, this would make me inclined to wait until that time to make the purchase, especially if you think you can get by with using the Windows 7 beta until then.

    On the other hand, those who fear that Microsoft’s Vista support will dwindle after Windows 7 is officially released really shouldn’t be all that concerned. It’s certain that Microsoft will announce any plans to discontinue Vista support way in advance, and it’s still a safe bet to say that date will be several years into the future. As an example, even though Microsoft is doing its best to weed out the beloved XP product right now, it still promises extended XP support through 2014.

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    Dual Booting

    If you’re still having trouble deciding, it should be noted that dual booting is a whole lot easier than it used to be. You can fairly easily set up a dual boot system with Linux and Windows 7, and the process is much the same for Vista. This could be another alternative if you’re trying to hold out before purchasing a Windows operating system, but you still want the “safety” of having a non-beta OS on your machine.

    In short, don’t let the fact that Windows 7 is “on the way” be a limiting decision when deciding whether or not to build your own PC now. There are still lots of options for operating systems, including many free ones. And, with the beta of Windows 7 freely available, now could actually be the best time to try a few new things.