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What is the Preferred Operating Systems of Designers?

on Design

The ever-changing culture of web design has grown into a wild array of sub-standards. Over 20 years now designers from all over the world have contributed their brilliant ideas to the World Wide Web. Software is often an afterthought from the consumer’s end, but when you’re at the front lines this topic is very important.

In the realm of Operating Systems it breaks down into 3 core groups: Windows, Mac OS X, and various Linux packages. For the sake of this article we’ll be focusing on Windows and Mac implementations. That’s not to say Linux (especially Ubuntu) can’t be used for graphics and web design – but it’s certainly not within the majority of market shares as its two rivals.

Easy User Experience

Both Microsoft and Apple have released astounding advancements into their latest Operating Systems. Windows 7 boasts an incredible new taskbar and updates on many of the UI elements where Vista failed miserably. Similarly Mac OS X Snow Leopard has exposed Apple’s soft creative underbelly.

With this latest version we see client support for tasks such as exposé. This feature is a refined view control offering thumbnails for photos and video files within explorer. Also some great additions to system processes to increase bootup and shut-down speeds!

As both companies have so much to offer their userbase you may understand how deep this rivalry goes. When polling from various forums about personal choice in Operating System the results are, for the most part, unpredictable. Everything comes down to personal choice.

Generally if a digital artist grew up using Windows XP he may find Windows 7 a more comfortable transition. This isn’t always the case since many artists break out into OS X and find the controls much more suitable.

Tasks and Required Software

When examining into such a dualism we must look at the potential work environment, even past the Operating System. What software is going to be required to get your work done?

Mac OS X and Windows 7 do support most of the same core software suites. Although there are plenty of differences between just for Mac and PC only software, the digital age is versatile. For designers and illustrators the Adobe Creative Suite will prove the most useful item in their toolbox. Software is available for both OS choices and includes such popular items as Adobe Photoshop, Fireworks, Illustrator, Flash, and After Effects.

For Windows there is an alternative application very popular among open-sourcers. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) has been around for years and runs many of the similiar features as Photoshop.

The work area looks much different and you also don’t have access to the advanced filters from Adobe Labs. However for those on a tight budget GIMP comes with no price tag! It’s perfect for creating small graphics and resizing photos for the web.

The Working Web Developer

Web Design incorporates many aspects behind the curtain. Digital art, icons, graphics, and layout wireframes are all very important aspects. But without any HTML/CSS code you won’t be getting anything live online!

Along with graphics suites Adobe also offers a web developers software IDE(Integrated Development Environment) titled Dreamweaver. You can work on any plaintext file such as HTML, PHP, SQL, CSS, JavaScript, or anything you may think of! Dreamweaver comes bundled with a host of additional features such as page templates, which allow for easy duplication of pages and content.

Development over both Windows and Mac OS X offer individual packages for Adobe Dreamweaver. The program runs exactly the same in both environments and offers a very stable solution for programming. If you don’t have money to shell out luckily there are plenty of alternatives.

Having previously developed over Mac OS X many web designers I’ve asked have concurred Panic’s Coda is by far the best option for text editing. It includes code highlighting for the most popular languages and offers self-help documentation within the program!

If you’re developing for iOS mobile apps XCode 4 is a much better solution. This has native support for Objective-C and the Cocoa library which is included for all apps at runtime. Apple provides exceptional documentation on the language so it’s brutally simple to comprehend and build something great.

All Windows Development

If you’re looking to the simpler side Windows has tons of freeware solutions. All the way from XP to Win7 there are tens of hundreds of open-source projects for code junkies. Prominently Notepad++ is widely spoken of from frontend and backend developers alike.

It’s a free download and comes with some great features you don’t find in other applications. Tabbed browsing for editing multiple documents within a single window, also a library of 50+ languages for syntax highlighting.

If you’re looking for professional options a bit cheaper than Dreamweaver I highly recommend phpDesigner 7 for Windows. Don’t let the name fool you – although the package specializes in PHP it offers code highlighting for all web documents including HTML and JavaScript.

What’s so great about phpDesigner is how integrated the software becomes. You are able to run a local server directly from the application window for testing PHP code. The IDE will also mark read errors with a red “X” at the end of a line of code. This feature is not found in anywhere Dreamweaver and has saved me hours of tirelessly searching and fixing bugs in my programs.


The investigation of digital Operating Systems could also include a comparison of features such as document processing, alternative web browsers, and FTP software. However these are all minor accessories. Truly the choice is yours and comes down to personal opinion and comfort.

If you are more satisfied working on a Macintosh then absolutely stick with it! Generally graphics designers and video editors enjoy the simple controls allowed within the Mac Unix-like OS. At the other end of the spectrum I have found many developers enjoy the freedoms and administrative control in Windows, allowing for easy file manipulation and installation of local web server(s) and databases.

What do you think?

If you’d like to research a bit more check out our list of free Mac apps for graphics/web designers to see if anything jumps out at you. Also our small collection of free CSS editors is worth a glance for frontend devs on both Mac OS X and PC.

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