[GRASS-user] Best operating system for GRASS

Michael Barton Michael.Barton at asu.edu
Sat Dec 4 21:40:03 EST 2010

The reason we've worked very hard to make GRASS so widely cross platform is so that you can run it on all widely used operating systems. This has been especially challenging for Windows, but it works very well now.

If you have decided that you want to use another OS than Windows for all your activities, by all means go ahead. But if you are not sure what you want to do for all your other computing activities, you might want to start by installing GRASS for Windows in order to learn it in a familiar environment. Then, if you switch to a new OS, you will already be comfortable with GRASS. It might make it more difficult to learn GRASS if you have to learn a new OS at the same time. 

The main drawback for using GRASS in a Windows environment right now is that scripting can be limited, depending on which version of GRASS you are using. The goal is for Python scripting to be as easy on Windows as it is on other platforms. I think we are close to that with the development GRASS 7 version, but I'm not sure how GRASS 6.4 has ended up in this regard. However, it is not likely you'll be writing scripts to automate GRASS right away. So this may not be an issue.

GRASS was originally written for Unix workstations. Today, besides Windows, the main OS on which GRASS runs are Linux and Apple Macintosh OS X (a version of Unix under the slick Mac windowing interface). Once installed, GRASS works essentially the same on both Mac and Linux. GRASS installation on a Mac is more like you are familiar with on Windows. GRASS also appears more like a standard double-click app on the Mac, though once started, you can use the terminal for commands just like on Linux. 

Like Windows, most Mac users use commercial software. But very many (though not all) open source Linux programs have been ported to the Mac because of the similarities between Linux and Mac Unix. As with Windows, the Mac GUI interface sometimes "protects" users from easily accessing some of the Unix command line tools that it shares with Linux. Sometimes this is annoying and sometimes it is handy, but it is always possible to get at these (i.e., they are not locked away from the user). 

Nikos gave a very good and enthusiastic review of a very popular Linux flavor.

I use Macs primarily for my personal use and for GRASS development. However, I also have a number of Linux machines in my lab (running Ubuntu) and am familiar with that system to a reasonable extent. To me, a PC running the KDE desktop environment on Ubuntu has a look and feel more like Windows than a Mac does. A PC with Linux is also cheaper than a comparable Mac.

However, I think there are also some important advantages to the Mac OS too (obviously). Access to peripherals is completely transparent plug-and-play. No hassling with finding drivers or the right hardware. Networking, both wired and wireless, is equally easy and built in (though Linux access to ftp volumes is easier than via Mac or PC). You have much software that is compatible with Windows and/or has Windows versions (e.g., Microsoft Office), but you also have access to much of the software used in the Linux world too. IMHO, for this reason, Mac's are the most "compatible" OS available--ironically even though the OS is tightly controlled by a single company. Although you can get into the guts of the Mac OS much like you can with Linux, you don't have to do so to run GRASS or many other open source programs. 

Some questions to ask yourself are: What do you want to do with your computer besides run GRASS? How important is compatibility with Windows software? ...with Linux software? How much do you enjoy digging around with OS configurations to customize your computing environment? Is ease of use or ability to personalize your computing environment more important? How comfortable are you with compiling software? Is this something you'd like to learn? 

These, and Nikos' post are things to think about when choosing an OS. But hopefully, you don't have to choose a particular OS to run GRASS anymore. 


C. Michael Barton
Director, Center for Social Dynamics & Complexity 
Professor of Anthropology, School of Human Evolution & Social Change
Arizona State University

voice: 	480-965-6262 (SHESC), 480-727-9746 (CSDC)
fax:          480-965-7671 (SHESC),  480-727-0709 (CSDC)
www: http://www.public.asu.edu/~cmbarton, http://csdc.asu.edu

On Dec 4, 2010, at 3:37 PM, <grass-user-request at lists.osgeo.org> wrote:

> Date: Sat, 04 Dec 2010 11:53:02 -0800
> From: Alex Mandel <tech_dev at wildintellect.com>
> Subject: Re: [GRASS-user] Best operating system for GRASS
> To: grass-user at lists.osgeo.org
> Message-ID: <4CFA9C1E.6010103 at wildintellect.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1255
> On 12/04/2010 05:50 AM, Micha Silver wrote:
>> On 12/04/2010 03:03 PM, Nikos Alexandris wrote:
>>> Nikos A:
>>>>> For your favorite OS, how hard is it to learn for a guy like me who has
>>>>> always used Windows?
>>> Also, something very important. Before you buy a new system, to
>>> install any
>>> linux distro, verify that it works on your system. If you have already a
>>> system, chances are that it is supported. In both cases, try out the
>>> live-cd's
>>> or better live-usb's, check on forums and hardware compatibility
>>> databases.
>> I might add to Nikos' excellent answer the OSGeo Live DVD
>> http://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Live_GIS_Disc_Quick_Start
>> where you can try out over 40 of the best open source software programs
>> on your current computer without making any changes to the system.
> Better link to the same thing:
> http://live.osgeo.org
> Thanks,
> Alex

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