There is a post on the 37Signals blog saying how the choice of operating system doesn’t matter much for a hacker. Unless you have another machine for you, I don’t agree to this. I am currently developing on Linux and looking to switch to a Mac. Linux is a great environment to hack but the problem with Linux is its utter lack of apps. Designers won’t touch it because of lack of Adobe CS. The Skype client is horrible. I have shifted to Google Docs, but is no match to Office right now. Rhythmbox was very basic and Banshee, the new default on Ubuntu, is extremely slow and poorly-designed. Forget about using apps like Evernote, or getting a native Spotify app.
Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distro and I will talk about it. The intent behind shifting to Unity may be good, but it is a pain. Switching between windows is a nightmare. Not to say, that stability has gone for a toss. On my current machine with 2 GB of RAM, Ubuntu 11.10 is slow. (Its a highly relative term, but we do understand what slow is - laggy, unresponsive etc)Â
Plus, hardware support is still a huge issue. Hibernate never works for me on Ubuntu. And I have spent countless hours making the new ‘zero-cd’ style usb internet dongles work, without much success.
Unless one is developing on something which requires Windows, or is a huge gaming fan, you should avoid Windows. It will have no or lesser support for various projects especially in web development, because most of the community has shifted to Mac and Linux.
For mobile programming, Mac is a clear winner. iOS programming needs a Mac and you can code on Android and Windows Phone too, by installing Windows on it. On Linux and Windows, you are cut off from the most important mobile ecosystem.
Mac will be expensive compared to a similar configuration machine from the likes of Dell and Lenovo. But if you can afford it, go for a Mac. While you are doing your work, you want to focus on that.
There is a disclaimer. Some hackers like to tinker around with the OS at the hardware level. Or see and get involved with the innards of operating system. For such people, Linux is a boon. You are not going to learn more at any other place than Linux. It is up to you to decide whether you are such a hacker.
Right now, I will recommend the 13 inch Macbook Air for the general use case. There are rumors of a larger Macbook Air coming, so you may want to wait for that.