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October 2, 2019

Information Technology

5 most popular operating systems.

Hands on computer keyboard | Operating system

What is an operating system (OS)?

You’ve probably been involved in a “PC versus Mac” argument a time or two. Everyone seems to have very strong opinions on the subject. But what it really comes down to is personal preference in operating systems. Most people know that they like one or another, but may not be able to pinpoint what they really like about them. They may say they like that they can do this kind of command, or they enjoy some pre-installed software, the look and feel of the hardware, the resources available, the applications or systems they can download, or even the web browser that is prominent. But the reality is that the features of an OS aren’t immediately clear to most users, and a resource to help users understand the different processing and interaction elements of their favorite OS helps it become easier to work with.

Students (particularly online students), freelancers, contractors, and really anyone who owns a phone or computer should learn about different OSs so they can pick a computer and OS that is ideal for their needs. If you’re planning to study IT in school and pursue an IT career, you will want a strong knowledge of OSs to make sure you’re prepared for all the skills you’ll need to have to find success.  

What is the purpose of an operating system?

Operating systems contain and manage all the programs and applications that a computer or other device is able to run, which means managing the device’s software and hardware functions. The functions of an OS include;

  • Booting. Booting is the process of turning on the computer and powering up the system.

  • Memory management. This is the process of controlling and coordinating the computer applications and allocating space for programs.

  • Loading and execution. Your OS will load, or start-up, a program and then execute the program so that it opens and runs.

  • Data security. The OS is in charge of keeping data safe inside your computer and computer programs. They set up security features that keep unwanted cyberattackers at bay. 

  • Disk management. This manages all the drives installed in a computer like hard drives, optical disk drives, and flash drives. Disk management can be used to divide disks, format drives, and more. 

  • Process management. Your OS has to allocate resources to different processes on the machine, enable the processes to share information, protect them, and synchronize them.

  • Device controlling. Your OS will allow you to open or block access to devices like removable devices, CD/DVDs, data transfer devices, printers, USBs, and others. 

  • Printing controlling. Simply put, your OS takes control of the printers that are connected to the computer, and the materials that need to be printed.

  • User interface. A user interface or UI refers to the part of the OS that allows a user to enter and receive information. This can be done with typed commands, code, and others.

Women looking at tablet OS

The 5 most popular operating systems.

There are five main types of operating systems. These five OS types are likely what run your phone or computer. Whether you’re just a normal computer and phone user, or someone hoping to get involved in an IT career, knowledge of applications and systems types will help you maintain security and user access, perform routine operations, and much more. 

Microsoft Windows.

The Windows OS has been around since the 1980s, and has had several versions/updates (e.g., Windows 95, Windows Vista, Windows 7/8/10, etc.) Microsoft Windows is one of the popular operating system types and is preloaded on most new PC hardware. With each new Windows update/release, Microsoft continues to work on improving their users’ experience, hardware, and software, making Windows more accessible, and easier to use. 

Microsoft Windows contains a control panel, a desktop and desktop assistant, disk cleanup, event viewer, and more. Many users prefer Microsoft Windows because they say it is compatible with many other kinds of software. Many kinds of computer programs run best on Microsoft Windows because they are, at their core, developed by Microsoft. 

Apple macOS.

Head to head in the competition with Microsoft Windows is Apple. Apple and Microsoft are both examples of proprietary operating systems. This means that the company conceptualized, designed, developed, and now sells the OS. They are designed and sold by the companies, and aren’t meant to be tampered with or tweaked by users. Apple and Macintosh computers run on the proprietary macOS and OS X system. There are also previous versions/updates:

  • Lion (OS X 10.7)

  • Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8)

  • Mavericks (OS X 10.9)

  • Yosemite (OS X 10.10)

  • El Capitan (OS X 10.11)

  • Mojave (OS X 10.14), etc.

The macOS and Apple/Mac products are also known and beloved by their users for ease of use and continually improving user experience. Fast processing speeds, a simple desktop interface, and a wide variety of helpful resources make users excited about macOS. Many users relish the instant connection with their computers and mobile phone hardware, as well as enjoy the lack of bugs and hackers that Apple systems boast.

Google's Android OS.

The OS that Google uses to run its Android mobile smartphones and tablets is based on Linux distribution and other open source software. Android OS is the primary OS for Google mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Android has gained increasing popularity since its release as an alternative to Apple’s iPhone for smartphone users, and is continuing to increase in popularity with new updates and exciting features.

Apple iOS.

Apple's iOS is another mobile operating system used exclusively for iPhones and iPads, some of the most popular mobile devices on the market. iOS integrations have regular updates, new expansions to software, and continually are offering new features to users even if they have older devices. iOS started with version 1, and has gone up numerically with each update (1.1, 1.2, 2.0, etc.)

Many users appreciate the unique user interface with touch gestures, and the ease of use that iOS offers. This operating system also allows other Apple devices to connect, giving users easy connections to other devices or people.

Linux Operating System.

Linux is different from Windows and Apple, in that it is not a proprietary software, but rather a family of open source systems. In other words, anyone can modify and distribute it. Linux may be the least known on this list, but it is free and available in many different open source versions. Linux is popular because of its ease to customize and offers a variety of options to those who understand how to utilize it. If you know how to customize and work with operating systems, Linux is an ideal choice. And if this kind of coding and back-end work is interesting to you, it may be a good idea to purchase a Linux system and get started manipulating it.

Woman looking at phone OS

Mobile vs. computer.

So why are there different types of operating systems, those for mobile and those for computers? There are several reasons a single system doesn’t work perfectly for both. Computer and mobile OSs are different because they are developed for different uses. Computer systems will have to store lots of complex data, have a different user interface, and be prepared for printing, removable disks, and more. They feature a desktop and a control panel for users to manage all of their information. Computer operating systems are also older, and therefore more familiar for the IT industry; they’ve been around much longer than phones that utilize operating systems.

Mobile phones don't feature a desktop that's the same as a computer desktop. Their user interface is much more about simple moves, things you can do with your fingers or voice, and a simple interface. There are many resources to help users learn how to operating mobile phone systems, as they're very different from computer systems.

Touch-screen user interfaces, smartphones, and mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular and need operating systems. If you’re considering a future in IT, the technology is continuing to grow and develop and there will be plenty of opportunities for the future. 

As tech continues to advance, as younger generations like millennials grow up with technology and then move to the workforce, the need for technology in business settings will only grow. Younger generations are fueling the features and applications that operating systems provide for personal and business use. If you’re considering a degree in IT, now is the time to start. A future career in computers or IT will provide you with plenty of job opportunities, industries, and endless possibilities.

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