There was a time, back before smartphones and tablets, when most of us used, at most, only three operating systems. Indeed, for the average computer user there was only one operating system that mattered and that was Windows, which held a 95% market share. Even those of us who used Linux or Apple at home usually had to use a Windows computer at work–which remains true today.
However, today’s computer users daily come into contact with many other operating systems than merely Linux, OS X and Windows. Smartphone and tablet users boot into Android and iOS, with some even using the more open Firefox OS and Sailfish OS. To traditional consumer computers we can now add Chrome OS for those who don’t mind doing most of their work in the cloud.
As a refresher, here’s a list of the most used operating systems these days:
Android: My roommate received a Nexus 7 tablet for Christmas, which has afforded me the chance to have a look at Android, especially as a tablet implementation. It’s nice enough. It’s responsive and quick. However, for my purposes a tablet is fairly limited in what it can do. It’s good enough for watching videos, surfing the web and playing games, but I can’t figure out how to actually get any work done on it. My roommate loves it, however. Since she got it, I don’t think she’s booted her old Windows laptop more than once or twice. Since Android uses the Linux kernel, this OS may be most people’s introduction to Linux. Rumor has it we might soon see a desktop version of Android.
BSD: The BSD operating systems are just about as close as you can get to running Unix without actually running it. Indeed, the BSD lineage can be traced directly back to Unix. Because the BSD license allows for the code to be released under a proprietary license, it’s also the backbone of two other operating systems on this list. Both OS X and iOS are both basically modified versions of BSD. Because most BSD distributions ship with GNU, the desktop BSD user experience is almost identical to GNU/Linux.
Chrome OS: This is, of course, the operating system behind the Chromebook craze. In addition, there are a few desktops available running Chrome OS, with more on the way soon. The operating system is designed primarily to take advantage of Google’s cloud infrastructure. Users of Chrome OS do their word processing through Google Docs, save stuff to Google Drive and check their email via Gmail. Like Android and Firefox OS, Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel.
Firefox OS: This mobile operating system developed by Mozilla is completely browser based and makes strong use of HTML 5. Indeed, all web apps are written in the markup language. It’s also completely dedicated to the use of open standards. Although phones preinstalled with the OS have only been available for less than a year, it seems to be gathering quite a following, especially in emerging markets. Hopefully, it’ll start being offered soon as a choice by mobile providers here in the U.S.
GNU/Linux: This is the Linux operating system that’s used on desktops and laptops, as well as the OS behind many if not most web servers. It’s strong, robust and open source. For a variety of reasons, GNU/Linux is much more secure than Windows, and is more stable as well. These days it’s usually pretty easy to find open source software to run on GNU/Linux to fit your every need. If you’re an XP user, you can load a GNU/Linux distribution on your computer, now that Microsoft will no longer be offering security patches, and extend the life of your machine.
iOS: This is Apple’s proprietary operating system, based in part on open source BSD, for all of the company’s mobile devices. Because of the “walled garden” approach taken by Apple, iOS is considered to be somewhat more secure than Android, especially for non-techies who like to download and install a lot of apps.
OS X This is Apple’s other operating system and is used on all of the companies “traditional” computing devices bearing the Mac or Macintosh brand. Like iOS, OS X is only available on equipment from Apple.
Unix: This is a proprietary operating system originally developed by AT&T’s Bell Labs. For years, this was the most used operating system in the enterprise and powered most servers. There are several different “brands” of Unix, maintained and marketed by companies such as IBM, Oracle and HP. Although these different brands share a common code base, they aren’t identical. Since the turn of the century, use of Unix has been waning and it’s no longer has the dominance it once did.
Windows: Practically everyone who’s ever used a computer is familiar with Windows. Although it’s still the dominant operating system on desktops and laptops, it’s fortunes are waning everywhere but as a server system. Currently, Windows is facing stiff competition in consumer space by Chrome OS and OS X.
What operating systems do you use on a regular basis? Take our poll and let us know. I’d also be interested in seeing your comments.