By Cooper Nelson
An operating system (OS) is a program that oversees the processes on a computer. All desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices have an OS. It coordinates the operations necessary to make the device run, and it ensures the applications and software function without interfering with one another.
If you are a computer professional or are studying for an information technology career, it is important to understand the different operating systems and how they function.
If you enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology program, you’ll learn about the various systems and how to interact with them. Related degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, will also cover operating systems and the coding languages you need to know to interact with them.
Here is a look at the seven most common operating systems that IT and computer science professionals should understand.
Microsoft Windows first launched in 1993. It runs on personal computers and uses C, C++, and C# languages. Microsoft releases new versions of the OS every three to five years, and it continues to provide support for many of the older versions.
Computer users seeking an alternative to the Windows environment often opt for Apple computers, which run the Mac OS operating system.
Despite being known as the main Windows alternative, macOS predates Windows. The “Classic Mac OS” has been in use since 1984, and the current Unix-based version, macOS, launched in 1996.
MacOS versions have a similar visual user interface to Windows, but there are some important differences. The most important is that the operating system comes pre-preinstalled only on Mac and Apple products. (Apple’s operating system for its mobile devices is called iOS.) Though there are some workarounds, such as using a virtual operating system, you cannot install macOS on other computers or use other operating systems on Apple products. Because of this lack of compatibility, computer users often need to choose either Mac or Windows.
Mac and Windows are not the only options for computer users. There are other choices for both mobile and desktop operating systems.
Android is a mobile operating system based on Linux and other open-source software. It’s for touch-screen devices, such as smartphones and tablets. The back-end coding is in C and C++, but Java is the primary language for Android’s user interfaces.
Most Android devices are part of the Google ecosystem. The OS is designed to work with Google apps. Users can download programs from the Google Play store and use them out of the box.
Android updates regularly, with one or more new versions coming out every year.
Developers have also created versions of Android, such as Lineage, that are not tied to Google. These usually seek to improve the level of privacy and data security and help users avoid Google’s data collection practices.
Linux is not a single operating system. It is a family of related OS options based on the same framework, called the Linux kernel. Like other operating systems, it relies mainly on C and related computer languages. The unique thing about Linux is that it is open source. Most Linux versions are created and updated by communities of developers. They are free to use but require a compatible computer and some technical knowledge to install the OS.
Some computers and mobile devices come with Linux-based operating systems installed. These can be used out of the box, but you will need some technical knowledge to configure them.
Ubuntu, introduced in 2004, is an example of a Linux-based OS. It is open source and free to use. It is updated every six months and managed by a company called Canonical, which makes income by creating and selling premium products to use on the OS. Ubuntu has an official desktop version and community-run mobile OS. There are also specialized editions for servers and Internet of Things (IoT) hardware.
Because of its large community and relatively long history, Ubuntu has many tutorials and support options for novices who want to learn about Linux-based operating systems.
Chrome OS is another Linux-based operating system. It was developed by Google and has the popular Chrome web browser as its main user interface. File management and media player tools are included. The OS was originally based on Ubuntu but has undergone a variety of changes to make it work with other Google and Android products.
You will find Chrome OS on Google’s Chromebook computers, Chromebox streaming devices and Chromebit thumb-drive PCs.
Chrome OS works out of the box, but other Linux options offer more flexibility and privacy.
Fedora is a Linux distribution managed by the IBM subsidiary Red Hat. Like many other Linux distributions, it is free and open source. Fedora stands out among many other options because it is known for innovations and working with different communities of Linux developers to create new solutions.
Clearly there are many OS options to choose from. Whether you are a tech pro or a computer amateur, there is something out there for you and your needs.
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