In the world of modern-day desktop operating systems, there are three major players; Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s Mac OS X, and the open-sourced Linux. These are probably the only three operating systems you would have heard about, which might lead you to ask why there are only three major operating systems for PCs. The truth is that there’s an entire universe of alternative O/S that are constantly being developed, achieve a point of peak usage and then drop off the radar before managing to create a foothold in the industry.
So, why are there just 3 mainstream operating systems? It’s quite simple actually; creating an independent operating system simply takes too much time and resources. What this basically means is that we’re following the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” policy wherein we’d rather just use an existing O/S or create our own tweaked version of it. Also, the real time applications of an O/S didn’t really command the need for multiple options, at least not until the invention of smartphones and mobile tablets.
The truth is that most single-function devices, including digital weighing scales and microwave ovens don’t require an operating system to run. Even today’s “smart” appliances don’t need an O/S, simply because they now wirelessly connect to devices that have operating systems. The complexities involved in developing standalone operating systems have led to Microsoft, Macintosh, and UNIX running a Tripoli of operating systems.
So, which one’s Better?
There has always been the age old question of which O/S is better. Typically, you would say the most common O/S would be the obvious choice. Unfortunately, the Windows operating system is the most widely used family of operating systems that run on a graphical user interface (GUI). This GUI allows users to use the system, without the need for specialized technical knowledge. But that’s where the list of pros ends for Windows, as it is prone to system crashes and virus attacks.
The first iteration of Windows was designed as nothing more than an add-on system to the erstwhile MS-DOS, Microsoft’s very first command-line O/S. And since DOS had limited applications because of a lack of multitasking capabilities, Windows offered users an approachable GUI that enabled almost anyone to use it.
Apple’s Mac OS is the second-most widely used operating systems, and is recognized as the very first successful GUI operating system, mainly because it was less expensive than the others. Mac OS was originally launched as “System 1” in 1984, and the OS X is its current iteration.The OS has grown by leaps and bounds, and today, several services allow you to access rented MAC servers on the cloud, enabling you to access Mac apps, and develop programs for the OS.
The Third Wheel
UNIX is the only successful alternative multitasking operating system, and was originally created as a flexible O/S for computer programmers. UNIX’s technical nature made it the least user-friendly operating system in the market. But the addition of GUIs has made it much more useable. The Linux O/S is a separate variant of UNIX, designed to run on multiple hardware platforms. What originally began as hobby for Linus Torvalds, Linux became the first free-to-download O/S, with hundreds of tweaked versions available on the internet.
Linux didn’t have the backing that Windows and Mac enjoyed, but managed to compete with the two majors because of its multiple functionalities and robust design. Eventually, many major computer giants adopted Linux, and are actively involved in its support & development. Since its initial launch in 1999, Linux has emerged as the server platform of choice for corporations and individuals alike. This open-source O/S has the ability to be directly “embedded” into microchips, and has found its way in to a number of devices.
What happened to Older Operating Systems?
The answer to this question depends on the specific operating system. For example, MS-DOS, introduced in 1981, is still being used to this day. In fact, this historic operating system comes as the default operating system for most computers, currently known as FreeDOS. Other systems underwent numerous migrations by VMS on to newer platforms, in an attempt to keep up with the times. The less popular operating systems were eventually taken over by the big three, or simply ceased to exist.
Even in 2016, there are a number of operating systems that are actively being developed, with only a handful of users. Most of these operating systems run on the versatile x86 PC hardware, and are mostly free to download.
The Future of Operating Systems
Earlier, an operating system’s purpose was limited to performing three main functions; managing resources, providing a user interface, and executing services for application software. The future of operating systems is highly uncertain at this point, with Microsoft & Apple offering totally reworked versions of their trademark operating system, in an attempt to overthrow the increasing number of independent systems. Currently Google’s Android is the closest thing we have to a hardware-independent operating system. And while Android has done a great job of giving users an open-source operating system with multiple functionalities, it is yet to mature in to a full-blown desktop O/S.
Another problem faced by developers of independent operating systems is the incompatibility, despite the adoption of uniform standards. And while this isn’t a problem for email and scheduling sharing between platforms, it is less feasible when it comes to performing more complex tasks. This broad spectrum integration is what is hindering the growth and adoption of new and potentially more effective operating systems, a problem that is amplified when considering future system switches.
Future capabilities of operating systems include the ability to make intelligent decisions, without any user input. Future operating systems will have to automatically migrate between platforms, and store, analyze and interpret data autonomously. In order to fulfill future demand needs of an independent operating system, developers will need a solid marketing strategy that will allow O/S users to replace their mainstream systems with alternative software. Without it, it will be almost impossible to create a sizeable user base that consists of relevant developer community.
Mauricio is the CEO of Cloudwards.net, a data and user feedback driven comparison engine for cloud apps and services. He enjoys writing and producing educational videos around the cloud to help people find the best cloud service for their needs.