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Common Operating Systems for Desktop Computers

Originally the operating system was created by each company that manufactured a processor and motherboard. So each operating system was proprietary, that is, unique to each manufacturer. Problem: changing to a new computer meant your software had to be replaced! Not good marketing. So there was pressure early on to standardize things so that software could be transferred to the new (and of course better!) computer. This required more standardization in operating systems.

The winner in the PC market was MS-DOS, Microsoft's Disk Operating System, and its twin at IBM, PC-DOS, also written by Microsoft. Now it's hard to recall those days when each computer had its own unique operating system. More on DOS Commands

Windowsversions from Wion95 on are operating systems on their own. The earlier versions of Windows use DOS as the operating system and add a graphical user interface which will do multitasking. But with Windows 95 Microsoft released an operating system that can take advantage of the 32-bit processors.

Windows XP is an upgrade to Windows 2000. It comes in two versions - Home and Professional. The Professional version contains all the features of the Home version plus more business features, like networking and security features.

Microsoft: Which edition of WindowsXP to choose

Windows Vista was released in early 2007. It has higher requirements for memory and processor speed than previous versions of Windows. Vista comes in several different flavors for home and business purposes.

Microsoft: Which version of Windows Vista is right for you

Windows 7 was released in late 2009. There are several versions with differing prices.

Microsoft: Which version of Windows 7 is right for you?

The Apple Macintosh is a multitasking operating system that was the first graphical interface to achieve commercial success. The Mac was an immediate success in the areas of graphics production, and still commands the lion's share of that market. Apple made a major marketing error when they decided to keep their hardware and software under tight control rather than licensing others to produce compatible devices and programs. While the Apple products were of high quality, they were always more expensive than comparable products that were compatible with Microsoft's DOS operating system. Apple's share of the computer market has dropped to an estimated 2.4% worldwide and 3.48% of the US market (MacWorld July 3, 2002 ). This is an example of how a near lock on a market can be lost in a twinkling.

The current version is Mac OS X, which is version 10. Since January 2002, all new Mac computers use Mac OS X. Subversions are named Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard.... Most statistics show that Mac are making a comeback (Feb. 2010 - see chart at bottom of page), but the total usage is still low compared to the total number of Windows systems.

UNIX is an operating system developed by Bell Labs to handle complex scientific applications. University networks are likely to use UNIX, as are Internet Service Providers. A lot of people have experience with UNIX from their college work. Many computer old-timers love UNIX and its command line interface. But all those commands are not easy to remember for newcomers. X-Windows is a graphical interface for UNIX that some think is even easier to work with than Windows 98.

Linux is an operating system similar to UNIX that is becoming more and more popular. (And it has the cutest logo!)
It is a open-source program created by Linus Torvalds at the University of Finland, starting in 1991. Open source means that the underlying computer code is freely available to everyone. Programmers can work directly with the code and add features. They can sell their customized version of Linux, as long as the source code is still open to others. You can find more info at the Linux home site.

By the way, the word Linux is generally pronounced with a short i and the accent on the first syllable, like LIH-nucks. On the Wikipedia page about Linux, at the lower right, there is a link to an audio file of Linus Torvalds pronouncing it in English.

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