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4.2.3: Compare Various Operating Systems

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    Learning Objectives

    • Compare various operating systems and determine which one suits a specific situation.

    How many different operating systems exist? The number is quite extensive. We will compare only a handful of the most widely used systems, such as those found on laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Those for desktops used at home are typically the same as those found on laptops, notebooks, ultrabooks, tablets, and touch PCs. Operating systems for more complex business platforms involve other operating systems that we will not be able to cover here.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Janet is interested in purchasing a very lightweight computer that she can take with her when she travels. She has looked at small platforms such as the HP Envy, Acer Aspire, Samsung Ultra, and Dell XPS. And what about a tablet like the Windows Surface Pro? Will it be able to support all the applications she needs? All of these devices run on a Windows OS. But she thinks that she also should look at an Apple product, such as the iPad and the Macbook Air. How does she go about deciding on the best device for her? What kind of questions does she need to ask of herself?

    So how do you decide which OS is the one for you? To a great extent, it depends upon the device you are going to use and the style of computing or communication with which you are comfortable. In most cases, the hardware platform you purchase comes with the OS already installed. You might be able to replace the OS on that platform or install a second OS, but the OS must be compatible with the architecture of the hardware. So the question of which OS to use is driven as much by the hardware device you wish to purchase as by the particular OS you prefer.

    As noted earlier, perhaps the two best known operating systems for desktops, laptops, notebooks, ultrabooks, and fully configured tablets and touch PCs are Microsoft's Windows and Apple's OS X. For these devices, the latest available OS versions, as of mid- 2019, are Microsoft's Windows 10 and Apple's OS X (Mojave). Microsoft's Windows still appears to hold the largest market share, primarily because most applications are still written for this OS. Apple's share has increased significantly in recent years with the increasing popularity of Apple's iPads and iPhones. Linux, which comes in quite a few varieties, is the third major player in the OS arena (Usage share, 2013). There are some variants of Linux that have programs built in that are comparable to Windows Outlook, Microsoft Office, and Internet Explorer—all free (Krane, 2005). Google's Chrome OS is a Linux-based OS that supports primarily the Chrome browser. In addition to Gmail, its web store features Google Maps, Play Books, JAM (live music sessions), Calendar, a Cloud Reader, and more (What is the Chrome Web Store?, n.d.).

    There is no one best OS, and your decision on which to purchase should be based on preferences and what suits your needs best. The GUI implemented by Microsoft and Apple is easy to navigate, once you are used to it. Linux (open source/sometimes free) and other UNIX-based operating systems allow for a great deal of customization, and these have become favorites among those very comfortable with creating and modifying the OS at the programming language level. However, since the number of applications and programs written for a Linux-based machine is far lower than the number written for Windows or the Mac OS X, the user has to be sure that a desired application is actually supported by the Linux OS (Weisen, n.d.).

    The tables below compile, from various sources, some of the pros and cons for the latest versions of each of the three major operating systems for personal computers.

    Sources:, n.d.; Fazzari, n.d.; Chrobok, 2013; and Krane, 2005.

    Microsoft's Windows 8



    Best uses

    • Speed, particularly time to boot up/start Windows.

    • New passwords. In place of typing your passwords, you can use gestures or your favorite photos to serve as your password.

    • Can be used on many devices, including smartphones and tablet PCs. Supports touch screen technology.

    • The largest library of programs and applications.

    • Almost all hardware has drivers that are compatible with Windows.

    • Windows 7, still available and probably still the most widely used on PCs; Windows 8 is installed more often on newer hardware and is required for some of the newer tablets.

    • Rigorous system requirements, possibly requiring hardware upgrades to maintain performance.

    • Steep learning curve.

    • Not compatible with some older software versions.

    • Prone to viruses, spyware, and adware unless software is installed to guard against these (and such software reduces performance speed).

    • Requires regular maintenance to avoid system errors and reduced performance.

    • A Windows license/install disk can be relatively expensive to purchase.

    • Gamers.

    • People who must use Windows-only software for work or school.

    • People or businesses who are looking for an inexpensive computer but cannot use Linux.

    NOTE: Windows Runtime (RT) is a limited version of Windows 8. It is designed for a specific Microsoft tablet, the Surface RT. It is not written for standard PCs. The Surface Pro tablet from Microsoft runs a full Windows 8 OS (Tyrsina, 2012).

    Apple Mac OS X

    Sources:, n.d.; Fazzari, n.d.; Chrobok, 2013; and Krane, 2005.

    Apple Mac OS X



    Best uses

    • Reliable and high performance.

    • Relatively simple and intuitive interface with many advanced features.

    • Typically not a target for virus or malware attacks.

    • Second-largest selection of software.

    • Most popular applications are now either Mac-compatible or have an equivalent that is.

    • Many advanced games have become compatible with Mac OS X.

    • Limited to Apple-manufactured hardware.

    • Some hardware does not have Mac-compatible drivers.

    • May be difficult to share Mac hardware devices on a Windows network. For example, a printer's Mac driver may not support printing to a Windows-connected printer, and replacement drivers may or may not exist.

    • Smaller library of applications than Windows.

    • Files deleted in Mac OS are immediately overwritten, making them unable to be recovered in most situations.

    • Students who are not required to use Windows-specific software (although Windows can easily be installed to use Windows software).

    • Home users looking for an easy and reliable computing experience who are willing to pay more than low-end PC prices.

    • Graphic designers and photographers.

    • Scientists.

    Linux and Other UNIX-Based Operating Systems

    Sources:, n.d.; Fazzari, n.d.; Chrobok, 2013; and Krane, 2005.

    Linux and Other UNIX-Based Operating Systems



    Best uses

    • Low number of viruses and other malware, similar to Mac OS X.

    • Usually free.

    • Large selection of Linux distributions to choose from.

    • Has a large quantity of free and open source software equivalents to commercial Windows and Mac software.

    • Easily customizable.

    • Can run many Windows programs with the use of a compatibility layer such as Lina or Wine.

    • Reliable with good performance and low requirements.

    • May require more advanced knowledge than is required for use of Windows and Mac.

    • Many commercial programs are not supported by Linux.

    • Relatively small library of commercial games.

    • Many Windows and Macintosh file types cannot be opened.

    • Data recovery can be very expensive.

    • Experienced computer users seeking a high-quality, free operating system.

    • Businesses that have a competent IT manager and that are not reliant on Windows-only software.

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    What About Mobile Devices?

    Mobile devices (cell phones, smartphones, internet-capable notebooks, tablets) are almost always purchased with a preinstalled OS. There are not many choices available for these lightweight operating systems. Differences are dependent more on the mobile device itself and are less tied to the OS. This category of operating systems includes Apple's iOS, Android (Google), and Windows Phone. Windows Phone was developed by Microsoft to compete with other touch devices and can be found on HTC and Nokia Lumia smartphones (“Usage share,” 2013). The Windows Phone GUI, known as “Metro,” is the same GUI as found on Microsoft's Surface Runtime (RT) tablet. Other mobile operating systems include Java ME (used in lower-end cell phones), Symbian and BlackBerry. Samsung, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson used Symbian, and it was the most popular smartphone OS on a worldwide average until the end of 2010, when it was overtaken by Google's Android (Symbian, 2013). Some version of the Android OS can be found on many smartphones, as well as on mini tablets such as the Nook and Kindle. Mobile operating systems based on the Linux kernel are found on low-end cell phones and small internet notebooks (Ricknas, 2011).

    Phablet is a term that has surfaced to describe the combination of the powers of a tablet and a phone. Typically, a phablet is a smartphone with a 5- to 6.9-inch screen. Most phablets feature a touch screen, an on-screen keyboard, a mobile OS and browser, a camera, and customized applications (Rouse, 2012).

    The Bottom Line

    So how do you make your decision? Do your research! As noted, first evaluate how you intend to use the computing device or mobile device. Each OS does have advantages and disadvantages, and you should choose one that you feel most comfortable using. When considering a typical computing device (laptop, tablet), because Microsoft Windows is the most common operating system it can be considered a reasonable choice for many people. Mac OS X is second-most popular—and gaining market share—and is an excellent operating system for those who can purchase the slightly costlier Mac and who do a considerable amount of graphic-related (art, photos, videos) or scientific work. With the introduction of Office 365, available online (via the cloud), the Mac now can support one of the leading application packages that used to be restricted to Windows-based machines. Linux, although it is often free and open source (meaning the owner can modify the code creating the OS), is a very good advanced operating system recommended for experienced users who are comfortable working with programming languages.

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    When considering smartphones, if it's just for the basics, such as phone calls and texting, almost any of the models would suffice. However, claims about storage, processor speed, and the number of megapixels in the camera should take second place to the mobile OS when deciding on the smartphone you want or need. Access to online services such as Facebook, Twitter, and so on are OK, but if you want to be able to do online banking or catch up on TV shows and the OS on your smartphone does not support these activities, you might find the smartphone more limited than you expected. If you are needing to do more sophisticated work, such as editing Office documents, then something compatible with a Windows-based OS might be the way to go. Competition among the four top smartphone operating systems discussed above means that the one that is most popular today may take second place with releases of a newer OS for another smartphone. It might also be the case that your service provider will eventually dictate the model of smartphone you purchase, because many service providers are linked to specific models of smartphones (Hattersley, 2013).

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    1. Chrobok, B. (2013, March 26). Pros and cons of Windows 8. Retrieved from Tech Support Pro: http://
    2. Fazzari, C. (n.d.). How to choose a computer operating system. Retrieved August 11, 2013, from
    3. Hattersley, R. (2013, May 1). What’s the best mobile OS: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8 or BlackBerry 10?. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from PC Adviser:
    4. Krane, J. (2005, September 10). Choosing an operating system. Retrieved August 11, 2013, from Independent Articles and Advice:
    5. Ricknas, M. (2011, September 30). Nokia readies Linux OS for low-end smartphones. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from ComputerWorld:
    6. Rouse, M. (2012, October). Phablet. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from
    7. Symbian (2013, August 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from
    8. Tyrsina, R. (2012, October 18). Technology Personalized. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from Window RT vs Windows 8 vs Windows 8 Pro:
    9. Usage share of operating systems (2013, September 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 11, 2013, from
    10. What is the best operating system and why? (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2013, from
    11. What is the Chrome Web Store? (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2013, from Chrome:
    12. Wiesen, G. (n.d.). How do I choose the best computer operating system?. Retrieved August 12, 2013, from wiseGEEK:

    4.2.3: Compare Various Operating Systems is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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