Jul 30, 2019 By Team YoungWonks *
Which are the top operating systems available today? This blog takes a look at the leading names, but before we get to that, let’s look at what is an operating system?
An operating system (OS) is system software that manages computer hardware and software resources and renders common services for computer programs. It is a set of basic programs and utilities that make your computer run. For instance, the operating system acts as an intermediary of sorts between programs and the computer hardware and facilitates functions of the latter such as input and output and memory allocation. This means that the OS is the most important software on a computer. It is also something that allows users to communicate with the computer even if they do not know how to speak the computer’s language. Without an operating system, a computer can not function.
Operating systems usually come pre-loaded on the computers we buy. Most people use the operating system that comes with the computer, but one can upgrade or even change the operating system on a computer. The three most common operating systems for personal computers are Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Modern operating systems use a graphical user interface (GUI). A GUI allows one to use the mouse to click icons, buttons, and menus, and everything is clearly shown on the screen thanks to a combination of graphics and text.
Operating systems can be found not just on computers but also on devices containing a computer – be it mobile phones, video game consoles, web servers or supercomputers.
As per the stats shared by the website StatCounter GlobalStats (https://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/desktop/worldwide), the leading desktop operating system is Microsoft Windows with a market share of 73.21 percent, followed by Apple Inc’s macOS that takes second place at 16.54 percent, while the Chrome OS takes the third spot at 1.92 percent, narrowly beating the varieties of Linux which have the fourth place with 1.8 percent. In the mobile (smartphone and tablet combined) segment, Google’s Android has been the leader, followed by Apple’s iOS and other operating systems. Linux distributions, for instance, are preferred in the server and supercomputing sectors. Other specialized classes of operating systems, such as embedded and real-time systems, are in demand due to their use for several applications.
Below is a detailed look at the leading operating systems in use today. We shall look at them one by one in alphabetical order.
A mobile operating system, it was developed by Android Inc that was founded in Palo Alto, California, in October 2003 by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White. Two years on (in 2005), Android Inc was acquired by Google. Written mainly in Java (UI), C (core) and C++, Android OS is based on a modified version of the Linux kernel and other open source software, and has been created mainly for touchscreen mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. It is currently the best-selling OS worldwide on smartphones. Android features include messaging; auto-correction and dictionary; web browser; voice-based features such as voice actions for calling, texting, navigation; multitasking; screen capture and TV recording. It also supports multiple languages, bluetooth, tethering and various audio/ video/ still media formats and external storage.
Android has seen a number of updates to its base operating system since the initial release. Each version has had a code name and these are confectionery-themed and in alphabetical order; the first one was 2009’s Android 1.5 Cupcake and the latest version of Android is Android 11, that was released in September 2020.
Other devices with Android include Android TV for televisions, Android Auto for cars, and Wear OS for wrist watches, each with a specialized user interface. Variants of Android can also be found on game consoles, digital cameras, PCs and other electronics. Most Android applications are written in Java and as of August 2020, the Google Play store has over 3 million Android applications published. For more details, visit https://www.android.com/.
• Amazon Fire OS
Amazon Fire OS is an Android-based mobile operating system produced by Amazon for its Fire Phone and Kindle Fire range of tablets, Echo, Echo Dot, and other content delivery devices such as Fire TV. It is forked from Android, which means that it is in fact a separate piece of software produced as a result of developers taking a copy of the source code from Android’s software package and independently building on it. This explains why Fire OS is also written mainly in C (core), C++ and Java (UI). Fire OS focuses on content consumption, with a customized user interface and strong ties to content available from Amazon’s own storefronts and services. In other words, Fire OS uses a customized user interface designed to prominently promote content available through Amazon services, such as Amazon Appstore, Amazon Video, Amazon MP3 & Audible, and Kindle Store. The latest release is the Fire OS 188.8.131.52 for 8th, 9th and 10th generation devices. For more details, visit https://developer.amazon.com/docs/fire-tv/fire-os-overview.html.
• Chrome OS
Another Linux kernel-based operating system, Chrome OS has been designed by Google. Derived from the free software Chromium OS, it uses the Google Chrome web browser as its main user interface. Due to this, Chrome OS mainly supports web applications.
Among its features, the OS - written in the programming languages C and C++ - has an integrated media player and file manager; plus it supports Chrome Apps and remote access to the desktop. Android applications became available on Chrome OS in 2014.
It is important to note here that the Chrome OS project was announced by Google back in 2009 and the first Chrome OS laptop, known as a Chromebook, hit the market in May 2011. Chrome OS is only available pre-installed on hardware from Google’s manufacturing partners, although there are unofficial methods using which one can install it on other devices.
A significant development has been the provision of support to Linux apps; this was announced in 2018. Before this, Linux applications would run on Chrome OS with the use of Crouton, a third-party set of scripts that allows access to a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu. The biggest benefit of Chrome OS’s official Linux application support is that it can now run without enabling developer mode, while retaining many of the security features of Chrome OS. For more details, visit https://www.google.com/chromebook/chrome-os/.
An open source, microkernel-based distributed operating system, HarmonyOS is being developed by the Chinese company, Huawei. It was launched on August 9, 2019. It was initially thought that this OS will be used extensively as a substitute for Android, especially in light of Google suspending Huawei’s Android license. It is being said that the platform will be able to run on entire ecosystems spanning everything from smartphones, smart speakers and smart screens to wearables and in-vehicle systems. The first phase of rollout took place through a series of smart screen products (the Honor smart TVs). And despite earlier statements that the OS has been mainly designed for internet of things (IoT) hardware, the company has now shared that the operating system will come to its own smartphones in 2021.
In September 2020, Version 2.0 was announced with support for smartphones, head units, watches and smart TVs. Also, the company aims to initially focus on building HarmonyOS products for the Chinese market and then taking it to other markets. For more details, visit https://www.harmonyos.com/en/home/.
iOS - earlier called iPhone OS - is a mobile operating system built and developed by Apple Inc. exclusively for its hardware. The company’s mobile devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, run on this operating system, making it the second most popular mobile operating system globally after Android. Written in C, C++, Objective-C and Swift programming languages, the latest version of iOS is iOS 14.2.1, which was released on November 19, 2020. Apple typically offers major updates to the iOS operating system every year via iTunes and over the air too for versions iOS 5 and the ones after it. iOS was launched along with the iPhone at the Macworld Conference & Expo in January 2007 and released in June the same year. It is interesting to note that at the time of the iPhone’s release, the operating system was renamed iPhone OS instead of OS X. The iOS App Store opened on July 10, 2008 and it offered around 500 applications. As of March 2018, this number has grown to more than two million apps. The key features of iOS include a home screen rendered by app SpringBoard, Helvetica Neue as the system font, multitasking, notification center, accessibility features to help users with vision and hearing disabilities, folders option, application switching and task completion. Also worth a mention are Siri, the intelligent personal assistant integrated into iOS; and Game Center, the online multiplayer social gaming network released by Apple. Developers need the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit) to make mobile apps on iOS. For more details, visit https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-14/.
• Linux Fedora
Fedora is a Linux distribution developed by the community-supported Fedora Project and sponsored by the US software company Red Hat. It comprises software distributed under various free and open-source licenses. Its key features include pre-installed software such as LibreOffice and Firefox and the Red Hat Package Manager package management system. Fedora has a rather short life cycle, where each version is typically supported for 13 months, where a particular version is supported until 1 month after the next version is released and with around 6 months between most versions. The good thing is that Fedora users didn’t reinstall the new version; they can simply upgrade from version to version. The latest release, 33, was out in October 2020. The default desktop environment in Fedora is GNOME and the default user interface is the GNOME Shell. It is known for focusing on innovation, integrating new technologies early on and working closely with upstream Linux communities. After the release of Fedora 21, three different editions are available: Workstation that focuses on the personal computer, Server for servers and Atomic that works on cloud computing. As of February 2016, Fedora is said to have around 1.2 million users. For more details, visit https://getfedora.org/.
macOS is a series of graphical operating systems developed and marketed by Apple Inc. It is the primary OS for Apple’s Mac family of computers. But interestingly, macOS is the second major series of Macintosh operating systems. The first - colloquially called the classic Mac OS was introduced in 1984, and its final version was Mac OS 9, that was released in 1999. The first desktop version, Mac OS X 10.0, was released in March 2001, with its first update, 10.1, being launched later that year. The latest version is macOS Big Sur, which was released in November 2020. The update has a system-wide dark mode and many new apps lifted from iOS, such as Apple News.
macOS is the second most widely used desktop OS - after Microsoft Windows - in the market of desktop, laptop and home computers, and by web usage.
Based on technologies developed between 1985 and 1997 at NeXT, also founded by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, macOS is written in C, C++, Objective-C and Swift. One of the key features of macOS is the addition of Aqua, a graphical user interface with water-like elements, in the first major release of Mac OS X. Every window element, text, graphic, or widget has been drawn on-screen using spatial anti-aliasing technology. There’s also ColorSync, a technology introduced several years ago, which has been improved and built into the core drawing engine, to offer printing and multimedia professionals color matching options.
The appearance and design of macOS has undergone several changes, particularly the menu bar and the appearance of windows. Apple rolled out its Mac models with high-resolution Retina displays in 2012; macOS and its APIs have extensive support for resolution-independent development on supporting high-resolution displays. For more details, visit https://www.apple.com/macos/big-sur/.
• Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian)
A computer operating system created specially for the Raspberry Pi series of small single-board computers, this OS, earlier called Raspbian, is based on Debian, a Unix-like operating system consisting entirely of free software. There are several versions, including Stretch, Jessie and Buster.
Earlier versions were 32bit and based on Raspbian core, taking the name Raspbian, but with recent 64bit versions not using the Raspbian core, the name has been changed to Raspberry Pi OS for both 64bit and 32bit versions. However, as of August 1, 2020, the 64-bit version is a beta and is not ideal for general use.
Created by Mike Thompson and Peter Green as an independent project in the year 2012, this OS has been the primary operating system for Raspberry Pi since the year 2015. It comes with over 35,000 packages, these are pre-compiled software available in a format that allows easy installation on your Raspberry Pi. Raspbian may be free software, but its developers continue to work towards improving the stability and performance of as many Debian packages as possible. Its latest release, Buster, was out in August 2020. For more details, visit https://www.raspberrypi.org/software/operating-systems/.
An open-source Linux distribution based on Debian’s architecture and infrastructure, Ubuntu is an OS that has been officially released in three editions: Desktop, Server and Core (for internet of things, devices and robots). All the editions can run on the computer alone, or e.g. in Windows. Ubuntu is in demand mainly for cloud computing, with support for OpenStack. It functions under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and all of the application software installed by default is free software.
It is developed by the computer software company Canonical, which also offers security updates and support for each Ubuntu release and earns revenue from the sale of premium Ubuntu services. This OS is released every six months, with long-term support (LTS) releases every two years. The latest release is 20.10 (Groovy Gorilla), which will be supported for 9 months, with 20.04 (Focal Fossa) as the most recent long-term support release. Ubuntu has a Linux server, desktop and discontinued phone and tablet operating system versions.
By default, Ubuntu comes with features such as LibreOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, Transmission, and lightweight games like Sudoku and chess; the default file manager is GNOME Files. The OS is written in programming languages Python, Java, C, C++ and C#. The OS was first released in the year 2004; in 2016, Microsoft declared that the Ubuntu userland would be supported on top of the Windows 10 kernel and that this would be done by implementing the Linux system calls as a subsystem. Ubuntu is said to be the most popular Linux distribution for running web servers; moreover, it offers Ubuntu Cloud Images, these are pre-installed disk images that have been customized by Ubuntu engineering to run on cloud-platforms such as Amazon EC2, OpenStack and Microsoft Azure. But since Ubuntu is distributed freely and there is no registration process involved, it is tough to track Ubuntu usage. In 2015, developer Canonical stated that Ubuntu had over 40 million desktop users. For more details, visit https://ubuntu.com/.
Microsoft Windows is a group of many graphical operating system families, all of which are developed, marketed and sold by Microsoft. Each family caters to a particular sector of the computing industry. Microsoft first launched an operating environment called Windows in November 1985; it was a graphical operating system shell for MS-DOS introduced to meet the increasing interest in graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Microsoft Windows went on to dominate the world’s personal computer (PC) market with over 90% market share, overtaking Mac OS. In the PC segment, Windows continues to be the most popular operating system. That said, in 2014, Microsoft admitted losing out to Android in the overall operating system market primarily due to the massive increase in sales of Android smartphones. The most recent version of Windows for PCs, tablets, smartphones and embedded devices is Windows 10. A special version of Windows runs on the Xbox One video game console. Windows is mainly written in the low-level Assembly programming language and C++. Its main features include the Control Panel, Cortana virtual assistant, Device Manager, Disk Cleanup, Event Viewer, File Explorer, Internet browser, Microsoft Paint, Notepad, Notification area, Power User Tasks Menu, Taskbar, Task Manager and Windows search box. A wide range of devices run Windows OS, be it laptops, desktops, 2-in-1s, tablets and Windows phones. For more details, visit https://www.microsoft.com/en-in/windows/.
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Leonel Cruz