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 in a 2017 article by the website StatCounter GlobalStats (http://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/desktop/worldwide/#monthly-201711-201711-bar), the leading desktop operating system is Microsoft Windows with a market share of more than 80 percent, followed by Apple Inc’s macOS that takes second place at more than 10 percent, while the varieties of Linux together have the third place with less than 2 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 got 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 9 Pie, that was released in August 2018.
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 February 2017, the Google Play store has over 2.7 million Android applications published.
• 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.
• 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 18.104.22.168 for 8th generation devices.
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 12, which was released on September 17, 2018. Apple 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. Today, this number has grown to more than a 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.
• 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 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.
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 Mojave, that was publicly released in September 2018. 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.
A computer operating system created specially for the series of small single-board computers called Raspberry Pi, Raspbian is based on Debian, a Unix-like operating system consisting entirely of free software. There are several versions of Raspbian, including Raspbian Stretch and Raspbian Jessie. Created by Mike Thompson and Peter Green as an independent project in the year 2012, Raspbian has been the primary operating system for Raspberry Pi since the year 2015. Still under active development, the operating system has been highly optimized for the Raspberry Pi family. Raspbian is more than an OS: 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, Raspbian Stretch with desktop and recommended software, was out on April 8 this year (2019). Raspbian uses PIXEL - Pi Improved X-Window Environment, Lightweight - as its main desktop environment as per the latest update.
• Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a Linux distribution developed by Red Hat for the commercial market; it is the successor to the now defunct Red Hat Linux OS. Red Hat follows strict trademark rules so as to restrict free re-distribution of the officially supported versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (or RHEL as it is also known) while still freely offering its source code. RHEL can be subscribed to; its subscription is freely available for development purposes. Developers just have to register for the Red Hat Developer Program and agree to the licensing terms forbidding production use; this free developer subscription was announced in March 2016. It is interesting to note that RHEL offers academic editions of its desktop and server variants. They are less expensive and can be provided to schools and students, with Red Hat technical support as an optional add-on. RHEL was built to be stable and with long-term support for enterprise users and Fedora as the community distribution and project sponsored by Red Hat. However, rebuilds of RHEL are free but do not receive any commercial support or consulting services from Red Hat and do not have any software, hardware or security certifications.
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 19.04 (Disco Dingo). 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, Canonical stated that Ubuntu had over 40 million desktop users.
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.
Google Fuchsia: A New Addition
In addition to the above top 10 operating systems today, there are some new ones that show a lot of promise. Leading the pack would be Google's new OS called Fuchsia. Fuchsia is an open source capability-based operating system currently being developed by Google. It was first known to the public when the project appeared on a self hosted form of git in August 2016 without an official announcement. As opposed to previous Google-developed operating systems such as Chrome OS and Android, which are based on the Linux kernel, Fuchsia is based on a new microkernel called Zircon. As per the GitHub project, Fuchsia is compatible with several platforms - be it embedded systems or smartphones, tablets, and personal computers. In May 2017, Fuchsia was updated with a user interface. This user interface and the apps too are written with Flutter, a software development kit allowing cross-platform development abilities for Fuchsia, Android and iOS. Flutter makes apps based on Dart, providing apps with high performance that run at 120 frames per second. In July this year, Google revealed the homepage of the project, fuchsia.dev, that shares the source code and documentation for the newly announced operating system.
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Leonel Cruz