Without an operating system (OS), no computer or mobile device will work. This is because it is responsible for managing a computer’s memory, processes and all hardware and software. It can be likened to a language that all these elements use to communicate with the computer. It coordinates with the central processing unit, memory, storage and file system with all other hardware and software to ensure that all applications get what they need.

Operating systems are usually pre-loaded when you buy a computer or laptop, but there are options where you buy an OS of your choice and then install it on your own. This is especially true if you’re partial to a particular platform, although not all of them are compatible with all computers. Apple computers, for example, only use Mac OS and Unix-based OS. Mobile devices, on the other hand, use a different type of OS.

Operating systems have gone a long way, from a text-heavy interface to a graphical user interface, where you get to click icons, buttons, menus and other features, providing a better user experience. Nonetheless, its role and functions remain the same.

Computer Operating Systems

Microsoft Windows

It was in the mid-1980s when Microsoft created the Windows operating system. The first version, Windows 1.0 was released in November 1985. Over the years, the OS has evolved into many different versions, with Windows XP being one of the most popular because of its performance, ease of use, and partly because it took 5 years before a newer version, Windows Vista, was released in 2006. The latest operating system from Microsoft is Windows 10.

Strengths

  • Compatibility issues are minimal in terms of hardware and drivers, because more than 80% of desktop computers in the world use Windows OS, and majority of hardware and software supplied are compatible with Windows.

  • Hardware and software support is widely available

  • There is a wide range of games and applications compatible with Windows OS

  • There’s a large library of shareware and freeware application for Windows

Weaknesses

  • Prone to spyware and virus attacks

  • There will be plenty of opportunities to need and use hardware and software support

  • There is possible instability because of the sheer number of configurations

  • Security is often poor, requiring additional antivirus, anti-malware and other similar software to be installed.

Mac OS

Apple created a line of operating systems called Mac OS and comes preloaded on all Macintosh computers (Macs). Since 1984, Mac OS was Apple’s primary operating system. The first desktop version released in 2001 was Mac OS X v10.0 or Cheetah. All other operating systems released by Apple afterwards were named after big cats, so it came as a major surprise when the latest version of OS X 10.10 is called Yosemite. This was then followed by OS X El Capitan.

Strengths

  • It is easier to use even for non-technical User

  • Its biggest strength is in its content creation features

  • Because it is Unix-based, it is more secure from virus and other malicious attacks. It also more powerful in terms of performance.

  • Because Apple has a tight control over configurations, it is more stable than Windows

  • There is very limited number of spyware or virus applications designed for Apple

  • An enormous library of free open source applications are compatible with Mac OS

Weaknesses

  • More expensive than other OS, but requires less maintenance over its lifespan

  • Hardware choices and support are limited

  • Because it is Unix-based, it is actually more complex than Windows, although this is not a major problem or something apparent to the end user

Linux

Linux is one of those operating systems that normal end users would want to steer clear from, but it does play a major role in automating various devices. The development of Linux is an example of collaboration between free and open source software. It often caters to two extremes. At one end, it makes it extremely easy for consumer electronics to run. In another, it is a complex operating system that doesn’t have the fancy graphics options that Windows offer. Its ease of use, however, has been improved with the release of Ubuntu Debian-based operating system for Linux distribution.

Strengths

  • Lower hardware requirements compared with Windows

  • It runs on almost all hardware and has the broadest driver support available

  • It is more secure than Windows and Mac OS

  • Linux projects are free, although a little donation would go a long way

  • It is always on the cutting edge of computer science, since it is the language used when developing new ideas

  • Although vendor support is limited, a massive community of people is available and willing to help in all problems you encounter with Linux.

Weaknesses

  • It may offer plenty of options in terms of hardware and software compared with other OS, but when you want to change something you would have to figure it out first

  • Support for proprietary applications is limited

Ubuntu

Ubuntu, as previously mentioned, is based on Debian’s architecture for Linux operating system and distribution. It uses Unity as the default desktop environment for PCs. Ubuntu literally means “human-ness”, a Southern African philosophy that is often translated as humanity towards others. Ubuntu was first released in October 2004, and updated versions followed every 6 months.

Strengths

  • Completely free to use and very simple to install even for a non-technical users

  • Contains a wide range of software, such as Firefox, LibreOffice and Thunderbird

  • It can execute Microsoft Office and Windows via Wine compatibility package

  • In terms of performance, it has the stability and speed to boot

  • Allows for extensive customization

Weaknesses

  • Frequent releases can become annoying, because it’s usually done every 6 months, as opposed to Windows release at every couple of years.

  • Compared to Windows Media Player or Winamp, Ubuntus music player – for the lack of a better word – sucks

  • Some of its community based distributions are now associated and controlled by commercial companies such as Canonical

Mobile Operating Systems

Android

Android is a free and open-source platform used in almost all mobile phones, probably because it was developed by the Open Handset Alliance where members include Google, Samsung, ARM and HTC. Because it is based on Linux kernel it has less compatibility issues, and is extremely versatile. In fact, it is customized by manufacturers and users to achieve a unique user experience.

Strengths

  • As it is owned by Google, many applications and games are available for free for Android users.

  • Not only is it an open source operating system, but it is also free for improvement

  • It has high compatibility with almost all applications

  • Many applications can be downloaded from the Android Market for free and can be used instantly

  • Newer versions of Android are released by Google regularly along with new features

  • Thousands of developers continue to develop free and paid apps specifically for Android operating system

Weaknesses

  • The number of unavoidable advertisements almost equal the number of free applications, which are often annoying and time-wasting

  • Tends to drain battery life of mobile devices easily

  • Higher chances of getting malware or viruses from free applications

  • May cause the system to slow down when multiple windows are opened

iOS

IOS is a proprietary mobile OS designed specifically for Apple devices, from mobile phones to tablet PCs. It was designed and implemented by Steve Jobs, former president and CEO of Apple. As it is a closed source, Apple makes the final decision as to the sort of software iOS will and will not support. The good news is most mobile apps where originally designed for the iOS platform. In fact, FaceTime, Passbook and Square (mobile payment app) are iOS-only apps. This gives users plenty of options in terms of paid downloads and add-ons.

Strengths

  • Offers a massive app ecosystem for both tablet and smartphone use

  • The platforms of Facebook and Twitter are deeply integrated with iOS that posting updates and sharing in social networks are easier to do

  • As long as there’s no problem with hardware compatibility, software upgrades are available to all devices

  • Offers better privacy controls over the kind of private information an app can access

Weaknesses

  • Customization options for the home screen are limited

  • There are no third-party apps pre-installed

  • iOS users can only install apps from the App Store, unlike Android users who can use certain apps designed for iOS

Symbian OS

Contrary to popular belief, Symbian operating system is not only compatible with Nokia phones, but is also used by Fujitsu, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, among others. Originally, it was designed for mobile phones with multiple UIs, but when it became open source in 2009 under Accenture, it became independent and included a UI based on the 5th edition interface of Nokia S60. The current versions in the market are Symbian OS v9.5 (Symbian Anna) and Symbian OS v10.1 (Symbian Belle).

Strengths

  • Its durability and stability is guaranteed by Nokia

  • Continuous updates are available, even if its market share is on a slow decline

  • There are lots of apps available and paid ones are cheaper

Weaknesses

  • Stuck as being one of the oldest operating system for mobile phones, users often describe it as old and boring

  • Its GUI is less customizable

Blackberry OS

Design and used exclusively for BlackBerry devices, the BlackBerry OS is a closed source, proprietary mobile system. It was developed by BlackBerry Ltd. It was originally built for business use, but is slowly evolving as full multimedia capable phones are being released. The latest available version is the BlackBerry 10.

Strengths

  • Designed for business use and people on the go, BlackBerry OS offers excellent connectivity in the use of some applications, such as Yahoo, gtalk, Whatsapp, and Messengers viz BBM

  • Offers an amazing email client that can also sync with an enterprise server

  • In terms of performance, it is described as very snappy

Weaknesses

  • Features, utilities and visuals are almost the same in almost all models, including the new OS version

  • Poor application support

Windows Phone 7

Previous versions of Windows Phone mobile platforms left little to be desired, but the Windows Phone 7 OS was a form of redemption, providing a refreshed and impressive design interface. It is designed to look and feel different from existing mobile operating systems, and succeeded.

Strengths

  • Provides mobile users a completely new user experience

  • Offers integrated Microsoft services like Zune, Windows Live and Xbox Live

  • Comes with mobile Office apps

Weaknesses

  • On-device encryption is not available on the latest version. Hopefully, the next one will have it

  • It has limited ActiveSync support that matters to enterprise users

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