A computer operating system (OS) is a software program that manages hardware and software and acts as an interface between the user and the computer. The most common operating systems today are Windows and Mac OS, which both have a built-in graphical user interface (GUI). Other popular operating systems include UNIX and Linux, which require a separate GUI to be installed.
Windows is a Microsoft product that will install on any IBM or clone personal computer (PC). Mac OS, on the other hand, is intended to be installed on an Apple Macintosh computer. UNIX and Linux are operating systems that are available in free, open-source formats. Mac OS X is a UNIX-based operating system.
Microsoft first released Windows 1.0 in 1985. The OS advanced significantly in its popularity in 1992 with the release of Windows 3.1. The first release of a Macintosh computer with Mac OS took place in 1984. At $2,495, it was the most affordable computer at the time that came with a GUI. The development of UNIX began in the 1960s at Bell Laboratories. Linux was first introduced by Linus Torvalds of Finland in 1991.
Many people believe that the MS-DOS still runs underneath current Windows operating systems. The truth is that DOS was phased out with Windows XP. In order to run DOS on a computer with a newer Windows operating system, you must use a start-up disk with system files installed. Furthermore, Windows 2000, XP and Vista were not built on the same principle as previous operating systems, such as Windows 95 and 98. Instead, they were the next installments on the Windows New Technology (NT) line.
The primary benefit of the Windows operating system is that it can be installed on most computers. Since most computer users have Windows, file formats are easily transferred from computer to computer without having to be altered. Since current Windows operating systems are part of the NT family, they are network-ready. Windows is very user friendly, and the user generally doesn't need to be very tech-savvy to run the OS. The Mac OS, however, is more stable and reliable than Windows. It has historically been less prone to errors. Also, Mac OS was originally designed for graphic design and computer-aided design (CAD), and has typically outshone Windows in this area. It's only recently that Windows has begun to catch up to Mac OS's capabilities. The main benefit of Unix and Linux is that they can be obtained for free or at a reduced cost. Both Unix and Linux support multiple users and networking. The system requirements for both of these operating systems are low, so they function well even on older computers. They also have greater immunity to viruses than other operating systems. Furthermore, the cost to run Linux on a server is less than half of what it costs to run Windows.
Windows tends to be buggy when a new version is introduced into the market. Also, upgrading to a newer version of Windows can be problematic. Both Windows and Mac OS are vulnerable to viruses and attacks from hackers when they are newly installed. You must download all critical updates as soon as possible after installing or reinstalling either of these operating systems.
Unix and Linux are not as user friendly as Windows and Mac OS. The user should have some technical knowledge before attempting to install them. An X Window system must be installed separately from the OS, and some installations may encounter problems. Installing Unix or Linux without a GUI requires that the user type complex commands into the interface.
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