Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Operating Systems

There is a lot going on in the world of operating systems, and some of it is completely invisible. Everyday companies are choosing their operating system, but what does an OS do anyway?:

What Is an OS?

An OS controls the hardware, for the user, as simple as that, it is an interface layer. Operating system have come a long way since the creating of computers, and now the os is a huge part of how a computer runs, and acts.

Which OS?

This is not really a question I can really answer for you, as all Operating systems were made for different uses, for example, Windows started off for office use, and therefore came with many office related programs for use. Linux was started by programmers for programmers, and had (and still has) far more excellent utilities to program in. Mac was originaly made for Media creation, and therefore comes with many powerful media programs.

Many people do not know the origins of an OS, and now, all oses can be used for the same kind of thing, for example, I can make documents easily in OpenOffice on my Linux machine, and I've never found it at all limiting, if I did a lot of office work, then I might need some of the more advanced features of Office, but as it is, I find no difference, and it doesn't limit me.

I can create advanced images, and manipulate images using GIMP, as well as creating films in other Linux tools. If I was a professional photographer, I may be better off with a Mac, but as I am now, ocne again, I can use Linux.

I program fairly regualy too, and in this time, I find that I have a huge range of tools available to me, and I now find it very hard to program on any other OS.

The point is, that depending on your primary task, you need to look into your OS based on that, but only on a professional level, most users never use the advanced features of a program, and therefore the alternatives, which sometimes don't have those features are just as good.

Features of an OS

As we have already looked at, the heart of the operating system makes a large difference to its default programs, but OSes are now so much more advanced then that, that it is worth looking at what you can do with different OSes

Linux

Linux is well known for its speed, and customizability, it is also community led. The way linux works (and this is true for most Linux programs too) is very unique. The code is 'Open Source' this means that anyone can view it, but there is more to it then that, any one can take the code, AND FIX IT! This means that if someone has a problem on their machine, if they knew how, they could look at the code, find the fix, and release it, which would then appear in the updates, and then you would not find that bug. This means that popular programmers have the whole community worth of programmers behind it, so bugs are fixed fast, and anyone can do it.

This also allows people to make new versions based on others with their system, for example, they could remake it with a different set of programs, and release that as their own, under their name, providing they release the source code, so others can then do the same. This makes for millions of different 'distributions' (version of linux) to choose from, meaning that whatever you want to do, it tends to have a whole distribution devouted to it.

There is also a very unique package system to allow you to get the programs. The biggest two are YUM (used on Red hat distributions) and Apt (used on debian based distributions.) They allow you to get your programmers from a huge list of possible 'packages' It is an easy and effecent process, which allows you to get any program within seconds (no browser required!)

Most Linux distributions are also available as 'Live Cds' which allows you to run the entire operating system straight off a CD. This is great for those who want it where ever they go, as well as being very useful for diagnostics.

Mac

Mac and Linux are similar in some ways, because they both share a similar base. This means that programs are often released for the two together. Mac is still a very different operating system however. Mac is also very fast, like linux, although it is not as customisable. The operating system is made for the machines, so Apple were able to fine tune things for the hardware. It is well known for being excellent for working with media, with it's powerful program base, as well as being fairly bug free.

Windows

Windows was designed for office use, as explained above. Microsoft do not share their code, and they have very little development code available, so all bugs must be fixed by Microsoft. It features a large list of programs that support it, although very few programs are installed by default.

As you can see, all three are very different, and as already explained, and what you do very much chooses which OS you should use.

What next?

Well first, post a comment, and tell me what you think, then you need to consider one very important point: Are you using the right OS? If you don't use your computer for any professional task, then it might also be a good time to try some of the other OSes, and see whether they are better for your needs, just remember to keep your eyes open, and try new things, you'll never know how much better it could be if you don't try it!

How?

Mac: Mac can now be run on any PC, full guides here: http://www.osx86project.org/

Linux: One of the most popular distributions is Ubuntu, which is available to try without any changes to your computer, available here: http://www.ubuntu.com/

Windows: Buy a disk from a store, if you don't already have it.

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