The Strengths & Weaknesses of Operating Systems

By David Dunning

An operating system is a collection of software that controls the basic operation of a computer, including the execution of programs, managing storage, input/output and communication resources. According to W3Schools, Windows XP and Windows 7 are the most popular operating systems, with the Windows family -- which also includes Windows Vista and Windows 2003 -- accounting for over 80 percent of operating system use. Other personal computer operating systems include Linux, the Apple Macintosh operating system, OS X and many others, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Windows XP

Windows XP is an elderly operating system by modern standards, having first been launched in 2001. As such, it lacks the “bells and whistles” of more recent operating systems, but is a stable, reliable product. Windows XP can run perfectly adequately on computers with as little as 512 megabytes of random access memory, rather than the 1 gigabyte recommended by Microsoft for Windows Vista and Windows 7. Windows XP supports “plug and play” hardware, which allows computers to automatically detect and configure hardware with user intervention, and has a huge resource base for developers.

Windows 7

As of October 2011, Windows 7 is Microsoft’s latest operating system, having been generally available since late 2009. According to PC World, Windows 7 offers significant improvements on its predecessor, Windows Vista and includes a completely reworked system tray. Windows 7 is also slightly faster than Windows Vista, despite having almost identical system requirements. Windows 7 also does away with three unnecessary programs, Windows Mail, Windows Movie Maker and Windows Photo Gallery, which can be downloaded instead, if they are required. On the downside, the popularity of Windows means that more malicious software -- in the form of viruses, worms and Trojan horses -- is written for it than other operating systems.

Linux

Linux is what is known as an open source operating system, which means that, although the essential, low-level component known as the kernel is the same in each implementation, other components, such as the graphical user interface, vary from distributor to distributor. These differences can make Linux difficult to install and support, but it is compatible with most existing hardware platforms.The open source nature of Linux means that it is possible for users to write their own fixes, or workarounds, for problems arising with software titles. Developers have written a number of such fixes, such as Wine, which helps users install games built for Windows-based systems, and made them available to users.

Mac OS X

Mac OS X is a purpose-built operating system, consisting of a graphical user interface that sits on top of a UNIX core. Mac OS X is stable, reliable and highly secure, as few virus designers bother to target it. It is described by Apple as the world’s most advanced operating system. Mac OS X provides access to all the popular UNIX command line tools and editors, plus a complete Java development platform. Mac OS X has carved out a niche for itself among artists and graphic designers. The operating system includes various translators -- including one called ColorSync, which tells a Mac how a monitor, printer, scanner or digital camera defines color -- which allow different products to work together. On the downside, Mac OS X is more expensive than some of its competitors and offers fewer software options, particularly industry-specific and computer gaming titles.