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A computer is a machine which consists of physical equipment AND the equally important virtual machinery, the basis of which is the Operating System. When getting a computer it is important to get the right hardware and the right Operating System. What's the best operating system? It's not the same for one person as the next. Choose something that is right FOR YOU. It's also worth noting that a computer can have more than one operating system on it. Mine currently (2001/01) has three.

It is particularly important to make an informed choice and not to be fooled by hype into having the default just because it's fashionable at the time.

Operating systems each have their own merits, and all have different good and bad points. The following is a list of operating systems available for the PC*:

TUX the Linux penguinLINUX - It's UNIX on the PC and other computers. This makes any computer VERY MUCH more powerful. It's the opposite of the "dumbed-down" computing which is a current fad (2001/01). Linux gives YOU the power to do what you want, rather than just assuming you conform to some ordinary notion of a user. Linux makes your PC like a mainframe, and is especially good for programming. In my opinion this is very good. If you want to be in control, this is for you.

Microsoft Windows - This is what many salesmen will assume you want, but it's not the only choice. My personal opinion is that it is NOT the best. However, it has the merit of being usable by those who don't really understand computers. My advice is that there are a lot of better options, and you should decide for yourself. But if you really must have it, don't get the latest edition. If you don't like programming and you do like point-and-click systems and moving things about with a mouse, this is for you.

BeOS - I have heard this is very good for real-time video and multimedia applications. It's now been bought out by Palm Computing. It lives on in a version called OpenBe. http://open-beos.sourceforge.net/news.php ... was http://www.be.com (domain lost)

QNX - Complete real-time operating system available with an Internet exploration browser included. This is the operating system which British Telecom are using (2001/06) in their Multiphones

Atheos - A relatively new GUI multi-tasking operating system available on the PC. Pervasive multi-threading. See www.atheos.cx . AtheOS is a free desktop operating system under the GPL license. AtheOS currently (2002) runs on Intel, AMD and other compatible processors and supports the Intel Multi Processor architecture.

Gnu Hurd - The long-awaited GNU kernel for Unix.

Chrome OS - operating system sponsored by Google

Linspire - Lindows - runs Linux and Windows programs, but time will tell what becomes of it.

ReactOS - It's almost exactly like Microsoft Windows, except it's free. (open source).

VisOpSys - VISual OPerating SYStem: small, fast, home-brewed, open source OS kernel for x86

Amoeba Operating System - Amoeba - worth a closer look.

Plan9 - was http://plan9.bell-labs.com/plan9/ - - another interesting item.

HyperOs - allows multiple Windows operating systems on a computer AND allows Linux on multi-boot

Symphony OS (was http://www.symphonyos.com/) - "Unity, Beauty, Simplicity"

Symbian - another interesting approach

WINE (operating system) - Wine, not to be confused with Wine (nice alcoholic stuff). Wine (as in the context of "operating system") is WINdows Emulator. In other words, it is virtually the same as Microsoft Windows, except it's free, and runs under Linux. It's so good that it's even used by Microsoft to test compatibility!

MSDOS - This has the advantage of the command line interpreter, but it's never been as clever as Unix. As regards versions, 5 was better than 4, 6 was better than 5, etc, but the best version was 6.22, and they got worse after that, 7 being not as good as 6.22.

A great many small operating systems can be seen at osdev.org at the page osdev Projects

There are other choices. As time goes on, there will be other options. Make sure that any new developments really are Improvements.

A humorous comparison of operating systems is expressed in: What If Operating Systems Ran The Airlines?

It's important that Fair Competition is continued to be allowed. Don't let Microsoft become the only operating system! That's what could happen if they get away with the trick involving the UEFI Secure Boot

As well as other operating systems on the PC*, the range of operating systems available is expanded by considering different machines! For example, the Apple MAC (Mac OS and Linux), about which a good review is to be seen on Chris O'Rourke's site (was http://www.netspace.net.au/~corourke/Mac ). MacOS X is generally spoken well of. www.apple.com/macosx. And then there is the OpenSource structure that MacOS X is based upon - Darwin. http://gnu-darwin.sourceforge.net . Other good news is that APPLE now have an affiliate program at this site!

Plus, in range of possibilities of other machines there are such things as Silicon Graphics computers, DEC Alpha, and RiscOS on machines with the ARM Chip. Another good site about Operating Systems was www.osdata.com . So, don't just assume you've got to buy a PC; examine the various possibilities and make your mind up.

Another good resource on Computer Operating Systems is Xyroth's Operating Systems Page

One of the issues to do with operating systems is the matter of whether they are WIMP or COMMAND. With Command, you directly command the computer what to do. With wimp, the computer tells you what it might be going to do and then you choose from the options it gives. This is a matter of personal taste. Linux has both possibilities included as standard. I prefer Command, but that's my personal taste, somewhat coloured by bad experiences of WIMP operating systems in the past.

Another thing about operating systems is the degree to which they are compatible with each other. There is now a standard called POSIX. Most operating systems, such as Unix, Linux, etc are in effect Posix-Compatible (regardless of whether they have paid their sub to be tested!). Microsoft is definitely NOT Posix-Compatible, because it does things in a particular proprietary manner. More about this on Xyroth's POSIX page

The merits of different operating systems apply differently according to the application. High-powered computer installations and top-end business where there are a lot of workstations have upgraded to Linux before the average home user.

Do you know of other operating systems? Or have comments to make on this. e-mail me

* Whilst acknowledging the fact that PC originally stands for "Personal Computer" and could in theory refer to a huge range of machines, including the ZX81, Apple Mac, Psion Organiser, BBC Micro, etc, the term here refers to a set of machines of the x86 species derived from the ancient IBM PC. It's a common terminology of the late nineties and early zero-zeroes decade to refer to Pentiums and Hexiums as The PC. Just to keep everyone happy.

This page is actually about operating systems on the PC, although it contains a diversion into other machines at one point. If it was about ALL operating systems on ALL processors, it would be a very big page! The original point of this page was to prove that you don't have to just have an ordinary PC with Microsoft Conformist Windows!

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