Mac OS X is the world's most advanced operating system.

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Operating Systems

Mac OS

The official site of Apple Inc. sums up the Mac OS in the following words:

"Mac OS X is the world's most advanced operating system. Built on a rock-solid UNIX foundation and designed to be simple and intuitive, it's what makes the Mac innovative, highly secure, compatible, and easy to use. Quite simply, there is nothing else like it."

Introduction: Mac OS is the operating system developed by Apple Inc specifically for their Macintosh line of computer systems. At the time of its first appearance on the stage of OS in 1984, it was unarguably the most innovative operating system. It is generally credited with the idea of revolutionizing the user experience by the way of GUI (Graphical User Interface). Even its earliest of versions contained support for this functionality, allowing users to use mouse for the purposes of pointing and selecting and included some default utility applications that took advantage of this new user interface. Due to this reason, it quickly became one of the most successful and popular operating system for the average home users. However, it is to be noted that it initially was known as “System software” because it formed an integral part of the Macintosh Computers, however with the passage of time, it was named “Mac OS”.

Licensed ROMs to run Mac OS: The early Macs had no hard disks (since they were expensive in 1984) and only supported floppy drives. Since the storage space was very limited, hence key parts of the system were stored on ROM in the motherboard to free up the space on the floppy drives. This architecture allowed a completely graphical OS interface at the lowest level. At the same time, it ensured that only Apple computers (with copy-righted ROMs) could run Mac OS since it depended on core system software in ROM.

The Mac OS supports a minimal number of file structures. It expects files to contain two parts: a resource fork and a data fork. The resource fork contains information of interest to the user. For instance, it holds the labels of any buttons displayed by the program. A foreign user may want to re-label these buttons in his own language, and the Mac OS provides tools to allow modification of data in the resource fork. The data fork contains program code or data - the traditional file contents.

Features:

1. Dock: Perhaps, the most visible and distinctive feature of the Mac OS which has been chapified in all the other operating systems is the Dock. The Mac OS uses dock to access applications, open documents, launch programs on the fly and at the same time, it adds most of the eye-candy to the Mac OS. The latest feature of stacking files and folders in the dock has improved it further, solving the most widely-circulated issue of space limitation in the dock. A survey shows it is the most adorable feature of Mac OS and thus has been incorporated (sort of) in the latest edition of Microsoft Windows i.e. Windows7.

2. iLife: Microsoft Windows (that holds most of the share in the desktop market) comes with a clean install, i.e. we have to install the necessary applications ourselves (except the browser and that too, for obvious reasons). However, Mac OS like Linux distributions comes bundled with an application suite named iLife. Apple's iLife (iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, iChat) is the best application suite that can come with any OS. It is excellent at what it does. Its applications manage and organize our documents, photos, videos, music efficiently.

3. Highly secure by design: Mac OS X doesn't get viruses and protects itself from other malicious applications. It was built for the Internet in the Internet age. Even better, it doesn't slow down the computer with constant security alerts and nagging screens.

4. Compatibility: Probably the greatest change that a user experiences during transition from Windows to Mac OS is that unlike Windows, Mac OS can natively deal with the most-popular applications and file-type extensions like PDF, JPG, MP3, Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc.

5. Smart Eject: In most of the operating systems, ejection of a drive, disk takes place immediately and any process that may have been using it becomes unresponsive which increases the probability of hanging the whole system. An additional problem caused by this is the loss of valuable data. However Mac OS first checks the external volumes to see if they are in use by any process and notifies the user of the status of the external drives if they are busy.

6. Quick Look: The official Mac OS site says “Opening files is so last year”. With the latest edition of Mac OS (Snow Leopard), Apple has introduced a new feature names “Quick Look”. Using it, we can have a sneak peek of the entire files which may include multipage documents, long videos etc. This feature is extremely useful in the situation when we need to monitor various programs but do not need to clutter our desktop with unwanted windows.

7. Time Machine: Time Machine has relieved the users of performing any backup of the data through some 3rd party softwares. It automatically saves up-to-date copies of files, music, video, documents, applications, settings - virtually everything on a Mac. If the user loses any of his data, he can easily “go back in time” to recover the files. However, the advantage that Time Machine enjoys over its Windows counterpart System Restore is that the user can actually verify the contents of the file before restoring it.

Windows

Windows is an operating system developed by Microsoft. It emerged on the scene during the time when Apple's Mac OS was making gigantic strides in the OS market and UNIX-based OS were giving it a tough competition. In short, it was the time of great rivalry and competition. However, due to its innovative ideas, its ease of use for the PCs combined with aggressive marketing on the part of Microsoft and some internal troubles in the Apple Inc. paved the way for Windows to lead the market. At present, it is easily the most popular operating system in the desktop computers market.

History: The history of Windows dates back to 1981, when Microsoft launched “Interface Manager” project. It achieved little popularity since it was not a complete operating system, but rather an extension to DOS environment and hence inherited its flaws. In 1983, Microsoft decided to upgrade this project under the new name of “Windows” which was thought to be more appealing to the customers. Windows promised easy-to-use interface and support for multitasking. Windows 1.0 was released in 1985 and had average sales. The subsequent versions improved the GUI enormously and were quick to respond to the latest advancements in the hardware market. Microsoft and IBM reached a deal under which each IBM PC came pre-installed with Windows. Personal Computers (PCs) were a novel idea. They proved to be a big business. IBM (because of its size and reputation for quality products) scored a lead in the market, and thus most of the computer programs written for the PC market were actually being written for Windows. Hence Windows soon eclipsed all its rivals and established it s supremacy which continues even today.

Windows 7: Windows 7 is the latest release of the Microsoft Windows. It was released on October 22, 2009. Windows 7 introduced some great new features (which are described below) while at the same time, improving the tools shipped with earlier versions. It received highly positive reviews, and it surpassed the share of Apple's Snow Leopard (the latest version of Mac OS) in just two weeks. It is the highest grossing pre-order in Amazon's history.

Features:

1. Taskbar: This feature is exclusive to the latest edition of Windows i.e. Windows 7. In this version, Microsoft has totally revamped its taskbar, which now displays icons only of the programs currently in execution whereas previous versions used to show text labels boring names of the said programs also. An additional functionality that this revised version of taskbar provides is that the user can now “pin” the programs most commonly used to the taskbar, to launch them on the fly. The user can also create “jump lists” of the commonly used files and applications.

2. Snap: Snap is probably the biggest improvement in the way the windows are organized in all the major operating systems. It had made the process of resizing and arranging a window on the screen ridiculously simple. Using this feature of Windows 7, the user can now simply drag the borders of a window to the edge of a screen to place it. Windows will automatically position and expand the window or display them side by side (if more than one) depending on the edge the user selects.

3. HomeGroup: HomeGroup has revolutionized the way files, documents etc are shared among various PCs. It allows the user to easily share their data without creating concerns about privacy. It is password protected. Hence one can set up one password for all the PCs and start sharing.

4. Play To: This new feature of Windows 7 allows the user to easily play the music, photos, and videos from the PC to media devices connected to the home network. It removes the hassles of first transferring the data to the media device. The user can now play what he wants on WHERE he wants.

5. Live Taskbar Previews: In Windows Vista, if we hover over a program on the taskbar we can see a screenshot/preview of that particular program, but we can't interact with the program. We need to first make the program window active to interact with it. With Windows 7, Microsoft has gone a step further. Now if the user hovers over the program area on the taskbar, in addition to view the thumbnail preview, and perform various functions (provided by the application) directly, thus saving time.

6. Shake: Suppose we have a cluttered desktop. A lot of program windows are open and need to be minimized. Consider the hassle and effort required in minimizing all the program windows except the one the user requires. Windows 7 simplifies this task. Now if the user wants to focus on one particular window, he can do so by minimizing all other windows taking advantage of the Shake feature. To do so, the user needs to click, hold down then mouse button and shake the mouse. A subsequent “shake” will restore all the windows that were previously minimized.

7. Peek: Through Windows 7 “Peek”, the user can now have an X-ray vision so that he can see through all the cluttered windows straight to the desktop. The user needs to move the mouse to a special button placed at the bottom-right of the screen to make all the windows transparent, revealing the desktop contents. Through this feature, the user can also check weather, traffic reports, new mails etc through various gadgets in the Windows Sidebar that is displayed on the desktop.

8. Improved User Account Control: With Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced a User Account Control feature that prompts the user if a program tries to write some information to the registry or the system drive. Hailed by Microsoft as the feature that would put up a significant fight to the malwares, it actually received quite negative reviews owing to the reason that it proved to be “frustrating” for the users by constantly “annoying” them. In Windows 7, Microsoft has improved this feature now giving the user the choice to display the number of prompts or set file/disk permissions thus making the user experience pleasant and at the same time, preventing any potentially harmful program to damage the system.

Symbian OS

Symbian is an operating system that is developed and designed by Symbian Ltd. specifically for mobile devices and smartphones. It is the world's most used mobile operating system, accounting for 45% of smartphone sales. A careful estimate shows that currently Symbian runs on 170 million smartphones.

History: The history of Symbian operating system dates back to the days of early mobile computing. In 1980, Psion was founded by David Potter. It was actually the brand name for the designs of game and office productivity software for Sinclair's PCs. These programs led to the introduction of Psion Organizer in 1984 which was the world's first handheld computer. The Psion software base and the industry/market (phone manufacturers Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia) decided to collaborate which led to the historic formation of Symbian in 1998. Hence EPOC (the family of OS developed by Psion for portable devices) was officially renamed as Symbian. By 2006, Symbian Software had achieved so much popularity that it crossed the barrier of 100 million phone sales. In 2008, events took a new turn and the next step of Symbian evolution took place. The entire Symbian Ltd. (including all its assets) was acquired by Nokia and Symbian platform was created as open-source software. In this regard, Symbian Foundation was established.

Features:

1. C++: Generally, the programming language C++ is used in most of the Symbian operating systems and its subsequent applications (it must however be noted that Symbian OS can also use Python, Perl, VB). This is the paramount reason of the popularity of the Symbian OS and its vast number of applications.

2. Three basic design rules: Symbian operating system was built in such a way that it follows the following three basic design rules.

a. The integrity and security of user data is of paramount importance

b. Response time must not be as small as possible

c. All resources are scarce

3. Improved Messaging: With a traditional mobile phone, we can remain in touch with our contacts by simply calling them or sending them a text message. With Symbian OS, however, the choice is endless. In addition to the two basic features described above, we can use Skype, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo, AOL, Google Talk, Facebook. MySpace, Twitter and many more ways to stay in touch.

4. Low energy consumption: In the field portable devices, it is a matter of ordinary common sense that the one with low power consumption would be the winner, since it is of paramount importance. The advantages of Symbian lie mostly in the stability of devices and the low energy consumption. The rivals of Symbian like Windows Mobile are catching up on this feature now.

5. Application Speed: For the most common applications, the application speed is so brisk that it can safely be termed as “near instant”. The camera is very quick to load. Although Nokia puts all of the applications, music, videos, games etc in its Ovi store, hence one easily switch categories quickly. In short, Symbian OS is a fast operating system even on a slow processor.

6. Application Availability: This alone is the feature that can give Symbian OS a clean edge over its other rivals as well as tough competition to the Apple's iPhone. Smartphones powered by Symbian OS come bundled with a large number of applications. Due to the programming language feature described above, there are applications regarding any category the user desires and more are being added everyday especially when Nokia has decided to open-source the Symbian OS.

7. Multi-tasking: Multi-tasking is phenomenal in Symbian powered phones. Usually such phones can manage six or eight apps simultaneously without any problems even on a limited memory like 128MB. Also with the latest such phones, one can easily observe that the resource-heavy apps like games preserve their state if another window is activated.

8. Media Support: Symbian S60 supports a vast number of audio formats, just about anything that a user can imagine and even then, a few more. It supports RealVideo, Windows Media Video, MPEG-4, Flash Video, WAV, MP3, RealAudio. As for photo formats, the OS natively supports BMP, JPG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, WMF etc.

9. Unimaginable Standby Time: Suppose if you have a smartphone, then as every other phone it will need to be recharged. However, now consider that you travel often. This is where this particular feature of Symbian OS comes into play. Stand-by time is the length of time the device could last, logged onto your phone network but with the screen blanked and with no actual usage, before a fully charged battery ran out and the smartphone would no longer turn on. The standby time of Symbian OS phones is astounding. The battery is closer to full (6 out of 7 bars) after ‘5' days of ‘on' time which is very impressive.

10. Open-Source: Now that Nokia has decided to open-source Symbian operating system, truly sky is the limit. Because anyone and everyone is free to make their own applications and contribute to the code, not just a hired team of developers. With all this potential, imagination is the only limit to what is available on the device.

11. Mobile TV: Using Symbian OS smartphones, we can watch and share YouTube videos and some applications will even let us watch TV whenever and wherever we are, in full screen, in audio only modes, via Bluetooth handsets and more. We can also record our favorite programs, connect it to some home-video system and watch it in a bigger screen.

Linux

The popular online encyclopedia defines Linux as:

“Linux is a generic term referring to UNIX-like computer operating systems based on the Linux kernel”

Linux is an operating system having a strong UNIX foundation. Initially it had the image of a mere subset of UNIX features, however today Linux has expanded to include much of the UNIX functionality.

History: Linux project was initiated by a Finnish student Linus Torvalds while he was attending the University of Helsinki. The development was carried on the then-popular MINIX operating system and Torvalds intended to create an emulator to access the large UNIX servers of the university. Later, he realized that his hard work has the potential of being an actual operating system kernel. He made the decision of making it open-source and announced his work on a Usenet newsgroup. He also ported it to the GNU General Public License and invited others to modify, improve the code and give suggestions for its improvement. Hence the spirit of Linux is that of open-source and it is the result of the unflinching efforts of thousands of individual enthusiasts rather than a team of hired developers.

Design: On the whole, Linux resembles any other traditional UNIX implementation. It is a multiuser, multitasking operating system with tools compatible with UNIX environment. Today Linux has grown to work on most of the platforms, however initially it was developed specifically on and for PC architecture. Its development was triggered by individual enthusiasts rather than professional OS engineers, hence in the beginning it squeezed as much functionality as possible from the extremely limited sources. However as the hard disks became a commonplace and memory became powerful, Linux expanded its functionality base.

Features:

1. Centralized Application Installation: This is a great advantage in using Linux distributions. Since the spirit of Linux is open-source, hence it promotes other open-source applications. All the Linux distributions have a centralized application installer when one can find application of a particular category among the thousands and install the one he desires. No need to mention that all of the applications are open-source too.

2. Regular Releases: Ubuntu (the most popular desktop Linux distribution) and others have a predefined regular release cycle. Usually their major versions are released at least once in a year (two in case of Ubuntu) so that the users may be protected against the security loopholes (if any). In contrast to this, Windows (the leading desktop OS) has no regular release cycle and depends heavily upon the Windows Update Manager and Service Packs which the user can effectively ignore/disable.

3. Super Global User (Root): The average (technically speaking, LIMITED) user in Windows can still accomplish much tasks in Windows. So much so that a nasty virus (through some e-mail attachment) can cripple the whole system. However the way Linux distributions are designed, this can't be the case with them. Every ‘malicious' action requires the user to input the SUDO (root) password, thus making the user aware that the program can be potentially harmful. This feature has been introduced in the latest editions of Windows, but as it turns out, it has received quite negative reviews. This is because of the reason that it ‘annoyed' and ‘frustrated' the users by constantly putting up nagging screens.

4. Pricing: The latest edition of Windows have a lot of different versions thus creating confusion for the users as to what edition is suitable for them. They have to keep in check which features would be included in a specific edition and the differences in others. Even the ‘Home Basic' versions cost $149 which is way too much for the average user. Linux provides an excellent and cost-effective alternative. Not only all Linux distributions are free (courtesy open-source philosophy), rather the user is legally entitled to modify, improve the system and redistribute it. The popular Ubuntu distribution is also delivered to your doorstep absolutely FREE OF COST by the Canonical Ltd.

5. Installed applications: The most distinctive feature that the user experiences if he switches from Windows to Linux is the variety of applications that come bundled with it. Windows comes clean except a browser (and that too for obvious reasons) and some very basic utilities. However Linux distributions come packaged with photo editors, instant messengers, variety of games, the complete office suite, audio/visual tools etc. And of course the user can further install any software using the Centralized Application Installer (see point 1).

6. Support: One will always agree that one is not an expert. At some stage in time, he will require the support. This is where Linux enjoys complete superiority over Windows and Mac OS. With Linux, we have a support of a huge community via forums and plenty of dedicated websites. Just post your problem to any forum and within 10 minutes you will be flooded with suggestions. With Windows and Mac OS, the support doesn't come free.

7. Command-Line: Although Linux distributions come with some excellent desktop managers like KDE, GNOME, Xfce etc however the option of command line will always remain an invaluable tool for administration purposes. But it is not necessary. The naïve user can go on using GUI for his entire lifetime. In Linux, GUI is implemented as a process, while in Windows it is the dedicated part of the kernel.

8. Live preview: Another feature of Linux is that it is portable. The user can keep it on a CD or a USB drive and carry it with him wherever he goes. He just needs to boot a computer from the particular device to start using Linux, a feature not available with Windows and Mac OS.

Solaris

Solaris is a UNIX-based operating system developed by Sun Microsystems as a successor to their SunOS.

History: SunOS was a UNIX based operating system for workstation and server computer systems. SunOS is used only to refer to versions 1 to 4 of SunOS. These versions were based on BSD UNIX. In 1987, AT&T and Sun decided to collaborate to merge the most popular UNIX based OS of the time. Subsequently in 1991, Sun announced that the newer editions (Sun OS 5 and onwards) of its operating system would switch their base from BSD UNIX to the SVR4 (System V Release 4) which was the result of the joint venture of Sun and AT&T. At this point, Sun also decided to choose a new brand name for its OS, considering it would be more popular and appealing towards the customers. Hence “Solaris” was born.

OpenSolaris: In 2005, Sun Microsystems made a bold decision and decided to open-source some of the Solaris code. With the passage of time, the company has shown its commitment to this cause by gradually increasing the open-source code base. However, it is to be noted that not all of Solaris is open-sourced because some of the code is still owned by AT&T and other companies. Ian Murdock, founder of Debian, was hired to head “Project Indiana”, which aimed at producing a OpenSolaris distribution. It was released in 2008.

Features:

1. Availability: This is one of the most distinctive features of Solaris. It implies that special features of Solaris enable it to add new capability or to fix problems without having to restart the system. Hence it is extremely “stable”.

2. Scalability: Scalability is the ability of the computer system to continue to function well when it is changed in size or volume in order to meet the user's need. Most simply it implies that “if you move to a larger processor, your applications will not only continue to run, but provide an increased performance”. Solaris is known for its scalability especially on SPARC systems.

3. ZFS: The new ZFS (Zettabyte File System) is a revolutionary file system that is unique since it fundamentally changes the way file systems are administered. Zfs has been designed to be robust, scalable and easier to administer. It supports high storage capacities, snapshots, continuous integrity checking with automatic repair etc.

4. Grid Container: With this exciting new technology, the administrator can set up disk partitions for every user in such a way that each user works with an operating system of his own. In this way several users can share the system without disturbance. However this does not bog down the system and thousands of applications are managed effectively.

5. Secure: Solaris includes some of the world's most advanced security features. It is advertised by Sun as ‘the most secure OS on planet'. It protects the user data by granting only the privileges set by the User and Process Rights Management. Also System administrators can detect possible attacks on their systems by monitoring for changes to file information.

6. Platform: Solaris is fully supported on SPARC and x86/x64 based systems and that too from the giants of the manufacturers like Sun, HP, Dell, Lenovo etc. From the first day it was released, Solaris has maintained a single source code base. It has historically been tightened with Sun's SPARC hardware however with time, it has also supported x86 systems.

7. DTrace: DTrace is more powerful than any diagnostic tool. It is an excellent dynamic tracing framework for troubleshooting the network and tuning system performance in real time. It lets us see our systems in way that reveals systemic problems and fixing issues that previously went unresolved.

8. Predictive Self Healing: Solaris operating system introduces a new architecture for building and deploying systems and services capable of Predictive Self-Healing. This feature has advanced background error detection, correction, and recovery, which protects the system in case of its failure.

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