Welcome to the first part of our comprehensive privacy and security guide on desktop operating systems (OSs). It is the most basic software that runs on your computer. This is the piece of software that turns your machine and all its processors and circuit into a usable device.
In this section of the guide, we will go into greater detail with all the operating systems out there. You will learn everything there is to know about the advantages and disadvantages of them on the following pages.
Everything you do on the machine is related to the OS, since all programs interact with it. Therefore, security starts right here, at the lowest level. The foundation has to be stable and secure, so that software we are going to introduce in this guide can build on top of it. Your OS is the instance that communicates directly with the hardware and manages resources by scheduling tasks for efficient use. It also makes sure that input and output (I/O) **are interpreted correctly and behaves as an **intermediary between programs and the computer hardware.
We will now introduce you to the most common OSs that are available today.
The most popular operating systems on desktop PCs are Windows and macOS. Windows is installed on 86% of desktop PCs, macOS on 11%. These are both proprietary OSs, Windows is made by Microsoft and macOS is developed by Apple. These systems have a long history.
The original “Classic” Mac OS was introduced in 1984. After a long era of text-based OSs like MS-DOS, **Apple popularized the graphical user-interface (GUI) **that offered front ends for file management or text editing. The first version of the Macintosh System Software was called System 1.
It belongs to the family of UNIX operating systems, which are are characterized by their modular design.
In 2001, Apple developed their OS further and completely changed the system’s structure to create Mac OS X and finally the BSD-based macOS, we have today, beginning with version 10 of the OS.
Currently, 47% of macOS users have macOS Mojave installed, 22% High Sierra, 11% Sierra and 9% El Capitan, a fraction uses OS X 10 or OS X Maveriks.
Windows is a proprietary operating system from Microsoft. It has been around since 1985 with Windows 1.0 and originates from a program called “Interface Manager”, which was a very early GUI. Windows 1.0 was created to compete with Apple’s OSs. It was continuously updated to Windows 2, 3, 95 and 98, but then came a redesign and the Windows NT family of OSs that we know as Windows today was born. Windows NT started with Windows 2000 and XP. Currently, **58% of Windows users have Windows 10 installed, 32% Windows 7 **and a fraction uses Windows 8, 8.1 and XP.
The open-source OS Linux is less popular than Windows and macOS. It is actually not a single OS, but a diverse family of individual systems. Linux is UNIX-like, which means that is modular and similar to UNIX, but not conforming to its Single UNIX Specification.
Unlike most OSs used today, it has a monolithic kernel, which means that large parts of the OS are located directly in the kernel, instead of on top of it. In a monolithic kernel, system calls, the file system, the scheduler, virtual memory, drivers and the dispatcher run inside the “kernel mode”. Windows and macOS use a microkernel and many of these parts run outside the kernel in a layer called “user mode”.
Linux started as a student project in the dorm room of a young Finnish computer science student called Linus Torvalds. He got into low-level, close-to-the-hardware programming and created a first prototype of an operating system in 1994, in an attempt to understand his computer better. Torvalds soon came into contact with the open-source GNU Project and Richard Stallman, he used their free GPLv2 license for his kernel. He moved to the Open Source Development Labs, which would later become the Linux Foundation. Today, the Linux Foundation is responsible for standardizing Linux and promoting the OS, as well as sponsoring Linus Torvalds and Greg Kroah-Hartman’s work. The latter is still the lead maintainer of the Linux kernel, his responsibilities included the stable branch, the staging subsystem, USB, driver core, debugfs, kref, kobject and the sysfs kernel subsystems, Userspace I/O and TTY layer.
Linus Torvalds is still very involved in the kernel development, unlike others like OS inventors like Bill Gates, who have little to nothing to do with programming at all, at this point. He is still in contact with his development team and actually takes responsibility for the optimization of the software, even if that means disagreeing with some Linux coders. He once said:
“I’d like to be a nice person and curse less and encourage people to grow rather than telling them they are idiots. I’m sorry – I tried, it’s just not in me.” —Linus Torvalds
This man just tells the truth, like when he insulted Nvidia and gave them the finger for making Linux driver development for their GPUs so hard. You can watch that on YouTube.
If you want to see what the Linux kernel we love so much actually looks like, you can view it here on Linus Torvalds’ GitHub account.
From the creation of the Linux Foundation on, Linux continued to grow into the massive software universe it is today, including Linus Torvalds’ version control system Git, many applications in device firmware, robotics, mobile OSs and the desktop Linux versions, called distributions, we want to talk about next.
There are also operating systems for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers or IoT applications, but we will get to them in another chapter.
To learn more, read the second part, “Desktop Operating Systems 2 - Popularity of Linux OSs“.