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Operating system advocacy

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Operating system (or OS) advocacy is one of the primary pastimes of people who have a deep and abiding interest in the design, construction and usage of computer operating systems. For these people, the investment necessary -- both in money and time -- to own and operate a computer creates an emotional investment in the operating system of choice. Such advocacy turns to arguments, as people compare and contrast the virtues and faults of different operating systems.

These visceral debates include, most notably, Windows vs. Mac OS, Windows vs. Linux, Linux vs. BSD, and Linux and BSD vs. proprietary UNIX systems.

Some wars of the past included VMS vs. UNIX systems.

There are related wars over programming languages and text editors (emacs vs vi).

Here are some of the arguments which people who enjoy this sort of thing use.

Table of contents

Desktop Systems

Microsoft Windows

Estimated market share: 90%; Microsoft Windows enjoys a monopoly in the desktop OS market

Audience: all markets. Most dominant in business, though it has the lion's share of the market in all sectors.

Pro

  • large market share
  • incredible range of compatible software and hardware
  • support

Con

  • complex code (registry, "features")
  • Microsoft's business practices (anticompetitive, privacy-invading)
  • feature limitations
  • high cost
  • frequently targeted by malicious crackers, worms and viruses

Apple Mac OS X

Estimated market share: 5-10%

Audience: education (30-50%), arts (graphic design, video/film editing, sound editing), science.

Pro

  • productive and intuitive
  • easy to use and learn
  • simplicity
  • reliability
  • flexibility in dealing with various workloads
  • emotional appeal
  • lower support cost
  • increasing compatibility with Windows and Linux
  • frequently has the newest technologies (802.11, FireWire, USB) first
  • responsive, supportive user community
  • total cost of ownership is low
  • aesthetic design (both hardware and software)
  • very understandable, integrated system
  • rarely targeted by malicious hackers, worms and viruses

Con

  • relatively small market-share
  • sometimes not taken seriously in a Windows crowd
  • hardware architecture (only runs on Apple's proprietary hardware)
  • slower computers in recent times
  • not as many programs or hardware devices
  • higher initial costs

Linux

Estimated market share: 2-5%

Audience: information technology, computer science, software engineers, educators, cost-saving measure used by companies.

Pro

  • low cost (free on most distributions)
  • high flexibility and freedom
  • low cost to change to
  • good design
  • much support
  • large community
  • With desktop managers such as KDE and GNOME, Linux offers a graphical user interface more like the MacOS/Windows interface, in addition to the traditional Unix command line.
  • Many Free or otherwise gratis software packages offer the functionality of programs available on the other desktop operating systems.
  • almost never targeted by worms and viruses;

Con

  • missing features/usability
  • lack of formal support in free versions
  • supposedly has hidden costs
  • supposed difficulty of migration
  • small market-share
  • lack of closed-source applications
  • initial setup process varies greatly among distributions
  • incomplete hardware support (USB, Firewire, "Winmodems", some video cards etc.) Linux drivers are often neglected by hardware manufacturers, adoption of newest technologies is relatively slower than proprietary systems.
  • lack of significant multilingual features. In languages other than English, Linux market size is significantly smaller.

Note: some people think Linux and Unix are targeted by hackers from information on the internet, but when a Linux or Unix user refers to hacking, they are talking about editing a program. Malicious hackers are usually referred to as crackers to distinguish them from real hackers.

Server Systems

Microsoft Windows

Pro

  • ease of configuration
  • corporate management personnel tend to be more comfortable with it ("nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft")

Con

  • expensive software licenses
  • difficult to move configuration from one machine to another
  • frequently exploited by malicious hackers, worms and viruses
  • nearly all configuration is done through a GUI often making it difficult to do repetitive changes to multiple machines.

Linux

Pro

  • actual cost in currency can be low
  • freedom (open source)
  • stability
  • diverse hardware support
  • Due to being open source and other factors, Linux is the most rapidly-progressing operating system in existence
  • It supports more hardware platforms than any other operating system (except perhaps NetBSD)
  • For a moderately skilled administator, ease of installation, management, and support are other advantages
  • Its support of almost every file system in use makes it especially good for mixed-platform environments
  • Finally, the negligible cost of acquisition combined with undemanding hardware requirements result in a very low total cost of ownership (TCO)
  • Most configuration is done by editing text files greatly contributing the ease of automated maintenance or large scale repetitive changes

Con

  • Most configuration is done by editing text files (often using a console-based editor if the X Window System / the default windows manager will not load) or using command-line utilities; Windows and Macintosh GUI users may find this cumbersome; system administration usually must be performed by someone who is familiar with these files and utilities (compared to Windows or Mac OSX where many server admin tasks may be "point-and-click"). (GUI admin utilities exist but are neither standardized nor commonly used.)
  • While all command-line tools have some documentation in the form of online manual pages, these help documents are usually just technical references; the purchase of a well-written book on Linux system administration is almost always necessary

Solaris Operating Environment by Sun Microsystems

Pro

  • Rock solid for enormous (enterprise in the jargon) workloads
  • Long history of success

Con

  • high cost
  • Expensive for small workloads because Solaris OE does not run nearly as well on PC hardware as it does on Sun hardware, which is expensive
  • Support from Sun is expensive

FreeBSD

Pro

  • no cost
  • high degree of freedom
  • much support
  • design coherence
  • long, proven history of reliability
  • BSDs have a unified kernel and userland: the kernel and userland are specifically tested (and versioned) for each other. This, along with the coherent, no-surprise directory structure, gives an excellent sense of a well-designed system
  • The ports tree makes for a very easy way to download new software: locating, configuring, compiling, recursive dependency handling are all taken care of
  • Re-building system software is also exceedingly easy with the automated world-building tools
  • Linux compatibility lets you run Linux binaries manufacturers didn't see fit to release as source or with a FreeBSD binary
  • Excellent speed and stability
  • Most configuration is done by editing text files, greatly contributing the ease of automated maintenance or large scale repetitive changes
  • Great effort goes into documentation; the man pages are generally complete and helpful, and the FreeBSD Handbook is a good resource that is available for free

Con

  • Most configuration is done by editing text files (often using a console-based editor) or using command-line utilities; Windows and Macintosh GUI users may find this cumbersome; system administration usually must be performed by someone who is familiar with these files and utilities (compared to Windows or Mac OSX where many server admin tasks may be "point-and-click"). (GUI admin utilities exist but are neither standardized nor commonly used.)
  • While all command-line tools have some documentation in the form of online manual pages, these help documents are usually just technical references

NetBSD

Pro

  • Portability: NetBSD's slogan is "Of course it runs NetBSD!" While FreeBSD focuses exclusively on the i386 architecture and its successors, OpenBSD has gradually reduced the number of supported platforms
  • It has a long, proven history of reliability

Con

  • NetBSD is widely ported, but finding a recent distribution for obscure architectures can be difficult
  • Most configuration is done by editing text files (often using a console-based editor) or using command-line utilities; Windows and Macintosh GUI users may find this cumbersome; system administration usually must be performed by someone who is familiar with these files and utilities (compared to Windows or Mac OSX where many server admin tasks may be "point-and-click"). (GUI admin utilities exist but are neither standardized nor commonly used.)
  • While all command-line tools have some documentation in the form of online manual pages, these help documents are usually just technical references; the purchase of a well-written book on BSD system administration is a necessity

OpenBSD

Pro

  • OpenBSD is the most secure free Unix, using integrated cryptography and proactive security measures, including extensive security auditing
  • It is free, and supports a variety of hardware platforms.
  • It has a long, proven history of reliability

Con

  • Some users who run into problems dislike the personality of the system's maintainer, Theo de Raadt[?]
  • Some critics say that most of OpenBSD's security is just due to the fact that the operating system is installed with almost every daemon turned off by default; the minute you turn on various services, you are no less vulnerable than you were with other BSDs

Mac OS/OS X Server

Pro

  • Mac OS X Server is based, in part, on BSD, but with a "friendlier" GUI (nearly identical to Mac OS)
  • The webserver is Apache
  • the user management is based on (Next) NetInfo
  • Many Unix tools and applications (such as mySQL) have been ported to run under OS X

Con

  • Command-line users may dislike the GUI management tools; though the command-line tools are available, it may be difficult to determine what actions GUI tools are taking
  • Macintosh and Windows NT/2K/XP users may dislike having to occasionally edit configuration files by hand
  • Mac OS X Server is new; it does not have a proven history of reliability like BSD and Linux


  • Note that market share can refer to either new sales or to installed base, which give very different numbers. This kind of information should be spelled out by people with a comprehensive picture.
    • Because Macintosh computers have a longer usage lifetime than Windows computers, their installed base is greater than their share of new sales.
    • Also, market share numbers for market segments. For example, the market share for Linux in the server market is much higher than for the desktop market.
    • One definition of the term "market share" refers to the dollar value of new sales. Because Linux is free software, many copies are freely redistributed outside the economic market.
  • cost can mean either Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) or the actual amount of currency required to obtain the operating system, which is a more precise and less disputed definition.



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