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Operating systems for laptops

Andrzej Pająk

An operating system is a program without which a laptop cannot work. It's an environment necessary for running all the apps we're going to use on our computer.

First operating systems created for PCs, like for example DOS (Disk Operating System), were incredibly simple, text-based environments. We could type commands into the so-called command line in order to browse disk content, run programs, copy, or delete files.

Modern OSs are these powerful, window-based graphical environments we browse with the help of a mouse/trackpad operated pointer. The possibilities they offer also go far beyond what DOS had. Thanks to tools that have been built-into the system we can view pictures, listen to music, watch a film. Tightly integrated apps show us the weather, our day planner, news from around the world, e-mails. What's more, operating systems even have built-in safety mechanisms and data encryption which, at least to some extent, protect us against viruses and hackers.

But, of course, the OS is primarily an environment for starting different applications. Those most necessary and often simple programs come installed with the system. These system applications (or system software), at least when talking about Windows 10, are, to name just a few: an e-mail client called simply Mail, a picture browsing and editing program called Photos, Movies&TV, Maps, Calendar, News, Weather, Calculator.

Notebook systems: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS

Even though there are many operating systems currently available on the market, in practice only three families of products count enough to be worth mentioning. The most popular one is the Microsoft Windows (87.20% according to the data from June, 2020) The second place belongs to Apple's MacOS (9.42%.) On the third spot we'll find Linux with 2.18%, and the fourth has been reserved by Google's Chrome OS (0.42%.)

Windows

Statistics show that a "Windows computer" is the primary piece of hardware used for office work, multimedia, studying, gaming, and every other task we can think of. The only thing limiting us is our notebook's performance, as it can be insufficient for some tasks, like running 3D games for example.

MacOS

Installed only on Apple computers. What it means is that using this specific OS is basically synonymous with choosing a very specific type of computer, as it cannot be officially bought separately. If we choose the MacOS, we choose the Macbook. The word on the street is that either MacOS is better than Windows, or the other way around (makes sense.) But the fact is that all the things you can do on Windows can also be done on MacOS. All the most important software is available on both platforms. Unless we're talking about games, as not every new release gets a MacOS version. On the whole, one could say that Apple's system is more user-friendly. It's easily configurable (like when using audio interfaces), and going though some often repeated actions is less cumbersome. But its most important trump card is its far lesser susceptibility to hacker attacks and viruses. One more thing worth mentioning is the very clear schedule for upcoming, free system updates, that become available every September.

Linux

The collective name for different Unix systems based on a Linux kernel, the same smartphones running on Android use. It's distribution is totally free, but even the most advanced systems, like Ubuntu, or openSUSE are only good for web browsing, or office work. If we're thinking about a Linux-based computer, we need to keep in mind we won't be able to install any of the more standard software, like for example Microsoft Office.

Chrome OS

Another system tightly integrated with just one type of hardware. This time with Chromebooks from Google. It also was based on a Linux kernel, and the Chrome web browser serves as its UI (user interface). Laptops with Chrome OS can be used for browsing the internet, watching films online, or even working with office online programs. Practically anything that can be done in Chrome, can also be done on a Chromebook. Some models let us install Android apps, too.

New notebooks and their systems

When buying a Windows-based laptop, we may encounter one of two options:

  1. the laptop has no pre-installed operating system,
  2. the laptop comes with the latest version of Windows.

In the first situation it should translate into a lower price and the option to choose which system we want to get: Windows 10 or Linux. In the second we're buying a Windows system that's permanently assigned to our particular notebook.

Different versions of Windows 10

The newest iteration of Microsoft's operating system - the Windows 10 - comes in a few versions. They differ in not only the price, but most importantly what functions they have to offer.

Home and Pro

The Home version, as the name suggests, is the best option for home use and comes ready with everything we'll normally need. The Pro version on the other hand is meant to be used in business, where computers form a network. On top of all the options offered by the Home version, it has additional, built-in administrative and security tools, like the BitLocker encryption feature, which protects company data from theft in case the laptop gets stolen; Windows Information Protection (WIP), which helps to avoid data leaks while not hindering our day-to-day work; group rules, the option to stop updates, etc.

OEM and BOX

An OEM version of the system is typically found installed on new laptops, but we can also buy it as a standalone product. Compared to the BOX version, it's a bit cheaper, and doesn't offer over-the-phone tech support from Microsoft.

But wait, there's more. The OEM that's been pre-installed on our laptop can be used only on that particular computer. But there're no problems with reinstalling the system, or selling the notebook together with it.

It's a bit different if we buy an OEM or Box version of the system separately. Such systems can be installed, for example on a PC, then deleted, and installed on, let's say, a newly bought laptop, and the PC can be sold without any system on board.

Windows 10 S - Windows 10 running in S mode

On some laptops (mostly those really cheap ones) we can find a system called Windows 10 S. The "S" stands for Simplicity, Security, and Speed, and that's exactly what the system has been designed to offer. In reality, "S" is just a special mode for Windows 10 that offers the same environment as usual, but adds some restrictions in order to beef up security and performance. Only Microsoft Store apps can be installed, and web browsing is available only through Microsoft Edge.

If a user wanted to install a different app, one that is not available in Microsoft Store, he'd have to turn the S mode off and upgrade the system to a full Windows 10. Such an upgrade is absolutely free, but it can be done only once. If we decide to exit S mode, we can never go back.