Why the Operating System is becoming irrelevant

The operating system used is becoming more irrelevant. Why?
Written by Chris Clay Clay, Contributor

The operating system used is becoming more irrelevant. Why? Software is slowly becoming more and more homogeneous in nature, and more cross compatible to some extent. People are also using many different devices running many different operating systems already, from phones to tablets to desktops to laptops. The age old argument that "that other operating system is too difficult" is no longer holding up as much as it used to. As we know, Microsoft still has a very high market share (anywhere from the high 80 percent to low 90 percent) in the desktop market. GNU/Linux has a high share in the server market. And on other smaller devices, it's a large mix of Apple iOS, GNU/Linux/Android, and Windows (Windows being mainly on phones as there isn't much of a tablet presence yet). On desktops there has been a natural shift to Wintel over the past couple of decades that has allowed Microsoft to lead the user experience with the PC as well as document formats most commonly used today, etc. But, as open source software becomes more and more prevalent, it has accustomed itself to be cross compatible with the proprietary software that already exists, and as such is a viable replacement for the proprietary software. Now that we are becoming more used to using a multitude of different devices and operating systems, moving the desktop from one operating system to another is becoming less of an issue. Users are already becoming familiar with different operating systems and are able to find their way through them easier than ever before.

The most common battle of Linux vs. Windows, is a case in point. You have your web browser for both (Firefox, Chrome, and non-Microsoft browsers are released for both operating systems and are cross compatible), you have an office suite for both (OpenOffice/LibreOffice vs. Microsoft Office), you have CD/DVD burning software for both (K3B/Brasero/others vs. Windows basic burning support), and the list goes on and on for normal and everyday tasks that people do on their computers.

The problem comes in when software that is currently used on Windows and is written only for Windows and no other operating system. This is when a replacement product that runs natively on GNU/Linux should be found, if there is the desire to dump Windows. If one cannot be found, Wine can be used in come cases to continue running the Windows software on the GNU/Linux system. If Wine does not work, a Windows virtual machine can be run on the GNU/Linux system. Some may argue that if you have to run a Windows virtual machine, you might as well just run Windows. And that may be the logical solution in some isolated cases. But, running Windows in a virtual machine has its advantages. It can be set to run in a restricted environment, such as disabling it Internet access to help alleviate the possibility of it receiving malware and viruses. It may not need to be updated as frequently as if it was used for primary use. Snapshots can be taken and restored if Windows becomes corrupted (as sometimes the Windows System Restore does not work). I have found that GNU/Linux can easily replace Windows for every day computing tasks. The issues I have come up with, are :

- OpenOffice's inability to convert Microsoft Office documents and retain 100% correct formatting. I believe this is partially due to differences in fonts and probably other things in older Office document formats (.doc, .xls, etc.). I have found that Office XML-based formats (.docx, xlsx, etc.) convert well and sometimes better than Microsoft's own Office Compatibility Pack.

- Websites that were specifically written for Internet Explorer, do not render correctly in the GNU/Linux version of Firefox or other browsers. And some sites report that "you are using an incompatible browser", because I'm running the GNU/Linux version of Firefox instead of the Windows version. Unfortunately, the sites that have these problems are subject to Microsoft vendor lock-in. It still surprises me when I come across sites like this, as they are either too lazy to properly code the site, or not aware that their site is not compatible with multiple browsers, and they are essentially pushing away visitors from the site. For a business, I doubt this is desirable.

Open source software has played a large role in making computers more homogeneous. Many open source software products are written to run on multiple operating systems. The code is ported to each, and therefore provides a single product that runs almost identially no matter what operating system it sits on. Take for example Firefox, it runs on Windows, GNU/Linux, and Mac OS X. It has the same interface 99% of the time among all three operating systems. Data can be exchanged between the different operating systems.

I do a LOT with my computer on a day to day basis, and I've been able to find a replacement product for each task I do for personal use, that runs natively on GNU/Linux. I do everything from basic web browsing, to office tasks (editing/writing documents), video capturing/processing, CD/DVD authoring/burning and cataloging, website development, computer/files backup, and the list keeps going. The software is usually out there, it's up to you to find it. Do the research, and you will be surprised of what you come up with.

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