Some Common Desktop Operating Systems


Introduction.  This webpage surveys some features of some common desktop operating systems.  Even though some of these are quite dated, the survey covers the following.
  • MS-DOS and Windows 3.x
  • Windows 9x
  • Windows NT workstation
  • Windows 2000 professional
  • Linux/UNIX
  • Macintosh
  • OS/2

MS-DOS and Windows 3.x.  Surprisingly, these are actually still around.  They both predate Windows 95.  Littlejohn Shinder lists several reasons for using MS-DOS.

  • simple low overhead OS
  • inexpensive
  • stable and reliable
  • easy to learn and use
  • many programs available
  • already have it and don't want to spend more

But MS-DOS also has some disadvantages.

  • can't run sophisticated graphical interfaces
  • can't run sophisticated multimedia
  • can't multitask
  • relatively weak security
  • short filenames
  • command line interface

Using Windows 3.x on top of MS-DOS can ease some of these.  For example, some advantages for Windows 3.x running on top of DOS are in the following list.

  • graphical user interface
  • cooperative multitasking

Some limitations associated with Windows 3.x in network environments.

  • requires additional software in order to network
  • can't really join a domain

Windows 9x.  Windows 95 was propounded to be designed for easy networkability.  This badly needed to be enhanced in Windows 98.  While Windows 98 was considered by most to be a substantive improvement, probably the only people who would really agree to claims of easy networkability are making money off of Microsoft sales.

The collection of products referred to collectively as Windows 9x are in the following list.

  • Windows 95a
    • original 32 bit OS
  • Windows 95b
    • contained enhancements such as FAT 32
    • available only to equipment manufacturers to install on their products
  • Windows 98
    • upgrade to Windows 95
    • added Active Desktop
    • ACPI - Advanced Configuration and Power Interface
    • USB - Universal Serial Bus
    • TV tuner cards
    • enhanced setup and maintenance
  • Windows 98 SE
    • second edition
    • provided Internet Explorer 5.0
    • stronger encryption
    • ICS -Internet Connection Sharing
  • Windows ME
    • Millennium Edition
    • enhanced multimedia support
    • better disaster recovery
      • a necessity for Microsoft
    • simplification of peer to peer network configuration
    • faster startup and shutdown

This family of products include a client for Microsoft networks and a client for NetWare, NetBEUI, TCP/IP and NWLink.  Support for dialup connections was also built in.

Windows 98 really did become a major choice for businesses in order to connect to a variety of types of servers.  It was backward compatible and could run older 16 bit programs.  The later editions made use of VFAT in order to get things like longer filenames.  These products had several advantages over other Microsoft offerings such as the following.

  • less expensive than Windows NT or 2000
  • runs DOS, 16 bit and 32 bit applications
  • familiar interface
  • client software availability for Windows 98 was extensive in order to reach almost all NOS
    • Windows
    • NetWare
    • UNIX
    • Linux

The book contains a series of interactions representing connecting to these different Microsoft and NetWare networks.

Windows NT Workstation.  This is an NT product that can be run on a desktop.  It has a user interface that is similar to Windows 95.

Some of the advantages of using NT Workstation are in the following list.

  • true 32 bit operating system
  • supports preemptive multitasking
  • improved system stability over Windows 9x products
  • file level security
  • data compression on at a file level
  • backward compatible with many 16 bit programs
  • runs DOS in a VM - Virtual Machine
    • if it crashes doesn't affect overall system stability
  • far better network operations relative to Windows 9x products

Littlejohn Shinder also has some steps associated with connecting such a workstation to a Microsoft network, a NetWare network and a remote server.

Windows 2000 Professional.  Windows 2000 Professional is based on the NT kernel just like Windows 2000 Server.  It has a variety of advantages over all of its Microsoft's preceding related products.  The following list outlines many of them.

  • supports Plug and Play technology
  • file level encryption
  • provides a high level of security and stability
  • supports Kerberos security and can use features of the Windows 2000 domain as an Active Directory client
  • better support for mobile users through APM - Advanced Power Management and ACPI - Advanced Configuration and Power Interface
  • more secure VPN - Virtual Private Networking with IPSec - IP Security and L2TP - Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol
    • earlier versions supported only PPTP - Point to Point Tunneling Protocol
  • offline folders feature allows users to synchronize their documents from the network to their local system for use when the computer isn't connected to the network
  • IPP - Internet Printing Protocol enables you to print to a URL and manage printers through a web browser interface
  • there is a built in disk defragmenter and other utilities to help maintain and manage the OS

Littlejohn Shinder also has some steps associated with connecting such a desktop to a Microsoft network, a NetWare network and a remote server.

Linux/UNIX.  UNIX is usually run on network servers rather than on desktops.  But it is still possible for UNIX servers to access files on Microsoft and NetWare networks given they have the appropriate add on programs.

Linux is becoming more prevalent in the business world as a NOS, though it is still seldom seen as a desktop OS.  GUI interfaces for Linux do exist in order to make it more user friendly, though they still require somewhat more sophistication of the user than other desktop systems.  But, as you'd likely expect, there are some companies striving to increase their desktop market share.

Even with these inroads it is important to think about what sort of application support is available.  Windows has a lot more vendors developing productivity applications.  But, there are also firms trying to market Windows emulation programs for Linux.  Corel makes a Linux version of their office suite.

TCP/IP is integrated into the Linux kernel.  Recent Linux releases also have networking components for LAN connections or establishing dialup connections to a network.

Some advantages of Linux for a desktop and network client are in the following list.

  • it is a true 32 bit operating system
  • supports preemptive multitasking
  • virtual memory
  • code is open source
  • it can share files with UNIX, NetWare, Windows and Macintosh systems

Littlejohn Shinder also has some steps associated with connecting such a desktop to a Microsoft network, a NetWare network and a remote access server.

Macintosh.  Macintosh computers were designed with easy peer to peer networking in mind.  Network interfaces are often built into the Macintosh operating system.  Ethernet and Token Ring adapters are also available.  They can readily access AppleShare file servers.

AppleTalk can be readily implemented to connect Macs into workgroups.  AppleTalk makes use of a concept called zones.  Zones are essentially workgroups.  A user within a zone can access all of the appropriate resources within their zone.  Other zones may also be accessible in the chooser list if so configured.

Littlejohn Shinder also has some steps associated with connecting such a desktop to a Microsoft network, a NetWare network, a UNIX network and a remote access server.

OS/2.  Even though IBM stopped supporting the product in the mid 90s, it is still in use in some settings.  It can be connected to NetWare with the appropriate software.  Add on kits have been developed for connecting to TCP/IP based networks.  A sys admin can also implement add ons for NFS, NetBIOS and IPX/SPX.

OS/2 Warp v4 includes support for dialup networking and Internet connectivity.