Windows owns the lions share of the PC OS market but there are alternatives. PC Authoritys experts give you the low-down.
Microsoft claims that of the 300 million PCs on the planet, 200 million are running a Microsoft operating system of some description. Its true, Microsoft OSes are everywhere, from the fastest multiple-CPU enterprise servers to the consumer-orientated PDAs - even Segas Dreamcast games console uses Windows CE as its core OS. Microsoft has devoted a lot of time and effort into making its OS scaleable into all these areas, and for the vast majority of businesses standardising on a single OS is the ultimate no-brainer. Leaving aside any technical shortcomings, the range of software, all-in-one business solutions and system support for Windows is unrivalled,
making a sound case for Windows as the de facto OS in the business environment.
However, thats not to say that Windows is perfect. In many ways Windows is a victim of its own success. The operating systems history in the business arena inevitably means that whenever theres an upgrade release, Microsoft has to take great care to ensure backwards-compatibility with prior releases. Its essential, for instance, that businesses are able to run legacy 16-bit code. The downside is that as more advanced features are introduced, while old ones remain in place, layers of OS gunk and millions of lines of code accumulate making even the fastest PC sluggish when running Windows 2000, for example.
From a developers perspective, the inherent complexity of the Win32 API (application programming interface) can be difficult to understand, ugly and demands reams of code to produce the most basic results. For the end user, the piecemeal nature of Windows 98s development from its DOS, Windows 3.1x and 95 origins means that in many respects its no better than the operating systems it has succeeded. Windows 98 is more stable than its predecessors, but an errant application still brings the system to its knees. There have also been rumours that the human interface designers would love to get rid of the Start button but that the marketing team wouldnt dream of ditching such an important marketing hook. Even Windows CE suffers from the Microsoft legacy: the all-important Start button and the pixel-hungry GUI (graphical user interface).
The situation is much improved in the business environment NT 4 Workstation and Server are
both fast, stable environments, and Windows 2000
will bring with it added support for hardware such as USB and FireWire, plus DirectX beyond version 3 that media professionals working with NT Workstation currently lack. Its these shortcomings that make way for a variety of alternative operating systems. True, no single OS vendor can offer the top-to-bottom solutions and breadth of choice that Microsoft can, but in any given sector of the market there are powerful alternatives that deserve consideration.
This Feature appeared in the May, 2000 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine