The different types of operating system options can seem baffling to someone unfamiliar with what's out there and what operating systems do. Selecting an operating system doesn't have to be a shot in the dark, though; different operating systems are better suited to different applications, so, if you know how you want to use it, you can choose the perfect OS.
GUI Operating Systems
A GUI is a graphical user interface. Not every operating system comes with one. Windows operating systems and Mac operating systems are both GUI-based operating systems, but Linux- or Unix-based systems may require a separate GUI. Some versions of Linux come packaged with a GUI, but some are barebones operating systems designed for computer programmers. If you're not a programmer, you'll want to stick with a GUI-based OS.
Single-user, single-tasking, multitasking-what does it all mean?
When you research different types of operating systems, you'll come across a whole host of buzz-words to classify them, such as single-user, multi-user, single-tasking and multi-tasking. What does it all mean? Here's a short glossary of some of the most common classifiers when it comes to operating systems:
Single-User: A single-user operating system is one in which a single user can use the operating system at a time. Mac and Windows operating systems are both examples of single-user systems. While multiple users may be able to sign on and use system resources, only one user can be logged on at a time.
Multi-User: A multi-user operating system is one that multiple people can access simultaneously. Unix is a multi-user operating system, as is VMS. Mainframe operating systems are designed for multiple users to access simultaneously.
Single-Tasking: Single-tasking operating systems can handle only one task at a time. The older Palm OS is one example of a single-tasking operating system. Most computer operating systems are multi-tasking, but you'll still find single-tasking operating systems in specialized electronics or machinery.
Multi-Tasking: Multi-tasking operating systems are just how they sound; you can perform multiple tasks simultaneously with a multi-tasking system. You could have a Word document open while listening to music and checking your e-mail, all at once, with a multi-tasking system. Most computer systems are multi-tasking.
Real-Time: Real-time operating systems are driven by scheduling and strict resource management. Real-time operating systems are designed to manage industrial machinery or scientific processes that require high-precision accuracy. A real-time OS typically doesn't have a user interface at all and is designed to manage specific tasks.
Business Operating System Options
Home users and business users typically have different operating system requirements. Small businesses may still run Windows or Mac operating systems, but intermediate or large corporations may require special operating systems designed to cater to business needs. Unix operating systems, or Linux-based systems with customized GUIs, are popular in business applications. Many businesses still use Windows operating systems connected to network servers, but that may not meet all business user needs.