The recent announcement of the next operating system for Apple's Macs draws attention to the state of computer operating systems today. Apple's OS X 10.10 ("Yosemite") is scheduled to be available as a free upgrade in fall 2014.
Yosemite is just the latest foray by operating system developers to gain market share by providing users with better features, more security safeguards, and greater ease of use. Many of Yosemite's new features are focused on making it easier to share information among Macs and Apple's portable devices.
The legendary devotion of Mac users, the innovation of Apple's portable devices, and Apple's aggressive product placement in movies and TV shows sometimes obscures the nature of the computer world.
You might think it's an Apple world out there. But the reality is that for every one Mac desktop or laptop computer in use today, there are 12 Windows computers, and this kind of relationship has existed for many years. In the workplace in particular, as well as in the market as a whole, it's a Windows world.
According to the latest numbers from the web analytics firm Net Applications (www.netapplications.com), the usage market share of Windows PCs is 91.1%. This breaks down into 50.1% for Windows 7, 25.3% for Windows XP, 6.4% for Windows 8.1, 6.3% for Windows 8.0, 2.9% for Windows Vista, 0.08% for Windows NT, and 0.03% for Windows 2000.
In comparison, the market share for Mac OS X is just 7.4%. This breaks down into 4.2% for OS X 10.9, 1.1% for OS X 10.6, 1.0% for OS X 10.8, 0.9% for OS X 10.7, 0.2% for OS X 10.5, and 0.05% for OX 10.4.
Behind the Mac is Linux with a market share of 1.6%.
The reason for the disparity in market share between Windows PCs and Macs can be distilled into one word: cost. When buying a Mac, it can cost two to three times more than for the equivalent Windows PC. For many users, particularly home users and those in the educational market, this cost difference can be justified. For the vast majority of businesses, it can't.
Windows PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, and Acer make their money by selling a large volume of units at relatively low markup per unit. Apple makes its money by selling a relatively smaller volume of units at a higher markup per unit.
One interesting, but expected, trend with Windows PCs is the move away from the long-popular Windows XP operating system, released back in October 2001. On April 8, 2014, Microsoft discontinued support for it, meaning the company is no longer providing security updates to users. Windows XP's usage fell 2.4% from March to May 2014.
Another interesting Windows trend is the continued popularity of Windows 7. From March to May 2014, its usage actually jumped 1.3%, despite the availability of Windows 8 since October 2012. Businesses in large numbers are still choosing the older operating system, Windows 7, rather than Windows 8 with its tablet-like default interface.
If you have an older PC running the now discontinued Windows XP, and you don't want to connect to the Internet without security updates, one option is to switch to the Linux operating system. This move is typically recommended only for more advanced users.
Linux is "open source" software, meaning anyone with the programming skills can contribute to its development, and it's available for free or low cost. The most popular Linux distributions, according to DistroWatch (www.distrowatch.com), are Mint (www.linuxmint.com), Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com), and Debian (www.debian.org).
Apple remains the darling of many users because of the polished design and ease of use of its products. It has always courted the business world, but now, with its portable devices, it's going after business users more aggressively. Along with upgrading OS X, its operating system for computers, Apple is also upgrading iOS, its operating system for iPads and iPhones.
Among the new features are those designed to make it easier for IT departments to manage Apple's portable devices, preventing them, for instance, from having to set up each device individually. The upgrade will also improve security and make it easier for users to store data from an iPad or iPhone on a company's own servers in addition to Apple's iCloud.
In the future, one interesting question is whether Microsoft will return Windows to a PC operating system rather than keeping the current tablet interface.