The Differences Between Mac, Windows, and Linux


Sinoun Chea

Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux

Three operating systems – Windows, Macintosh, and Linux – dominate the world of computing today. But what sets them apart?


The first Windows system was released in 1985. Originally, it was just a graphical user interface on top of MS-DOS – a state of affairs that lasted until the release of Windows 95, when MS-DOS products were integrated into Windows. Windows 95 was a huge departure from the previous systems and was the first major step in Window’s transition from GUI to operating system.

The Apple Macintosh system is a little older than Windows, having first been released in 1984. From the start, it was an entirely graphical operating system, and from quite an early stage became popular among the earliest computer graphic designers. In 2005, Apple changed the design and structure of Mac OS, moving from the IBM-made PowerPC CPU architecture to the same Intel x86-based architecture as used in PCs. This heralded the transition from “Classic” Mac OS to the current OS X series. The design change meant Mac became a Unix-based operating system, like the next OS I will cover.

Linux has the unlikely origin of being the hobby project of Finnish university student Linus Torvalds. He was unsatisfied with an existing Unix-like academic operating system – with limited licensing – named Minix, and decided he could do better (and make it free, open-source software). The resulting system was eventually named after Torvalds. The Linux kernel was first released independently in 1991, designed to be used with GNU software. GNU developers eventually integrated their software into Linux to create an OS. Linux is available in many forms to suit many needs, from consumer-oriented systems for home use to distributions for use in specific industries.

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The Windows series of operating systems have the obvious benefit of market ubiquity. For most people, Windows will be extremely familiar and therefore easy to use; Windows is the “standard” operating system bundled with new PCs. This means that the vast majority of software, hardware, support and training available is designed with Windows compatibility primarily in mind. The overwhelming market dominance of the Windows operating system has shaped the way consumers relate to and think about OS’s and GUI’s – “taskbar” “start menu” and “desktop” all entered the common lexicon following the immense popularity of Windows 95.

OS X is known for its excellent, intuitive user interface. Its main advantage continues to be that, due to inevitably having fewer users than Windows, there are far fewer viruses written for the system making it less vulnerable to attack. As well as being secure, the system is very stable, whilst maintaining high levels of performance – an advantage considering the impressive range of professional applications available.

Linux has the immediate benefit of being free to obtain, and available for use without restrictions. It is open source with a large, supportive community building a seemingly infinite range of free applications for use on Linux machines. Many (many!) distributions of Linux are available, giving users the ability to choose one that suits their personal needs (then further customize it). Similar to OS X, Linux is less vulnerable to attack than a Windows PC, and Linux distributions are typically updated frequently – incredibly frequently compared to other operating systems – further enhancing their stability and security. Linux operating systems are perhaps the most widely ported – there are distributions used in a wide range of devices from smartphones to TiVo.


Windows is designed to run on PCs, whether bought new or built cheaply, so hardware costs are essentially determined by the consumer. However, the cost of buying the latest version of Windows can be prohibitive (Windows XP is still the most widely used version), and the restrictive licensing inevitably forces each user to purchase a copy as they cannot be shared. Coupled with the similarly inevitable cost of purchasing the also-ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite and it is easy to see how users may prefer to simply wait until they need to buy a new PC bundled with Microsoft software.

Despite being Unix-based, OS X is also proprietary software. Furthermore, users are forced to purchase Apple hardware if they wish to use it; Apple computers remain much more expensive than PCs.

Linux may be the cheapest, most easily available and customizable of the three, but the continued dominance of Windows (not to mention the fact it comes pre-installed on most machines) often deters home users from changing to this unfamiliar platform. Additionally, while Linux may have a large number of community-sourced applications available, it does not offer as many professional quality one as the other systems. Minority use means some third party software (such as popular PC games) is yet to have a Linux release.


Windows continues to be the most popular OS worldwide, with Microsoft estimated to be holding on to roughly 90% of desktop users. Windows still represents the extent of many home users’ experience with operating systems. Apple computers have gained in popularity in recent years, and the Mac OS remains popular with professionals – particularly those in creative industries such as graphic design and video editing – due to the quality and performance of programs such as Photoshop on OS X. The OS X system is also the basis for the iPhone iOS, giving many more users contact and experience with Apple systems. Linux may have the smallest share of home users, however commercial use is huge. Servers, mainframes and supercomputers commonly use Linux, as do the film industry, governments both nationally and locally, and many portable device manufacturers. As personal computers move away from the desktop and increasingly become portable, adoption of other operating systems will surely follow.


Every now and then, I get clients who ask me for recommendations on what laptop or computer they should get. I figured this would be a great place to list some of my favorites. Now keep in mind, it really depends on your needs! There are so many different choices out there that it’s hard to say my recommendations will be right for YOU.

Apple MacBook Air
This is honestly the best laptop I’ve ever owned. It is so damn sexy. While it’s super portable (weighing 3 pounds and measuring .68 inches at its thickest), this is a powerful laptop. Because of its physical size, it may not have as much hard drive space as most computers (256 gb at the most), but you’ll find it has plenty. The battery life is crazy awesome. I can  even let it sleep for days and open it to find plenty of battery life left.


Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook
Now, this laptop DOESN’T have Windows installed, but I thought I’d list it here anyway. In case you didn’t know, I love Google and their products! What makes the Chromebook unique is that it is easy and fast to use. Your computer doesn’t really “get old” because with the automatic updates, your Chromebook “keeps getting better and better”. The computer also features automatic updates, no blue screen, built-in virus protection, super fast booting and start up, and more! Check it out.

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Sinoun Chea

I help small businesses do better online. When businesses thrive, people also thrive. #morethanjustbusiness

6 Responses

6 thoughts on “The Differences Between Mac, Windows, and Linux”

  1. This information has become very useful for me. I have learned a lot about Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. Thank you very much Sinoun! 😀

  2. I have never used Linux or Mac. This article has a lot of useful information. Now I understand the similarities and differences between these operating systems. I have Windows 10 on my laptop, but I’d like to find a way to get to know the other two operating systems too.
    Thanks for the article.

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