Believe it or not, Microsoft’s Windows is 25 years old - which is certianly making some of us feel old. Despite a few ups and downs, growing pains, and BSODs, Windows has survived the test of time and continues to reign as one of the most popular operating systems available today. Of course that’s not to say there haven’t been other operating systems over the years that tried to steal the crown; in fact, there have been quite a few. Here’s a look at some of the biggest contenders Windows has had to overcome to get where it is today.
Darwin is a Unix based operating system developed by Apple, released in 1999 in the first iterations of OS X. Darwin itself has never really been much of a threat to Windows, but as the foundation of OS X, it has proved to be the catalyst to Microsoft’s greatest competitor yet. Shortly after its release as part of OS X, Apple decided to make Darwin open source where it branched into several independent operating systems, such as OpenDarwin and PureDarwin, though none became particularly mainstream.
Amiga was the operating system included with Commodore systems as far back as the 1980’s. AmigaOS was years ahead of its time, sporting a smooth multi-tasking graphical interface well before PCs or Macs. It was such an influential operating system that it continues to live on today in emulators and PowerPC compatible versions. While this makes the current form of AmigaOS more of a threat to Apple, back when Windows was just making its start, drawing people away from the Commodore platform was quite the challenge.
FreeBSD is a Unix-based operating system that has become one of the most stable and widely used enterprise solutions worldwide. Microsoft found it very difficult to compete with FreeBSD in the server and enterprise market and eventually borrowed code from FreeBSD when developing Windows NT, which had one of the most successful kernels of the entire Windows line. FreeBSD continues to keep a strong hold on the majority of the server market, but Microsoft is still making progress with its Windows Server products.
Not without a bit of irony, OS/2 was actually developed by Microsoft in coordination with IBM. It was initially released in 1987 as a DOS-like, text only operating system with a very different direction than Windows, but not even a year later, OS/2 was given a shiny new graphical interface. The biggest threat to Windows’ existence here was Microsoft’s uncertainty of which operating system to pursue. In 1990, prior to the release of Windows 3.0, OS/2 was actually being described as “Windows Plus,” and poised to take the reins. It was Microsoft’s business deals with manufacturers to bundle Windows 3.0 with new PCs that turned Windows into a raging success.
Minix was created as a sort of “mini-Unix” operating system designed to run on ARM, Motorola 68000, and Intel 386 systems. Obviously, these systems aren’t a target market for Windows, so why would Minix pose any sort of threat to Windows? As it turns out, Minix was the main inspirations for Linus Torvalds’ creation of Linux, which has become a refuge for all those who wish to escape the confines of Microsoft’s Windows.
Of all of the popular Linux distributions, Ubuntu is probably one of the larger threats to Windows’ general user base. This is because Ubuntu offers a very user friendly blend of Linux and Windows, resulting in a sort of sirens song, calling over interested users and converting them into the world of Linux. Ubuntu even comes in a “Studio” version, which come packaged with audio, image, and video producing software as well as a slew of codecs and drivers to create a simple experience straight out of the box.
Similar to FreeBSD, Red Hat Linux is a leading operating system in the enterprise market. Being built on an open source platform, Red Hat Linux is constantly being improved by the Linux community at nearly no cost to its developers. This results in an extremely stable and up-to-date operating system that is available to enterprises at a very affordable price. Because Red Hat is so cheap to develop, nearly all costs can go towards support. Windows, on the other hand, has very high development costs resulting in a higher priced product in which less of the costs go towards support. Microsoft simply can’t compete on that front, making Red Hat Linux quite the opponent.
BeOS was created from the ground up back in 1991 to make specific use of brand new hardware at the time, and was designed to take advantage of various multiprocessing, multithreading, and multitasking techniques. It was also built with a very clear objective in mind: multimedia. Because all of this was included with the initial version of BeOS, it had a huge advantage over both Windows and OS X, both of which were sloppily adapting their OS’s to improved hardware and patching in new multimedia capabilities. BeOS became such a threat that Microsoft eventually took aggressive action, driving Be Corp out of business, though it wouldn’t end there. Be Corp filed a complaint against Microsoft, resulting in fines against Microsoft for breaking anti-monopoly laws and tarnishing the company.
Chrome OS is Google’s Linux-based brainchild revolving around its Chromium Web Browser - and even though it has yet to be released (supposedly coming late this year), Chrome OS has the potential to become a very large obstacle for Windows. A very large percentage of desktops and laptops are used for nothing more than web browsing and some basic word processing. Chrome OS’s unique approach focuses on exactly that, making use of web applications for essentially every aspect of computer productivity. Couple that with the near unlimited resources of the internet super-giant Google, and Microsoft might have its hands full. Just look how Android has taken a bite out of RIM and Apple’s market share.
Yes, we know Vista is Windows, but its release resulted in one of the largest declines in Windows’ popularity yet. When Vista was released, it was a revolutionary redesign of Windows, built from the ground up. The problem was that this brand new designed changed too much at once. It was plagued with compatibility issues, and hardware requirements were unreasonably high. These issues were nothing uncommon with such ab extensive upgrade (Apple’s OS X Snow Leopard had these exact same issues), and within a year, Vista had become the operating system it was meant to be; however, it was too little too late. Microsoft handled things poorly, and Apple’s “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” smear campaign helped crumble Windows’ reputation.
OS X has come a very long way over the years - not ten years ago, Macs held just a tiny sliver of the computer market share, surging up to a currently whopping 20 percent. OS X itself really shouldn’t be much of a threat to Windows, but Apple is the king of propaganda, with products appealing to people’s sense of style, commercials using vibrant words (while telling us nothing about the product itself), and press events full of misleading numbers and figures. It’s going to be a long and heated battle between Windows and OS X, but let’s hope Windows has another 25 years of strong innovation ahead of it.