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158. New Operating Systems: Fall 2009

By Andrew D. Wright

Fall of 2009 marks something pretty rare - three major new computer Operating Systems are being released: Microsoft's Windows 7, Apple's Macintosh OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" and Ubuntu Linux 9.10 "Karmic Koala".

Windows 7 is the latest version of Microsoft Windows, due out in late October 2009. It can run on many older computers that would not run Vista well, though it is best suited for new computers. An extensive public beta test program allowed thousands to test-drive it before release and driver support for Windows 7 is much better than it was for Vista when it first came out.

From a user standpoint Windows 7 seems much quicker. The user interface has been extensively remodeled. The taskbar in particular is much easier to work with than previous versions of Windows and the User Account Control prompts are better organized than in Vista. Search functions on the hard drive are very much improved and results are both incredibly fast and relevant. Looking for Resource Monitor? Typing "r" in the search bar brings it up immediately as one of the top ranked items before you can type in the "e".

As a rule of thumb, any hardware that can work with Vista should also work with Windows 7. Some devices will need new drivers.

Microsoft is not supporting any direct in-place upgrades from Windows XP so XP users looking to upgrade to Windows 7 will need to do a fresh install. Windows Vista users can do an in-place upgrade but this is limited: 32-bit Vista can upgrade to 32-bit Windows 7 and 64-bit Vista can upgrade to 64-bit Windows 7 but a 32-bit upgrade to 64-bit will need a fresh install of Windows 7.

If your newer computer supports it, and most do, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 is the way of the future, allowing better use of larger amounts of memory. Check for the availability of 64-bit Windows 7 drivers for your hardware first for an easier upgrade.

OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Apple's new version of OS X for use on Apple Macintosh computers also offers 64-bit computing, though this is disabled by default and will only work on new Macintoshes. To boot into 64-bit, hold down the 6 and 4 keys when starting the computer. Snow Leopard cannot run on PowerPC Macs, only those with Intel CPUs. Users can upgrade from OS X 10.5 Leopard to the new 10.6 and, despite it being against the lower-priced Apple upgrade disk terms of use, apparently so can OS X 10.4 Tiger Macs with Intel CPUs.

Apple does not condone the installation of OS X on anything except official Apple computers, which makes driver issues much easier to deal with than in the Windows world with its wide range of hardware. Since its release in late August 2009 there have been a few issues reported with Snow Leopard - some older software and some network-based programs have issues - but on the whole it has had a pretty warm welcome from the Apple community. Snow Leopard frees up several GB of disk space from earlier installs of OS X and upgrades typically take about an hour.

Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala, the newest release of Ubuntu Linux, the free Open Source operating system, is set to come out the end of October 2009 and promises fast boot times (about 30 seconds), an improved redesigned user interface, wider device support, support for the newer more robust EXT4 hard drive format and support for cloud computing, where many computers can share resources to run software.

Ubuntu Linux can run on pretty much any fairly recent computer and has 32-bit and 64-bit versions.


Microsoft Windows 7:


Apple Macintosh OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard:


Ubuntu Linux 9.10 Karmic Koala:


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Originally published 11 September 2009


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