Windows has dominated the OS market for many years. Mac has always placed a not so close second. Followed firmly be the Linux and Unix crowds. Make no mistake Microsoft Windows, although large, is NOT the best. But because of its size and exclusivity clauses it has remained at the zenith of the computer industry around the world.
Obviously Microsoft isn't some evil giant that needs to be toppled. Microsoft has stayed on top its game because of dynamic marketing and because it can keep its customers satisfied. People are generally happy with Windows despite its flaws. Almost any program can run on Windows and Windows can adapt itself to any user, from the "PC" consumer to the large financial business institutions. Versatility is a key to their success. But there exists one group on individuals who have supported Windows power more then any other group, and that group is the gamers.
Personally I love Windows and will use Windows in some form for my entire life. But I also don't want to be limited to just having windows, or having to have Windows just to run software. I dual boot OSX Leopard on one of my computers, and will probably use Snow Leopard when I get the chance. As well I also use a wide variety of other OSes. As a gamer I understand the importance of what Windows and MS has done to the gaming industry. As well I respect their business practices. But sometimes I feel that my needs in an operating system are not being properly met. This has become an issue as of late with the support stop on Windows XP and the push to move to Vista. I have moved to Vista on system, and although it has improved drasticly since its release I still don't want to move any other computers to it, and it seems that 79% of you agree with me.
For gamers there is a chicken and the egg type question that resounds the symbiotic relation between the gamer community and the Windows world. The first argument goes like this: "Windows is a success because gamers want games and most games only run on windows. Without the gamers windows would severe revenue and maybe even drop from its number one spot." To which the second argument is: "Windows is not a success because of windows. Not everyone who buys windows plays games, most do not. Games and gamers rely on windows success from other aspects to allow for advancing performance and graphics. Gamers exists because Windows is a success. ( View argument in detail here. ) And although both arguments are pretty well sound I believe that both miss the point entirely. The fact remains most games are sold exclusively on Windows. And thus any other OS will need the gaming communities support if it is to succeed and enter the mainstream market as a true competitor.
What amazes me is that many independent software companies have taken on large leadership roles in the computer industry. Adobe, for instance, considers itself 'god' amongst the visual design industry, having the power to change the way we take and process images at the click of their fingers (and yes they have used that power before). Firefox 3 (FF3) has grown to be considered by many the best web browsing experience on the net, with over 8 million international downloads in the first 24hrs of launch, setting a world record. Even smaller lesser known companies like Opera have made major advancements that have echoed through even Microsoft. Antivirus companies are now as diverse as the viruses they fight with products like AVG and Avast. Yet the OS world has remained dominated by a single organization.
There are alternatives to Windows. The first two that come to mind are the obvious Mac OSX and Linux, but besides these two their are many smaller OSes that are making grand strides to compete, not only in performance, ingenuity. Here are some top alternatives operating systems that I would like to mention.
AmigaOS 4.1 (released September 2008)
There exist some fond memories for some of the early Amiga system developed originally for the Commodore 64 systems, as well as several other computers. However in the long term Amiga sis not develop as quickly as Windows and Mac and thus was left behind after the 32bit revolution, yet as we come upon a new revolution with the development of 64bit it once again has the opportunity to move forward. 4.1 has stayed current with programming codes and 3D rendering technologies based on OpenGL. It is in the market place and more largely used in Europe then anywhere else. It does have it's pitfalls however and would require some different development to be utilized for gaming, however the potential is there if given the proper push to become a competitive OS alongside Windows and OSX.
ReactOS (released August 2008)
ReactOS took a different approach to solving the software compatibility issues. ReactOS uses NT as a basis for the development of its OS (much like how Gates used Apple as a Basis for Win 3.x). Thus most software the run on Windows will run on ReactOS. ReactOS itself prides itself in being a freeware OS, but because of legal issues with using Windows NT (the basis for Windows XP and Vista) has kept it in alpha testing, forcing developers to code and recode in order to avoid legal detriment. But given enough support would be able to produce an OS that would run games equal to or better then current Windows software.
MorphOS (updated September 2008)
Morph is a lightweight media oriented OS system. Designed to run on PowerPC chipsets. It was inspired by the AmigaOS and thus is designed to compete with it. Unlike Windows OSes that focus on becoming more robust and taking up as much room on a PC as possible Morph is designed to be small, extremely small. It is designed to a be a little power house letting application take up system resources rather then the OS these means a smaller computer can process more and run faster.
SkyOS (beta update August 2008)
SkyOS is probably one of the most promising OSes out there. Robert Szeleney, as an expirement with operating design, developed it.
Current development is focused on a complete rewrite of the kernel in an attempt to bring legacy code up to par with the rest of the system. It attempts several different new looks and functions for an OS and has a great fan base which tests his twice-monthly releases of the beta. The beta itself is a paid beta that promises those participants a free copy of final release when the project is done. However Robert himself has been working alone on the project in between his real job and thus it has taken him since 2004 to get the project to where it currently is. However he does have support from companies like Mozilla (maker of FF3). SkyOS is one of the most fascinating independent operating systems out there, and if given the opportunity promises to compete head to head with Windows.
Other OSes and variations there of.
Other operating system include Syllable, Haiku, etc. Among a new trend in operating system development is something called WebOS or VOS (Virtual Operating System). VOS are operating systems without the physical computer, well at least in theory. They work generally through either an application or a web browser. They use server space on their end to create a virtual hard drive and load application through virtual software. The result is this: access your desktop from anyone's PC (who has internet) load word document, excel spreadsheets, play games, and even check email all from anywhere. I use g.ho.st because it provides g.ho.st mobile allowing me to access a virtual computer from my cell phone as well as anyone's computer.
What these operating system really lack is a support from the gamer community a support for them to support more games, to work with more companies. As well to put pressure on gaming companies to open themselves up to more operating systems.
Now a big question to this is why? Why should we care why should we reach out, especially as a community, and support another OS rather then relying on Windows? Competition breeds advancement. The more choices that are available in the mainstream the more competition exists. If you have a 1000 products competing for you to use they will all try to make themselves as cheap as possible and as high of quality as possible. Prices go down quality goes up. This means crashes, bugs, and even the high price of investing in an OS will decrease. New technologies and ideas will take the forefront and produce new and better programs and software. As a whole the gaming community can create a driving force that will elevate new ideas into the market place causing current ideas to adapt or die. Thus the industry will move forward. For those who are happy with where you are at I am truly glad, but I don't want to be satisfied I want to progress.
As gamers we are stuck. We are limited to being with Windows if we want the majority of games. Yes some are available in limited numbers on Mac and Linux, but to fully play everything we want we are left in a stagnant pond. Microsoft sees gamers as a trapped audience and thus does not put as much attention towards us as it does business professional and .com junkies. The type of things that can be accessed from any computer. We as a community have been underestimated and put into a back seat position. We thrive on innovation in the gaming world, yet are ignored in the OS world. This in general haults the advancement of games.
Many will argue that their isn't room or need for another operating system in the current market. Others may argue that the idea is futile, or that MS better then anything any other company could produce. Maybe that the argument of operating systems in irrelevant to the gaming community. As long as that is the way they feel that will be true. It requires a change in ideals to move forward.
Support the underdog and they will grow, and be ontop. Not anyone company has the right idea, although many have better ideas. I support innovation and would like the opportunity to play on more on alternative operating systems, but obviously don't get the chance.
Windows itself is moving forward, due to a huge out cry from Vista adopters Windows has speed up the research and development of Windows 7, which unofficial release date for is June 3, 2009 (they have said release will be by or before January 1, 2010). Windows 7 will incorporate more 64bit support but won't leave 32bit support behind. As well it will probably support new firewire and USB 3.0 protocal for faster data transfer. MS has also said that it will ship as just the OS, not any of the extra trimmings, although many of them will be available for free download to 7 subscribers. Basicly they are trimming VIsta back to stabilize the OS and to improve functionality. This means they will try to produce a good product, not a big product. A lot of this is due to Vista churn back to XP and even some to Leopard which has been labeled the best OS on the market currently. Leopard itself and the development of OSX will also push forward to Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard will be pure 64bit support leaving 32bit behind in an attempt to push consumers forward. Obviously MS has learned from its mistakes and hopes to appease the market, while Apple has become the driving voice for advancement.
But honestly would it not be so surprising to see a new competitor step up. A new OS that has learned from Windows mistakes and has the motivation to compete. An OS that will cross platform itself, and open up the net without slow down your comp. In any case a new front runner will NEED the support of a large portion of gamers in order to make. I for one am ready to give that support. If one of these or any other OS reaches out to the gamers they will have my support.
But here in is another problem many companies don't realise the power of the gaming community. Maybe it's just coincidence that MS sales of Windows are proportional to how many gamers they have. Although I am not the biggest of Mac fans, if they for a moment tried push for more games on their systems there would be a shift, although small at first, of users turning to Mac.
The big thing that I am getting at is I want more options when choosing an operating system. I feel like this limitation for gamers is stunting the growth of newer ideas. I also feel like it's holding the whole computer industry back. Maybe I'm wrong, its hard to say at this juncture, and we probably won't know for certain till 40 years from now. But as I am I will support and continue to support new innovative OS, as well encourage everyone to support it as well.