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The Best Operating System for Programming: Choose the Best OS for Coding

Jacqueline Renouard - November 10, 2020


If you’re considering a career in coding, maybe you’re wondering which operating system is the best for programming. The answer depends on several factors, including the features, central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM), and apps or software you will need. Of course, another factor is personal preference.

What Is an Operating System?

The formal definition of an OS is the program that manages your computer’s hardware and software applications. The operating system begins when you turn your device on and it includes all of the processes that enable you to access the system and controls.

Once the desktop has loaded on your device, the software enables you to interact with (or click on) something, then the hardware allows the OS to process this information. The operating system also has a memory manager that can help you enter and exit programs, like Google Chrome.

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What’s more, your operating system makes multitasking possible. For example, say you maximize your screen to watch a video or play a game, the operating system will multitask to keep other applications or software running in the background.

It is also the reason for the annoying antivirus pop-ups that take over your screen right as you are about to defeat another gamer.

Popular Operating Systems for Different Careers

The type of OS you will use may depend on what type of programming career you want to have. Below are some examples of programming careers, what they entail, and the most popular operating systems for each.

Software Developer

Software development is the procedure of creating, designing, programming, fixing bugs, testing, and maintaining applications. Software developers write the source code for a project from start to finish.

Although personal preference is always a factor, macOS, Windows, and Linux tend to be the preferred systems for software developers. Some developers even use Ubuntu or Mac while working, but will have a Windows computer at home for gaming. However, for work purposes, many employers will require that their developers use Linux (Unix).

Web Developer

While software development focuses on creating digital software, web development deals with creating websites and apps that run on your computer’s Internet browser or other digital devices.

The most popular operating systems for web development are also Linux, macOS, and Windows. However, Windows has a slight edge, as it is possible to work on both Windows and Linux at the same time. Together, they allow web developers to use all their essential apps, like Ubuntu, GIT, and Node JS.

Software Engineer

Software engineering is similar to software development. The main difference is that a software engineer makes sure the server, apps, and websites can “talk” to each other. They are ultimately responsible for making sure the software product works the way it is supposed to.

The best operating system for software engineers also varies based on preference. The consensus seems to be that Mac is better suited, as you can do much more on the terminal compared to Microsoft Windows. Windows uses Command Prompt, or the newer “PowerShell” terminal, which has a programming language that is not widely used. One way around it is to opt for Windows 10 coupled with Linux.

Programmer

A programmer is the starting point for all of the previous career paths. So which is the best operating system for programmers? There is no definitive system that is perfect for a programmer. It depends somewhat on what career progression you are hoping for, what system your workplace uses, and which one you prefer.

There are pros for all of the operating systems. The best way to answer which is the best is to look over the pros and cons of each OS and decide for yourself which one you would prefer to use.

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Pros and Cons of Operating Systems

a white macOS
Explore which OS is best for programming by looking at the positives and negatives of each.

There are many different operating systems out there, but below we have broken down five of the most popular. Discover the pros and cons of each OS to decide which is the right system for you.

Linux Kernel, Linux Mint, and Ubuntu

We have decided to look at the pros and cons of Linux systems and these two Linux distributions together. For those beginning with Linux, Linux Mint is a great option, and then you may choose to progress to Ubuntu. In general, Linux is considered one of the most highly acclaimed operating systems for software development.

Linux Pros

  • Free to Install . One big perk for beginner programmers is that Linux is free to test out, as it is an open-source operating system.
  • Reliability. It’s also a very reliable system. You won’t need to worry about updates stopping you from working.
  • Security. With Linux and Ubuntu, you can encrypt your drive. It also offers network security, so it is a very secure operating system.
  • Performance . Linux is a fast, efficient, and lightweight OS. Programming and scripting run faster in Linux, making it a top operating system for programmers.
  • Installing Modules . When it comes to installing complicated modules and packages, Linux wins. In general, compared to most programming languages, it’s faster, easier, and less stressful to use.

Linux Cons

  • Bugs. Because it’s free, not enough people are working on debugging the system, compared with Mac or Windows. Although it is reliable, there have been cases of it crashing, or of difficulties installing accessories such as a keyboard.
  • Unsupported Software . For the everyday user, this OS lacks capabilities. For example, Microsoft Word and other similar software is not supported by Linux. Although Linux has its own word processor, it is not very similar to the Microsoft version.
  • No Tech Support . Whereas Mac and Windows users can call tech support if they have an issue, Linux users cannot. Again, because it is a free operating system, they don’t have the funds to offer tech support.

macOS

Does the Mac even need an introduction at this point? The second most-used system in the world, the company is a tech giant when compared with Linux.

macOS Pros

  • Easy Installs . You can easily install packages, development tools, and apps.
  • Neat Features . The Mac OS has some great features like Siri, DaVinci Resolve (a visual studio for those interested in film editing), and a reasonably intuitive navigation system.
  • Multitasking. Mac is brilliant for multitasking. Having many programs open and transitioning through them seamlessly is essentially what the Mac was built for.
  • Apple Developer. For those looking to go into software development for Apple products, Mac is a great choice. Devices, files, and data are readily synchronized and can be easily shared with Apple cloud servers.
  • Tech Support. Apple offers many options for tech support should you face any issues.

macOS Cons

  • Expensive . The most recently released iMac Pro costs $4,999, making it an expensive piece of equipment.
  • Not for Gamers . If you like to play games after a long day of coding, a Mac will not be the right choice for you. Windows computers ultimately outperform Apple in terms of gaming capabilities.
  • Inflexible Upgrades . Mac is not the most straightforward system to upgrade if you’re looking for more RAM or CPU than that which originally came with your computer.

Windows 10

Windows is a very user-friendly OS as it is one of the most commonly used around the world. We are only looking at Windows 10 because the earlier Windows systems are no longer compatible with a programmer’s needs.

Windows 10 Pros

  • Virus Protection . It is a common misconception that Windows operating systems have inadequate virus protection. In reality, improvements in their built-in antivirus protection have been excellent.
  • Less Expensive . Generally speaking, Windows 10 is much cheaper than a new Mac. Although Linux is even cheaper, Windows is the best value for money.
  • Supported Software. You will have a much wider range of software and hardware options on Windows 10 compared to Linux.
  • Battery Life. Compared to Mac, Windows has longer battery life.
  • Easy Upgrades. For those who want to customize and upgrade their system, Windows is a great option.

Windows 10 Cons

  • Drivers . Although customizability is one of its strengths, it also can be one of its weaknesses. Trying to get a variety of components to work together by using the right mix of drivers can cause problems or even break your device.
  • Forced Updates . This aspect of Windows is annoying for many users. If you are not very patient, this might not be the operating system for you.
  • Speed . Compared to the previous two, Windows 10 is not the fastest. Its navigation, multitasking, and software are much slower than a Mac.

Which OS Should You Use as a Programmer?

a white laptop with a pineapple wallpaper
To find the best operating system for you, you should test out as many as you can.

The reality is there are hundreds of more operating systems out there. So, if you have the opportunity, you should try different ones to get a feel for their layout. Then, you can decide if you find the navigation easy and if it can host all of the content you need.

We can talk about RAM, CPU, and capabilities all day, but it’s what we are comfortable with that really matters at the end of the day. Finding an operating system you love is important, and we hope this guide has helped you get one step closer to finding your dream OS.

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Jacqueline Renouard

About the author: Jacqueline is a writer at Career Karma, where she draws on her skills as a wordsmith to cover topics like higher education, technical skills, and occupations. After earning her BA in Television and Film Production from the University of Portsmouth, she worked for Wellbe, where she wrote extensively about health, wellness, and fitness. She joined the Career Karma team in September 2020, bringing expertise in digital marketing and content creation.

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