A technician might be asked to choose and install an OS for a customer. There are two distinct types of operating systems: desktop and network. A desktop operating system is intended for use in a small office, home office (SOHO) environment with a limited number of users. A network operating system (NOS) is designed for a corporate environment serving multiple users with a wide range of needs.

A desktop OS has the following characteristics:

In the current software market, the most commonly used desktop operating systems fall into three groups: Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS, and Linux. This chapter focuses on Microsoft operating systems.

Microsoft Windows

Windows is one of the most popular operating systems today. The following versions of Windows are available:

Apple Mac OS

Apple computers are proprietary and use an operating system called Mac OS. Mac OS is designed to be a user-friendly GUI operating system. Current versions of Mac OS are based on a customized version of UNIX.


Linux is based on UNIX, which was introduced in the late 1960s and is one of the oldest operating systems. Linus Torvalds designed Linux in 1991 as an open-source OS. Open-source programs allow the source code to be distributed and changed by anyone as a free download or by developers at a much lower cost than other operating systems.

NOTE: In this course, all command paths refer to Microsoft Windows, unless otherwise noted.