Top 3 operating systems in 2021

Operating systems define how a computer stores files, switches between different applications, manages memory, keeps itself secure, and interacts with peripherals like printers and cameras. Different operating systems take different approaches to all of these, which is why you normally can’t run a Windows program on a Macintosh computer and why permissions look different on an Android phone than on an iPhone. Different operating systems run on different types of hardware and are designed for different types of applications. Decisions about operating systems are important for small businesses.  The choices they make at launch will impact interoperability of their devices with each other and across their networks.  Let’s review the top 3 operating systems in the world, Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, and Google Chrome OS.

A change in the top 3 operating systems

Some operating systems are designed by groups of people around the world, like the open source, freely available operating system Linux, while others are commercial products made by one company, such as Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s macOS. For ages now, every annual report on desktop operating system market share has had the same top two contenders: Microsoft’s Windows in a commanding lead at number one and Apple’s macOS in distant second place.

But in 2020, Chrome OS became the second-most popular OS, and Apple fell to third. That’s according to numbers from market data firm IDC and a report on IDC’s data by publication GeekWire. Chrome OS had passed macOS briefly in individual quarters before, but 2020 was the first full year when Apple’s OS took third place.

Google passes Apple but Microsoft is the one losing

Despite the fact that macOS landed in third, viewing this as an example of Google beating out Apple directly might not be accurate. Rather, it’s likely that Chrome OS has been primarily pulling sales and market share away from Windows at the low end of the market. Mac market share actually grew from 6.7 percent in 2019 to 7.5 percent in 2020.

Meanwhile, Chrome OS skyrocketed from 6.4 percent in 2019 to 10.8 percent in 2020. Windows fell from 85.4 percent to 80.5 percent.

The trend looks to be in Google’s favor here, but 2020 was far from a normal year. Last month, IDC’s report on PC sales showed the first year of consistent growth of traditional PC (desktop, laptop, workstation) sales in years. Even then, IDC indicated that the increase in sales was driven in large part by the expansion of Chromebooks both within and outside of the education market.

PC sales are the driver of operating system rankings

As students in many communities have had to attend class virtually from home and their parents have had to do work remotely, too, PC sales jumped during the year. Chrome OS was a big part of that. But the entire market grew overall, not just Chrome OS. IDC also noted that gaming PCs were a big driver of growth, and it was a particularly strong year for the Mac.

As some of the world may find a new kind of post- or late-pandemic normalcy later this year or next year, new sales figures will give a clearer indication of where things will go in the future, not just how they went in 2020. But at least in the education space, the future of Chrome OS looks fairly bright.

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