Every computer needs an operating system (OS) -- an overall control program that schedules tasks, manages storage and handles communication with peripherals, such as printers. The OS presents a basic user interface, and all applications must communicate with it. There isn't much competition in operating systems, the most divisive sector of the software industry. As of December 2008, Microsoft leads the pack by a ridiculous margin, with a 90 percent share of the market; Apple trails at around 9 percent, and open-source systems like Linux trail at a mere 1 percent.
Despite claims that Linux has better performance, lower cost (most versions are free for download) and broad customization options, it also has a learning curve that few users are willing to climb. Linux is widely used in the server market due to its customizability and stability, but new graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are making it easier to use. The market share for Linux-based OSes may grow to be a threat to Windows, but for now, there's a pretty clear leader.
An Apple a day
Microsoft's worldwide dominance has been increasingly coming under threat in recent years, particularly due to the rise of Apple. Apple's computers were once the purview of a small, rabid fringe of computer users -- but they've now fully hit the mainstream. In the younger generation, it's hard to find someone who doesn't own some kind of iPod and have it permanently welded to his/her ears; the iPod controls up to 80 percent of Australian market share for portable music players. With the Australian launch of the iPhone in July 2008 as well, sales are expected to steadily climb.
However, the company is not just about spiffy consumer electronics -- it's been gaining in the computer race as well. Although it still hangs behind industry behemoth HP, its share of the pie has been growing. Apple sales are on the rise, up 52 percent in late 2008 from the same period in 2007. Industry pundits note that consumers enjoy Apple computers' modern-looking cases, pretty graphics and relative imperviousness to viruses.