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The best operating system for coders who work online is...

Hack Reactor

By Kevin Juhasz for Hack Reactor

Life is full of debates that don’t seem to have a clear-cut winner. Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Coke vs. Pepsi. Marvel vs. DC. Most of them boil down to personal tastes and familiarity. That also seems the case with operating systems for software engineers: many debate the pros and cons of MacOS vs. Windows vs. Linux vs. smaller systems. It comes down to what you personally prefer and what you’re most comfortable with.

Surveys over that last five years have resulted in different outcomes that make it almost impossible to declare a winner of the OS debate. MacOS, Windows, and Linux have all seen their popularity rise and fall. Surveys also vary based on who you ask.

A survey of coders by GeekWire in 2016 showed OS X with a very slight lead over Windows 7 and Linux. All three were almost tied. However, if you added in the other versions of Windows, then Microsoft held a comfortable lead over OS X and Linux. A survey by Explore Group in 2019 showed a Linux with a slight lead over Windows and both with a significant lead over MacOS.

More software engineers are working remotely because of the pandemic, but there has also been an increase in people working at home over the last couple of years. The best OS system for them is also mostly based on what they think works best for them, as well as what their focus at work is.

Of the people who spoke for this article, MacOS was the most popular, but Linux also received a lot of support. There wasn’t much love for Windows at all. 

Most felt that MacOS was better because of the ease of use and how well it works with a lot of projects. Sean Ziegler, a systems engineer in Florida, has been working remotely for the last three months after going into an office daily for two years. He prefers MacOS because of the environment it offers him, the fact that it works well with any enterprise products he needs to be able to work remotely, and it offers automation that he finds useful.

“Because I’m in development, having access to a shell is important to me, like a Bash shell,” he said. “That Unix-style environment is very useful for development. It also supports pretty much all the enterprise products you will need.”

David Neuman of NulliTax said that the MacOS made the transition from office to remote much easier with the use of the Homebrew package manager. Max Ivanov, CEO of Aimprosoft, complemented MacOS, along with Unbuntu, for its security and ability to multitask. He said that the high performance of both systems makes them optimal for those performing remote work.

“They allow users to have numerous programs open and switch between them or interfaces without inconvenieces or freezing,” he explained.

MacOS users said that Linux was also good for those who didn’t want to have to spend as much for MacOS. Linux was also praised the most for security purposes, which is an important factor for those working at home, where security concerns can increase. Mark Soto, a cybersecurity software developer for Cybericus, believes that security is the top priority for anyone working remotely.

“Some software developers handle very sensitive data, like in the insurance/banking industry, (where) security is a top priority,” Soto explained. “While Linux isn't as widely used by companies, this actually plays into its favor. Hackers are more motivated to design viruses and ransomware for the most used OS.”

Soto added that Linux, which is open source, has a community that is very active and attentive to the operating system. Users do a good job of finding security flaws and creating patches to address any issues. Linux wasn’t just praised on the security issue. Several people feel that the system is simply the best choice for development, including Andrew Lindberg, Senior Software Development Mentor at Exelaration.

“I've been using a Linux system for my day to day work for over ten years now,” he said “I've still got access to all the kinds of tools my team expects of me, like Office 365 online, Zoom, Slack or Visual Studio Code. I've also got the low-level tools I've come to rely on from the Unix world like composable command-line utilities, network analyzers, and an unparalleled amount of control over my user interface.”

Alex Kehoe, Co-Founder and Operations Director for Caveni, said the best system for remote work is a dual boot of Windows and Linux.

“It's well-known that most developers of any type prefer Linux because of the increased flexibility and security it offers, Kehoe explained. “However, in many cases, Windows is the only platform that is reliably compatible with business-critical applications and programs that may be needed over the course of any job. In the same vein, many programs developed by software engineers using Linux may only work correctly in the Windows operating system, so developing those programs means you need the ability to live test in the correct OS while at the same time are able to work in your preferred OS."