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How Operating Systems Have Evolved and What It Has Meant for Gaming

If Microsoft’s grip on the gaming industry really is loosening, that’s great news for gamers—as with more competition, you can expect there’ll be more innovation to come.

  • As internet use has grown over the past 20 years, so has gaming, with the industry predicted to be worth $143bn by 2020.
  • This has driven demand for operating systems to be more game-friendly.
  • Numerous advances, including the move towards VGA, have put PCs at the forefront of gaming.
  • Windows dominates the market, but Linux and Macintosh aren’t far behind.
  • The gaming industry is arriving at a new era of competition with technology like VR on the cusp of the mainstream.

As cultural writer Virginia Postrel said: “The definition of an ‘operating system’ is bound to evolve with customer demands and technological possibilities.” It’s true—over the past 30 years, what it means to use a computer has become a wildly different experience. Computers have gone from luxury household devices you have to connect to, to mainstream pocket companions it’s difficult to disconnect from. The changes we’ve seen in operating systems have represented huge leaps forward to reflect the evolving needs of consumers living in the digital age.

With more people using the internet, and more time being spent online, businesses have shifted their products and services onto the web, too. Banking, shopping, and travel are just three huge industries that have been transformed by the internet—reacting to customer demands to be able to organise their lives from the comfort of their own home, or on the move. However, they simply wouldn't exist without the operating systems to put them on our screens. 

The Biggest Operators in Gaming

It’s the same in online gaming, the value of which is expected to grow from $116bn to $143bn by 2020. Windows used to rule the roost as the dominant market force, but with huge technological improvements and many short and long-term trends emerging over the past two decades, the gaming market is broadening to include both Mac and Linux users. All three have made huge strides in improving the gaming experience for players.

Windows is the most popular gaming platform, dominating the market to such a point that it represents 90 percent of it. That’s why nearly every gamer you will ever meet plays their games on a Windows PC. The next in line is the Mac OS X with 7 percent of the market. Linux is last of the top three with 1 percent, and a few others make up the rest. We’ll get into the specific pros and cons of each of the operating systems shortly, but first, let’s look at the major developments in operating systems and what this has meant for gamers.

The Evolution of Operating Systems: A Timeline

One of the biggest and most fundamental changes to computing came in 1985 when Microsoft introduced the mouse to control the operating system. The changes that followed over the decades were largely evolutionary—and reactive to innovations in console gaming.

1989 – The rise of the Creative Labs Sound Blaster card gave PCs a higher sound quality, because they included a digital signal processor.

1990 – The computer game industry moves towards using VGA, which gave PCs the ability to process enhanced gaming graphics and opened it up as a platform for a wider selection of games.

1992 – While console giants Sega and Nintendo kept their CPU speeds at 307 MHz, PCs started to run a lot faster, performing more calculations per second.

1993Doom was considered a breakthrough in 3D graphics. It also signaled a shift towards greater realism in gaming.

1996 – 3D console titles like Super Mario and Tomb Raider increase interest in hardware-accelerated 3D graphics on PCs, gaining greater acceptance among gamers.

1999 – Faster graphics accelerators and improving CPU technology increase the level of realism in games, allowing developers to increase the complexity of modern game engines.

2007 – The emergence of smartphones dramatically changes Linux’s position in the market. Many Android devices operate on Linux software, encouraging mobile game developers to start working on Linux.

2015 – Windows 10 set new standards for gamers with new graphics settings, including GPU processing units, which allow the user to choose whether they want integrated graphics (for power saving) or discrete (for higher performance). For HDR video playback, there is a new calibration tool so that you can choose how it looks on your PC. 

Driven by user demand, the improvements in the quality of operating systems have also been made by developers demanding quicker processing speeds and better graphics. Today, the PC is at the forefront of gaming—with all kinds of engaging, immersive games available to users. Gambling companies in particular have benefitted hugely from the improvements, as their user experience has been improved in order to match the experience of being at the casino. Playing at a leading casino offering a wide range of online slots with jackpots is an experience we really recommend!

Operating Systems: Pros and Cons

Let's looks at what the pros and cons of the three main operating systems to establish what they have to offer for users.

Windows: The clear leader of the pack with over 90 percent of the market share with virtually every PC—be it for the home or the office—being sold with the system built in, Microsoft would appear to be unassailably the most popular operating system for gamers. But despite its compatibility with just about every application, driver, and game, and its unrivaled technical support and the hugeness of its functionality, there are problems. The dominance of Windows means that it is the biggest sufferer of viruses, and the sheer ability of Windows means that it will need a lot of your PC's resources just to operate, requiring ever-more-powerful RAM and processing power.

Macintosh: The 7 percent market share belies the power of this operating system. The iPhone and iPad sales are huge, and in the fourth quarter of 2017, the iPhone represented nearly 20 percent of all smartphone sales. But when it comes to desktop gaming, they are small. Mac software costs even more than Windows and can only be used on Apple computers. No Apple, no Mac. Also, the compatibility of Mac is limited, and very few games can run on them. However, this is starting to change with the popularity of Linux-based operating systems in mobile gaming development. Also, on the plus side, Macs get very few, if any, viruses, and they’re more reliable as they only work on Apple computers—so there is less chance of hardware or software issues than with a Windows machine.

Linux: First released in 1991, this open source software (which means that it is free) has been growing since it launched. It could be, however, that this growth has only been in line with the growth of IT professionals who understand how to make it work. It is not a full operating system, and you have to add other software like Ubuntu to make it visible. Sadly, the majority of computer users, and especially gamers, are not interested in gaining the computer knowledge required to get Linux to work. Not many vendors will sell or recommend Linux computers, so many consumers end up purchasing a Windows computer. However, many Android devices operate Linux software, so when smartphones were launched, the platform was suddenly ripe for game developers to exploit. The global games industry has grown to be worth $75 billion, and with over half of this total revenue being generated by mobile games, it’s given game developers a very compelling reason to start working with Linux. Today we’re in a world where Linux-friendly game engines are regularly released.

If Microsoft’s grip on the gaming industry really is loosening, that’s great news for gamers—as with more competition, you can expect there’ll be more innovation to come. And with VR technology on the cusp of the mainstream, gamers could be in for some real treats, indeed.  

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