Compare & Contrast Network Operating Systems

By Gissimee Doe

Network operating systems power many things in our daily lives.
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Network operating systems are specialized computer operating systems that support local area networks and wide area networks. Some multi-purpose operating systems that support network functions can also be classified as network operating systems. Network operating systems vary in terms of cost, support, maintenance, ease of use, software availability and other factors. Linux, Unix and Windows Server are some well-known network operating systems.


The main network operating systems in use are Windows, which is used on most workstations and on network servers; UNIX, which is mostly used to power servers; Linux, which is a reverse-engineered version of UNIX that is heavily used on workstations due to its ability to run software applications and which can also power servers; and OS X, which is also based on UNIX and powers Apple Macs. Older network operating systems such as Novell’s Netware and Windows NT are no longer in mainstream usage but might power obsolete legacy systems. The main functions of a network operating system are file system management, printer, application and database sharing, directory management, network security and housekeeping.

Market Share

Windows owns the greatest market share of the network operating systems when it comes to workstations because many businesses use Windows-based applications such as Microsoft Office for their daily operations. UNIX has a slight advantage in market share when it comes to servers due to its stability, security, power and ease of administration. Windows also owns a large portion of the server market due to its seamless integration with the Windows-based workstations. OS X has a lower market share than the other network operating systems and is mostly used on workstations.


Cost is a major factor when it comes to choosing a network operating system. Cost factors such as the cost of the operating system, licenses, support costs, maintenance and administration costs all factor into the total cost of ownership. In general, Windows usually carries a high total cost of ownership as it charges user licensing fees that are often included in the cost of other operating systems such as UNIX or Linux, which has none. UNIX includes a mail server whereas Windows requires the purchase of Microsoft Exchange and additional licenses which makes it an expensive operating system in comparison to the others.


Security is very important in a network and is one of the biggest differentiating factors among network operating systems. The vast majority of security risks such as viruses and malware are aimed at Windows by virtue of its popularity, which means that the security costs of Windows systems are high. OS X is subject to a few threats while there are very few threats that target UNIX and Linux systems. Linux is developed and maintained by a large community of programmers and is free, so it carries a community spirit that serves to lessen the number of threats aimed at that operating system.