The following operating systems, with one exception, are all free to download and install for both personal and commercial use. I recommend these systems due to their high security protocols. I have run all of these operating systems with no additional anti-virus or firewall software in a corporate environment with a successful 0% infection rate. That being said, there is no such thing as software that is 100% invulnerable. While the common myth is that there are no viruses or malware that will run on Mac or Linux operating systems – they do exist – the odds of being compromised by one are astronomically low. As always, your mileage may vary and you should always employ common sense before opening e-mail attachments from people you don’t know or installing software downloaded from untrusted websites.
- Linux Mint – Mint is currently one of the most user-friendly Linux distributions available, and is perfect for users making the switch from Microsoft Windows or Apple either one. Mint incorporates a “work right out of the box” philosophy, and includes all the software packages necessary for your standard computer user to begin utilizing it the second the installation is finished. Mint remains very consistent in appearance from version to version, so there is little to no learning curve involved when upgrading to a newer version. One irritation for some users, however, will be the fact that just like Microsoft Windows, upgrading from one version to another involves a clean wipe of the hard drive, so all user documents must be backed up to an external source first. Mint offers four desktop environments, Cinnamon and KDE, which are more like a modern Windows desktop in appearance and functionality; Mate, which is a cleaner, simpler environment much closer to a Mac OS X desktop; and XFCE, which is a low-resource environment specifically designed for older, slower hardware. Advanced users can install all four desktop environments and switch back and forth between them as desired. For beginners, I would recommend the Mate desktop until they become more familiar with Linux and more comfortable experimenting with the various options available to them.
- Ubuntu Linux – If Linux Mint is the family mini-van, Ubuntu is the convertible sports car. Ubuntu was the first distribution of Linux I adopted for my own personal use, and is quite arguably the most popular distribution ever developed. While Mint tends to be more consistent from version to version, Ubuntu prides itself on following and implementing the latest trends in functionality and appearance. This allows for a more modern computing experience but can also lead to higher learning curves between versions. Ubuntu also allows users to incorporate the operating system into every faction of their technological world, offering cloud, server, phone, TV, and tablet versions in addition to the standard desktop/laptop installation. Unlike Mint, Ubuntu implements a “rolling upgrade” feature, allowing users to upgrade to the latest version live without a wiping of the hard drive. In my personal opinion, Ubuntu is for a younger crowd and is geared for the generation that has grown up with computers, while Mint caters more to the older generation who prefer consistent usability over flashy widgets. Nevertheless, I cannot argue with Ubuntu’s success and philosophy.
- Zorin OS – Zorin OS is a Linux distribution specifically designed for Microsoft Windows users venturing for the first time into the Linux world. Based on Ubuntu Linux, Zorin focuses on making the transition from the Windows environment to the Linux environment as smooth and seamless as possible. Zorin is perfect for older computer users who have never interacted with anything other than Microsoft Windows and are resistant to change. Zorin is the Buick sedan of the Linux world.
- Android – Based on the Linux kernel, the Android operating system is my top recommendation for all mobile devices.
- Mac OS X – The only non-free, proprietary operating system on my list, Mac OS X offers a familiar desktop environment combined with the security of Linux operating systems. Unlike Microsoft or Linux, Apple maintains store fronts all over the country where users can take their devices for assistance or support. Apple computers are notoriously expensive, usually starting at the $1000 range and going up from there. However, their inherent security, well-built hardware and first-rate technical support can compensate for that if you have the funds to invest. As much as I prefer to recommend Linux to users, if you have a child going off to college, a Mac laptop is probably a good investment to make.