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Windows 10 is highly anticipated for a varietyrnof reasons, including it brings a great deal more sanity to the unmitigated mess of Windows 8, and it does not require a third-party utility to make it usable for a natural (or a classic, depending on who you ask) desktop workflow.
However, the underlying operating system (OS) that a user runs is becoming anrnafterthought. The primary focus for many users is on the web — as such, thernavailability of browsers and day-to-day productivity software isrnmore relevant to end users than the old era of buying boxed software in stores.
This gallery highlights various OSs that are, for mostrnusers, adequate replacements for Windows 10. Many of the options featured hererncan be used in VirtualBox, if you prefer to give it a spinrnwithout dual-booting or formatting your system.
OS X 10.11 El Capitan
El Capitan is a beta product — though, in general, OS Xrnis still the biggest commercial competitor to Windows. For the most part, itrnmakes more sense if you already have or plan to buy other Apple products.
In comparison to the current release (Yosemite), El Capitanrnchanges the system font to the SanrnFrancisco typeface used in the Apple Watch and the upcoming iOS 9. ElrnCapitan also brings support for snapping two windows side-by-side, a featurernother OSs have had for years.
Also new in this release is improved display support for Chinese and Japanese, and an improved Japanese IME (Input method editor). The IME allows the user to write in Japanese by typing phonetically (in Hiragana), and generates the correct Kanji without user intervention by using frequency and context-sensitive clues to determine the correct Kanji.
Killer feature: HiDPI (“Retina”) display support is more maturernthan what’s available with other OSs.
Price: Free upgrade, though using OS Xrnrequires Apple hardware, which starts at $499 for the Mac Mini.
Ubunturnremains the most visible Linux distribution for people not necessarilyrnpredisposed to installing a different OS. The Unity interfacernrequires some level of adjustment compared to Windows, though the name Unity isrnat least accurate in regard to presentation — the system behavior isrnreasonably well thought-out, and is uniform across applications.
Ubuntu, like other Linux distributions, has native versions ofrnpopular open-source software, such as Firefox and LibreOffice, which are installed by default; offerings that can be installed by the user include VLC Media Player, Pidgin instant messenger, FileZilla, and Audacity. Additionally, closed-sourcernproducts such as Google Chrome, Skype, Trillian, Steam, Dropbox, and TeamViewerrnare also available.
Of note, Ubuntu Kylin, the derivative intended forrnChinese users, includes a preconfigured IME and an additional migrationrnassistant for people switching from Windows, as well as Kingsoft WPS Office inrnplace of LibreOffice, as that product is more popular there.
Killer feature: It’s a good entry point for people who don’trnhave prior Linux experience.
Kubunturnis the first distribution to ship version 5 of KDE Plasma, an alternative desktop environmentrnwith much improved HiDPI support, and a more modern visual style compared tornprevious releases. Like Ubuntu and other Linux distributions, it has nativernversions of various popular open-source and proprietary software.
Killer feature: It’s the de-facto flagship distribution forrnKDE, setting it ahead of competing distributions that still include KDE Plasmarn4.
Fedora is the flagship distribution for the GNOME desktop environment. Fedora releases serve asrnthe basis of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and a significantrnamount of the development work on Fedora is done by Red Hat employees. Consequently, Fedora uses more recent versions of the Linux kernel than other distributions. This strikes a balance between having advanced support for newer hardware (compared to Ubuntu), but with greater stability compared to bleeding edge / rolling release distributions such as Arch Linux.
Compared to Ubuntu, the Fedora project has a much stricterrnpolicy about the use of non-free code in official repositories for softwarernsuch as audio/video codecs and proprietary programs such as Flash, Java,rnGoogle Chrome, and Skype. These can be added with relative ease using thernthird-party Fedyrnutility.
Killer feature: Being the de-facto flagship distribution forrnGNOME, it provides the most mature HiDPI support among Linux distributions.
Haiku is an open-source implementation of BeOS, which was thernfirst OS designed for symmetricrnmultiprocessing and preemptive multitasking. Haiku is named for the peculiar errorrnmessages from the default browser in BeOS.
The Haiku project is thernmost feature-complete original OS targeted toward general usersrnthat is not related to the Windows, Linux, or OS X / BSD family. While still inrnAlpha territory, it’s generally stable enough to browse the web, listen tornmusic, and do other basic tasks.
Killer feature: Super light-weight, and it doesn’t require much in thernway of system resources, making it a good choice for migrating on olderrnsystems.
eComStation 2.2 is scheduled for release in October 2015 from thernnew developer XEU, which has taken over from Mensys BV, the previous maintainerrnof the project. eComStation is the successor to IBM’s OS/2, with updated driverrnsupport and current software packages such as Firefox and ApachernOpenOffice.org. Despite the relative age of OS/2, it still has vibrant community support.
Killer feature: Full binary compatibility for Win16rnapplications (this is better than the compatibility in Windows).
Price: $145 for the Home/Student edition.
Google’s Chrome OS has slowly added more and morernpackaged applications, making Chromebooks much more than the internet appliance they started as. Apps can be addedrnthrough the Chrome web store, and partial support for Android apps is availablernthrough the App Runtime for Chrome (ARC).
Chrome OS lacksrnthe ability to do very specific things that traditional desktop OSs can, such as burning CDs or DVDs, though the frequency with which thisrnis a common task is far less than it was 10 years ago.
Killer feature: Extremely hardened security makes the prospectrnof viruses on Chrome OS less likely.
Price: Free, though it is only available on Chrome-branded hardware from various OEMs, starting atrn$149. This makes it a prospect of purchasing new hardware, instead of an in-place softwarernupgrade.
Remix OS 1.5
Remix OS from Jide, a startup founded by ex-Googlernengineers, takes Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and gives it a productivity-mindedrndesktop feel, with proper windowing support and multitasking. Remix OS shipsrnwith the Jide Ultratablet, and ROM images are availablernfor the Nexus 10 tablet. Jide has also launched a Kickstarter for the Remix Mini,rnwhich brings the OS to desktop users.
Killer feature: Proper windowing for Android, with support forrnMicrosoft Office.
Price: Free, though it only runs on specific ARM hardware eitherrnfrom Jide or the Nexus 10. A ROM for the Nexus 9 is planned for a futurernversion.
The Solus OS is a new Linux distribution that is targeted for desktop users. It includes the Budgierndesktop, which is designed for this distribution. Like Ubuntu, it adds arndifferent interface to the existing GNOME software stack, and like Ubuntu, it has a well thought-out,rnconsistent user interface. Solus is still in beta.
Killer feature: A new, minimalist interface intended for andrntargeted to desktop users.
Price: Free, though they arernsoliciting donations via Patreon.