If you're new to web development and are in the market for a new laptop, you might be wondering which operating system is best.
Spoiler: there is no straightforward answer. One person's preference might not be the best fit for you.
So while you won't find a definitive answer in this article, here are a few pros and cons for each of the three major operating systems, Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Windows is easily the most popular OS in terms of market share, with an estimated 87.89% of PCs running some form of the operating system. Windows devices also tend to be cheaper and more configurable than Apple devices.
Some people have trouble with doing more advanced development with Windows, like getting Docker containers to run, trouble with Node and npm, and so on. One reason for this is that the default command line utility for Windows is PowerShell, which is quite different than Bash found on most servers that run Linux.
But for basic web development, all you really need is an editor like VSCode, which is another Microsoft product.
Recently Microsoft has been embracing open source technologies, and allow you to install things like a Bash terminal with Windows Subsystem for Linux. These advances should further close the gap between the Windows and Unix based OSs like MacOS and Linux.
Computers running MacOS make up about 9.68% of the total market share, which has been growing slowly over the past decade.
While Apple computers tend to be more expensive than those running Windows, many swear by their build quality and the flexibility of the BSD Unix based MacOS. For web developers, especially those that work with the backend, MacOS is close enough to Linux that many servers run on, making development easier to jump into.
One of the understated advantages that MacOS PCs have is that, with Windows running in a VM, they can run all major browsers for testing. If one of your goals as a web developer is to shoot for complete compatibility, the ability to test your projects in Chrome, Firefox Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, and Edge is a big plus.
Linux is everywhere. It's what runs the web, with Unix and Unix-like OSs running on about 67% of all web servers as of 2016. Android, the most popular mobile OS in the world, is built on top of Linux.
But desktop Linux only runs on about 1.72% of all desktop PCs, and has been slowly slipping over the years.
That said, Linux is very popular among developers, who praise the OS for being free (both as in freedom and as in beer) and the ability to quickly install everything you need for your dev environment.
However, not all devices run well with Linux. The Linux kernel, distributions – unique operating systems that run the Linux kernel like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Red Hat, and so on – and application developers are largely open source projects. This means they're largely supported by volunteers who work on these projects during their spare time.
While many devices running Linux are considered secure because so many people review code and submit patches to fix new vulnerabilities, some hardware will not work out of the box. Make sure you do your research beforehand to see if the computer or components you buy are properly supported, or buy a device with a lot of support like a Lenovo Thinkpad or Dell XPS.