Operating System

Every computer needs an operating system (OS) to control the most basic functions of the computer. In this lesson, I will outline the general choices you have for your OS.

32 vs 64 bit
Microsoft Windows
Apple Macintosh


Every computer needs to have an Operating System (OS) that controls the fundamental components of the system. There are 3 OS types that make up the vast majority of all computers: Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, and Linux. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.

On balance, most people are probably best advised to work with the OS that they are most familiar with, and that they can most easily get help with. 

32 vs 64 bit

The bit depth of the OS refers to the data path through the processor. The most important implication is the amount of RAM that the operating system can make use of. 32 bit systems are generally limited to making use of no more than 4 Gigabytes of memory. 64 bit architecture enables the computer to make use of a nearly unlimited amount of RAM. 64 bit systems offer significant improvements in computing speed, if the computer has lots of RAM, and if the programmes are designed to take advantage of that RAM.

If you are considering purchasing a computer for use in digital imaging, you should be looking at systems that support 64 bit operating systems, and that allow the installation of at least 8 Gigabytes of RAM (and more if available).

64 bit problems

A 64 bit architecture is not always better, however, it requires that programmes be rewritten to take advantage of the wider data path. If the program does not support 64 bits, then there is no advantage to running it on a 64bit OS. And there are some problems that people run into with 64 bit systems. Device drivers for some peripherals have not been updated to work in 64 bits, and they may simply be incompatible with 64 bit systems.

64 bit imaging software

Here are some software versions, I will outline which ones can take advantage of 64 bit.

  • Photoshop started support for 64 bit in version CS3 for Windows, and version CS4 for Macintosh.
  • Lightroom because a 64 bit application as of Lightroom 2 on both Mac and Windows.
  • Premiere Pro started support for 64 bit in version CS4 for Windows, and version CS5 for Macintosh
  • Premiere Pro CS5 and later require a 64 bit OS 
  • Windows Operating System

Microsoft Windows

Windows is the most widely-used OS in the world. The current version of Windows is called Windows 7, although many people continue to use the 2 previous versions - Vista and XP.

Windows has a couple advantages:

  • More people know how to use it than any other OS
  • It runs on the vast majority of computer equipment that is in use today
  • More software is written for Windows than any other OS
  • There are also some disadvantages:

  • There are more viruses and other malware that have been written to take advantage of security flaws in the Windows OS
  • Colour management is somewhat harder to implement for many Windows computers, due to the variation in video card drivers
  • Apple Macintosh

    The Macintosh OS is popular among photographers, particularly in the US and Europe. Apple hardware and software has been oriented to graphics, photography and design for many years. In some parts of the world, Macintosh hardware can be more expensive and significantly more difficult to obtain. 

    Here are some Macintosh advantages:

  • Colour management has been integrated for quite some time
  • Device drivers for Macintosh tend to install automatically and generally without conflicts
  • There are some disadvantages as well:

  • The Mac OS only runs on Apple hardware, so the choices of a Mac computer are more limited
  • There is not as wide a selection of Macintosh software available in the market
  • Linux

    Linux is an open source software platform that is based on the UNIX operating system that runs mainframe computers. The OS is considered to be well-written and secure. One major advantage Linux enjoys is that it is free. (although there are some versions you pay for.) Ubuntu is a free version of Linux that you can download and install yourself.

    Linux can be installed on a very broad range of computers, including most that support Windows or Mac Operating systems. Linux is frequently used as an OS for networking hardware, due to its good security.

    The range of commercial imaging software products available for Linux is limited. The most recent Photoshop that can be installed on Linux is CS2. The most popular imaging program on Linux is GIMP, which can also run on Mac or Windows.

    Linux tends to be best-suited for people who want to avoid commercial operating systems and have a strong desire to do-it-yourself.

    Read more about the Ubuntu Linux Operating System