There is no one size fits all answer to " what is the best desktop computer operating system?" Let me first tackle the differences between Linux, Microsoft, and Apple. Hopefully the tech purists won't beat me up too much for generalizing here.
The arguments of which operating system (OS) is best often focuses on the GUI (graphical user interface). Apple focused on being graphical from the start, and Apple focused on a creating single poweruser desktop computer. They have created their own very successful world.
I work in the world of enterprise computers, that's where many computers are talking together, working together, on local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). Some might say I have gone over to the dark side and become a Microsoft fan boy. I bashed Microsoft quite a bit over the years for inefficient operating systems. After spending more than 20 years working with Microsoft products in the enterprise environment I have come to appreciate Microsoft and all the technology they have created.
Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system. When I was teaching I always remember a line from a song when I described Unix, "It wasn't build for comfort it was built for speed." Command line functions, the non GUI stuff, is important to the people who use Unix. A lot of Linux, like Unix, is used by people running it on servers, they don't care about the GUI. That's why there are so many distributions of Linux, some are geared to people using it mainly for server based applications, and some Linux Distros focus on a pretty GUI. Distro is a shortened version of the term distribution. We will discuss popular Linux distros in our next article.
The Linux kernel
Let me use the analogy of building an automobile and say that the operating system kernel is like the engine and drive train of the vehicle. Some people argue the case for Linux based on the assumption that the Linux kernel offers the best engine and drive train to power our computer. That depends, the best for what purpose?
The question often comes up as to why doesn't Windows or Apple create services and applications and applications that work with Linux.
From a programming perspective Microsoft has spent billions of dollars creating services and applications that run on their kernel. What incentive would they have to start creating services and applications specific to a Linux kernel?
Apple seems pretty happy pumping out smartphones, some Apple fans are sad that Apple now appears more focused on phones rather than computers. Apple is the most profitable company on the planet. Why would they start creating services and applications specific to a Linux kernel?
You can't make money on Linux?
There are answers that suggest Apple or Microsoft could not make money supporting Linux. Some people don't understand the concept of open source and believe you can't make money by supporting it.
Richard Stallman, the father of the Open Source software movement, explains that Open Source refers to the preservation of the freedoms to use, study, distribute and modify that software not zero-cost. In illustrating the concept of Gratis versus Libre, Stallman is famous for using the sentence, "free as in free speech not as in free beer."
As Google has shown with Android you can straddle the fence successfully between supporting an open source operating system while still maintaining a fair amount of proprietary components.
As far as Microsoft supporting Linux, in case you missed it: What do you think of Microsoft joining the Linux Foundation?
"The best GUI"
If we get beyond the argument of why the Linux kernel is the best, the question assumes that we need a Windows or Apple GUI (graphic user interface) to make "make the best OS."
There are many impressive looking GUI’s in the Linux world. Take a look at all the Linux distributions, some distros have focused on the server geeks and server functions, some have focused on looking good with pretty GUIs for the desktop crowd. For instance, Mint is a fork from Ubuntu, which is itself a fork from Debian. Mint was forked off Ubuntu with the goal of providing a familiar desktop GUI.
It's funny how questions on forums often start with "Why is Microsoft Windows so popular?" and then go on to give reasons why it shouldn't be so popular. Microsoft is popular, that is the reality. The reasons of why it shouldn't be so popular are typical perceptions of Linux users looking to stir up a debate.
Desktop computers and personal computers starting entering homes and offices in the 1980s. The world of what we then called "IBM compatible" was driven by computers that were command line operating systems. That meant you had to type in command, short words and ,to get your computer to perform various tasks. People came up with various menus and interfaces, but the desktop was not very graphical.
The mid 1990s was the perfect storm for Microsoft Windows 95. The world was just discovering the internet as online services began connecting to the internet for the first time. Microsoft began marketing Windows 95 as the Graphical User Interface to the desktop computer, and the graphical world wide web with Internet Explorer. Love them or hate them, Microsoft became the dominant desktop computer that people used in their homes, and connected to the web in the 1990s.
It is that Windows has become the predominant desktop computer operating system in the 1990s, in offices, and schools, that people have little reason to use something different at home. In order to get people to change the differences must be totally seamless.
Many Linux fans will say that Linux has become much easier to use, and the interface much more like Microsoft Windows. Many Linux users will call Windows too complicated and that switching over to Linux is easy. That is a matter of perspective. I have been supporting desktop computers for more than 30 years, I know first hand how people hate change. Give any windows user a different operating system and they will call it complicated, because it is different. When Blackberry's went out of style and people were forced to use Apples and Androids, I heard users complain about how they missed how easy their Blackberry was to use. It was easy because that was what they learned on, and now they were forced to change.
I keep hearing about how all the cool Linux distros are faster, sleeker, better, than Windows, but there has yet to be a computer company that has mass produced a desktop computer with a Linux distro. The closest thing to a home use Linux based computer is the Google Chromebook. I have a Linux computer at home, but it is just a web browser and email reader. Sure there are a few games on it as well. But there are too many applications I use at work that I could never bring home because they won't run on a Linux computer.
I am by no means a Microsoft Fanboy. Over the years I have had strong words for how Microsoft has done things, but in recent years I finding myself defending Microsoft because some of the negativity gets pretty silly at times. I am not going to force myself and my family to use a Linux computer just to prove a point. I don't see myself going down that road anytime soon.o
My perspective is also a bit different that the average home user, I am a systems admin. I need to worry about how well multiple computers play together with multiple users. The computer could be use as a toy, or a set of tools, what works best for you depends on what applications you need to do the job. There is no one size fits all answer to which computer should you use.