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What Is the Best Operating System for Coding in 2016?

By Ellie Martin
June 27, 2016

The tech world is constantly changing at lightning speed, and sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the industry’s freshest trends. With new technologies constantly hitting the market and favored platforms among programmers changing all the time, getting a clear picture of the current state of the industry can be a very tricky task. Luckily, the folks at StackOverflow have done the world a service by conducting a comprehensive developer survey that gives us a glimpse into the working lives of today’s programmers.

Conducted each year since 2013, the StackOverflow Developer Survey covers a broad swath of tech-related issues, including everything from most popular platform to highest earning programming language and Star Wars vs. Star Trek preference. The results of 2016’s survey suggest that, if anything, the tech world is only growing more dynamic and disruptive. The “top trending tech,” for example, was React, a JavaScript library that’s relatively new to the market. Having been officially launched in 2013, React’s 311.3 percent growth in usage was, according to the survey, by far the biggest year-to-year spike. Comparing that number with more traditional languages, such as Objective C, which saw an 18.5 percent dip in usage, suggests that we are moving into a phase of major disruption, where new technologies are establishing themselves quickly as major players in the industry.

One of the more interesting revelations from the StackOverflow survey was the preferred operating system for developers and programmers. For the first time in the survey’s history, Mac OS X was the number one choice for preferred operating system among developers, finally bypassing Windows 7 and Linux, which came in second and third, respectively. Notably, Windows’ most recent operating system was well behind its Apple counterpart, despite a recent  major push in popularity for Windows 10. While 26.2 percent of programmers reported preferring Mac OS X, Windows 10 only resonated with 20.8 percent of respondents.

This result might come as a surprise to many in tech, who remember a time not too long ago when the idea of Apple’s OS X being the preferred operating system among programmers was considered preposterous. Until quite recently, Apple computers were often associated with designers and college students. While those two groups might still prefer Apple, they’re not alone, as developers seem to be making the move to OS X in droves.

The StackOverflow survey results from previous years suggest that OS X’s ascendancy has been gradual—it has climbed up one spot each year from third place since 2014—but the rise to first place still has many people wondering exactly why Mac OS X has become the preferred operating system. What is the reason for the change?

Turns out, Mac OS X has a number of good things going for it in the eyes of developers. Perhaps most important is the fact that OS X is built on top of Unix, one of the most popular command operating systems for servers and file systems. Neither Linux nor Windows operating systems can claim that feature. This is perhaps most important for programmers because it allows them to build a program on an incredibly close approximation to the intended target server of that program.

Mac OS X also boasts a good deal of versatility and cross-platform appeal that Windows and Linux cannot claim. If, for example, a programmer wants to develop in iOS, Mac hardware is a firm requirement, and with the Apple-centric language Swift falling in the top three of the StackOverflow survey’s “top trending tech” category, this feature looks like it’s becoming an increasingly important consideration for developers. On top of that, it’s relatively easy to simulate other systems on a Mac, while the reverse is not necessarily true.

Another interesting trend from the StackOverflow survey, which might play into the shift towards Mac OS X, was the average age of developers. Indeed, nearly 60 percent of respondents were under the age of 30. Beginning with the famous “I’m a Mac” advertising campaign, Apple has made its appeal to young people a top marketing priority. While it may not necessarily be a cause-and-effect situation, perhaps the StackOverflow survey results point to the fact that this upcoming generation of developers and programmers were brought up on Mac OS X and have no intention of changing allegiances any time soon.

While it’s not possible to pinpoint an exact personality type and technological preference for the “average” developer, the StackOverflow Developer Survey always provides some very interesting insight into the industry’s preferences, tendencies, and potential future progressions. No matter the desired language or job title, though, one very reasonable speculation from this year’s survey is the fact that the future of developers and programmers will be a Mac-heavy one. For the first time, we can safely predict that the disruptions to come in recent years will most likely come from Mac hardware.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing Writer

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