Have You Ever Wondered How Your Operating System Got Its Name?

Have you ever wondered what “XP” stands for or where “Ubuntu” comes from? Some operating systems get their names from obvious places, but others need some explaining. Read on to find out where your favorite OS got its name.

We’ve rounded up the most popular and well-known operating systems, as well as a few lesser-known ones—if you know of another operating system with an interesting story behind its name, make sure to teach your fellow readers in the comments.

MS-DOS

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Micro Soft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) was originally licensed from Seattle Consumer Products’ Quick and Dirty Operating System (QDOS). MS-DOS had no graphical user interface (GUI) and instead everything was inputted by users via a command prompt. The DOS acronym does not always mean MS-DOS. DOS is a generic term for “Disk Operating System” and MS-DOS was just one of many including Apple DOS, AmigaDOS, freeDOS, and many others.

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Windows 1.0 – NT 4.0

The Windows name came from the fact that the new operating system, Windows 1.0, had windows a user could interact with in the GUI. The “Windows” name carries through all the way to current operating system and the number or name following “Windows” is how you can tell what version of Windows you have.

Microsoft stuck with the numbering scheme for 1.0-3.1 when it started to work on its New Technology (NT) branch of the operating system. Windows NT 4.0 was the first to implement the new NT kernel and was released in 1996 using the Windows 95 user interface.

Windows 95 – ME

Microsoft for a short while began naming their Windows operating system with the year of release indicating the version. Windows 95, 98, and Millennium Edition were all built off of the original Windows 3.1 kernel. Millennium Edition was release in 2000 and was designed to be used on home computers while Windows 2000 was designed for business computers.

Windows 2000 used the NT kernel and was the direct successor to NT 4.0, it was later replaced by Windows XP.

Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7

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Windows XP was released in 2001 and the XP stands for eXPerience. This experience lasted all the way until 2007 when Microsoft released Windows Vista. According to Microsoft, Vista got its name because “At the end of the day…what you’re trying to get to is your own personal Vista.” It was very philosophical of Microsoft but ultimately they moved to a more simple approach with Windows 7.

Windows 7 is the seventh version of Windows since 95. Even though 95 wasn’t the first version of Windows if you count 1.0 – 3.1, but Windows 10 just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Plus people might get it confused with Mac OS 10.

System 1 – 7.5

Apple’s System operating system was developed for the Macintosh personal computer. The operating system has always followed a basic revision numbering scheme with every major release getting a 1 point increment with minor updates getting a 0.1 increment.

The Apple Macintosh computer was released in 1984 and got its name from the McIntosh apple.

Each new version featured incremental updates and feature enhancements as well as support for newer Apple computers. System 1-4 had no multitasking support which may sound familiar to another Apple operating system.

The first seven versions of the operating system were simply called “System 1-7.” This held true until 7.6 when the word “System” was dropped in favor of a more marketable “Mac OS” name.

Mac OS 8 – 10

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Mac OS 8 came out in 1997 shortly after Steve Jobs came back to work for Apple. Mac OS 8 was supposed to be called version 7.7 but was changed to 8 because of a legal loophole that allowed Apple to shut down the 3rd party Macintosh market.

Mac OS 9 is now known as the last of the “Classic” Mac OSs and was the final release to be based on Apple’s in house code.

OS X (OS Ten) is the tenth version of the Mac operating system and the first Mac OS based on Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). The underlying OS was developed by the company Steve Jobs started while away from Apple, NeXTSTEP, which Apple acquired in 1997.

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Each minor version of OS X (10.1, 10.2, etc.) also has an associated big cat name. While there is some speculation on where Apple got the idea for these names, it is a pretty big coincidence that the operating system would share names with the now depreciated Macintosh clones built by Shaye as well as a pretty convincing argument over OS X names and German tanks.

Linux

Linux itself got its name from Ari Lemmke who ran the FTP server the original Linux Kernel was uploaded to. Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, wanted to name the kernel Freax, but Ari instead gave him a folder called “linux” to upload his kernel to. The Linux name came from “Linus’ Minix” which was the operating system Linus was trying to replace for himself.

Ubuntu

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Ubuntu (oo-BOON-too) comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages in Africa roughly meaning “humanity towards others.”

Like many Linux distributions, Ubuntu releases have two names for every release, a development code name and a version name. The numerical name for the release is based on the year and month of the release, e.g., version 10.04 was released in April of 2010. Every two years a long term support (LTS) release is also made which carries the LTS lettering and also has an incremental release for bug fixes. The current long term support version is Ubuntu 10.04.2 LTS.

The code names are based on an alphabetical increment of an adjective and animal of the same letter. The animal naming came early in the development and usually reflects the state of the current Ubuntu distribution, e.g., Warty Warthog was the first release to signify its lack of polish. Ever release since Breeze Badger (5.10) has been in alphabetical order.

Ubuntu also has derivatives that have either a specific focus, location, or major difference in the operating system that requires a different distribution name. Some of the official derivatives are Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Mythbuntu, and Eubuntu. All of the official derivatives follow the same naming scheme as Ubuntu.

There are also Ubuntu customizations like Linux Mint, Linspire, and Ubuntulite which all have their own code names and version numbering.

Debian

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Debian got its name from Ian Murdock the creator of the Debian distribution. He named the distribution after his girlfriend Debra Lynn by combining her name and his into “Debian.”

Each stable Debian release has an associated version number (1.0, 2.0, etc.), but it also has a code name based on a character from the movie 1995 movie Toy Story. The latest 6.0 release is named after the toy aliens “Squeeze.” The development branch of Debian is permanently named “Sid” from the emotionally unstable neighbor in the movie.

Red Hat/Fedora/CentOS

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Red Hat Linux received its name because red hats have been the symbol of freedom and revolution in both the U.S. and France. Red Hat comes in a few different flavors, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), Fedora Project, and CentOS

Red Hat Enterprise Linux does not use code names and instead just uses version numbers similar to OS X.

Fedora gets its name from the Red Hat logo in which Shadowman, the man in the logo, wears a red fedora hat. Fedora 1-6 were known as Fedora Core while later versions dropped “core” from the name.

Fedora uses code names that are relational to the previous release. Each release is related to the first with an “is-a” relationship to its predecessor. For example, version 7 “Moonshine” is a record label like version 6 “Zod”, but it is also a movie like version 8 “Werewolf.”

CentOS is the community-supported version of RHEL. The name comes from Community ENTerprise Operating System and is one of the most popular web server operating systems. Version numbers for CentOS follow RHEL version numbering and does not have code names.

Gentoo

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Gentoo got its name from Daniel Robbins after renaming his Enoch Linux distribution. Gentoo was first renamed when Daniel and the other developers began using the EGCS compiler instead of the GCC compiler for added features and speed. Gentoo is named after the fastest swimming penguin, the Gentoo penguin.

The stylized “g” logo resembles a silver Japanese Magatama which were often found at grave sites as offerings to deities.

SuSE

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SuSE is a German distribution which originally stood for “Software und System Entwicklung” which in English translates to “Software and System Development.” Since 1998 the acronym is no longer used and the the name of the company is simply SUSE.

The original release of SuSE Linux was version 4.2 instead of 1.0 in reference to the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

SUSE’s mascot is a Veiled chameleon named “Geeko” from the words “gecko” and “geek.”

SUSE is now owned by Novell and the free Linux distribution is known as openSUSE.

Justin Garrison is a Linux and HTPC enthusiast who loves to try new projects. He isn't scared of bricking a cell phone in the name of freedom.

  • Published 02/28/11
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