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  • Writer's pictureJoe Chris

Operating Systems I: Mac, Windows, & Linux (feat. MacOS navigation tips)

The operating system is the interface between the user and the hardware. It is responsible for coordinating the hardware resources, providing a base layer for applications to run, monitoring system health, and data management. In addition, operating systems usually include ways to manage access control, performance, disk space, devices, memory, etc. This makes them very essential to understand fully, as they can be optimized for both performance and security.

There are hundreds of operating systems available and every operating system has what is known as a “kernel” which is the core software that acts as a brain of the system. The kernel determines how things are run, and the methods for which they do so. Programs must be written to operate with specific kernels, which is why programs written specifically for one operating system won’t work on another. Of the many OS’s you can use, there are three main ones: Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Windows and MacOS are the operating systems of choice in the music production world. Some composers even run both (or all three!) in their studio for different purposes. For instance, one might be using Logic (only available on MacOS) or Digital Performer (optimized for MacOS) as their sequencing machine, and connected to a VE Pro server running windows. This is because Microsoft allows you to purchase Windows, where as you would need to buy a new apple computer in order to get MacOS. For the needs of a server, you can get much higher specs for cheaper (especially if you build your own!) when running windows rather than MacOS. It is both a practical and economical choice to run Windows at least as a VE Pro server, if not as your whole system.

Another thing to keep in mind is how frequently the OS has updates. Windows has a lot more updates than MacOS, but usually they are in the form of security updates. Windows 10 was supposed to be the “last version of windows”, though Windows 11 has recently been released. MacOS updates about once a year, and every time it does companies might email you to tell you whether or not their software is compatible. Since Windows 10/11 is keeping the OS kernel relatively the same, this is not as much of an issue. Though, if you upgrade your OS on Mac, you may not even be able to open your important files for your projects, and may miss your deadline. It is for this reason that you NEVER upgrade your OS in the middle of a project or if one is on the horizon. Companies such as Sweetwater keep a pretty up to date list of what software is available for which OS, but always go to the manufacturer’s website and confirm for yourself.

! To see what version of MacOS you are running, click the Apple logo on the top left of the screen (on the task bar) and click “About this Mac”. This will give a pop-up window with all of the pertinent information you would need – OS Version, your system specs, serial number, etc.

Now, the Linux OS is actually a system of packages distributed around the Linux kernel. Unlike Windows or MacOS, Linux is open source, meaning anyone can manipulate the source code to suite their needs. This allows various distributions (called “distros”) of the Linux “operating system” to exist each with various functionalities. Linux is by far the most customizable OS, and actually takes up a huge share of the computer market when considering the amount of servers that run on it – though it is not quite ready for the music world as most of the programs we use in film scoring are not available on the Linux kernel without running some sort of emulation software in between (such as WINE) adding latency and not usually 100% stable either. Linux is very light on system resources, so as I mentioned in section 1 – it is a fantastic way to bring new life into an older machine and keep it out of landfills.

! The Open Source Movement

The Open Source movement includes operating systems like Linux, but also a wide variety of other software. A large portion of the software that runs the world is developed and maintained by a collaboration of thousands of coders, many unpaid and/or even working at competing companies.


Applications are probably what most people think of when they think of software – your DAW, your internet browser, Microsoft Word, etc. We will take a more in depth look at these later on.


Drivers are specialized pieces of software that translates data between your hardware and your operating system. Drivers tell your operating system how to access and utilize the hardware you’ve installed in your system. Operating systems typically have a huge library of drivers pre-installed that allow you to plug in almost anything and it will work. If you are having issues connecting a new device to your computer, a possible solution may be to download or update the driver for it.

Additional references:

Some Tips for Navigating MacOS

Navigating your operating system’s GUI (graphical user interface) is most commonly done with pointing and clicking to files and folders in a file browser – “Finder” on Mac or “Explorer” on windows. Though this is a perfectly useable way to navigate your files, there are ways you can make this more efficient.

! Quick note on filepaths:

When talking about file paths, there are two ways to refer to location: the absolute path and the relative path. The absolute path is the full path name from the root of the drive (ex: C:/Users/WillSmith/Applications) where the relative is a folder based on a relationship with another (“I’m in applications, take me to the parent directory” will take you to C:/Users/WillSmith).

Inside of Finder, there is a “favorites” section on the left hand side that provides quck access to a variety of directories (folders). If you don’t see it, hit cmd+option+s or go to view>show sidebar. What a lot of people don’t realize is that they can add their own folders to the side bar. Simply drag and drop the folder there, and then within an application that uses finder (such as opening or saving a project in your DAW) that will be available as a one click option to take you there.

!! In these types of “save as” and “open” menus, be it from a DAW or Safari or any other application, cmd+D takes you directly to the desk top!

Some ways you can utilize this is to have a “scores” folder where you store all your master directories for each project, a “paperwork” folder for quick an easy access to important paperwork, or even putting your sample library folder there if its housed on the same machine rather than VE Pro.

Another navigational trick you can use is enabling finder to show the path bar. This allows you to double click to a folder earlier in the path. So for example you can navigate from MacintoshHD/Users/WillSmith/Applications to MacintoshHD/Users without having to navigate through WillSmith first.

If you know the path of the folder you are trying to get to, you can use Cmd+Shift+G and type it in.

If you want to go directly to the parent folder (the directory on the path immediately before the one you are currently in) you can use the hot key cmd+up arrow

With Apple sometimes you may need to access the library folder, which they hide from you by default. To access, hover your mouse over the “go” dropdown menu and hold down the option key – this should make it appear. Another option is when you use cmd+shift+g, the path is “~/Library/”.

Files use what is known as a “file extension” at the end of their names to designate what type of file it is, and the operating system usually knows which software to open with it. Let’s say you just updated finale, but forgot to set it as the new default. All files with the extension “.musx” may open with the previous version. To change this, click on the file and type cmd+I, and scroll to the third to last drop down section where it says “Open with”. Here, you can change the default software that opens with file names containing this extension.

Another great use for extensions is search for files. For example, you can’t remember what you named a session. You can search “.dpdoc” (Digital performer’s file extension) or “.cpr” (Cubase) and find all files containing this, right click the file and select “show in enclosing folder” and you will now be in your project folder. Some programs, like Finale, save automatic back ups in a file you normally wouldn’t access, and if you accidentally delete your work you can search “.bak” and you may be able to find it here.

Lastly, though the tags included are all color coded, which is great if you are the kind of person that can be consistent and maintain their color coded tags, they are not the only option. You can create custom tags to categorize and sort your data. Files and folders both can have multiple tags, which can be very useful as well.

Other hot keys to know in finder:

Forward (cmd ] )

Back (cmd [ )

New window (cmd N)


Inside of finder there is also a useful tool called “Show clipboard” which does exactly what it says: it opens a text document and shows you what you copied last. To see this, go to “edit > show clipboard” inside of Finder. There are also third party applications you can install to utilize multiple clipboards, as well as keep and maintain indexed clipboard history should you need that sort of thing.

Now, this post is getting pretty long and I still have to write about Windows - so stay tuned for part two!

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