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What is the correct way to specify the operating system you are targeting or using?

Is a program running on or under an operating system (OS)?

Is a machine running an OS or under an OS?

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1  
Being a mass noun not a count noun, software cannot take an indefinite article, but a program can. –  tchrist Oct 26 '12 at 14:06
    
Thanks, I was not aware of that. –  Antoine Lecaille Oct 26 '12 at 14:08
    
They're just difference metaphorical usages which are both common and both valid. The OS is often called a platform, in which case applications run on it. But if it's thought of as the machine's "top-level control program", managing all user applications, those apps run under it. –  FumbleFingers Oct 26 '12 at 18:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Machines run operating system software; or run operating systems. My laptop here runs Windows 7.

At least in British English, software can run on or under the OS.

My program "foo" runs under Windows 7 but fails completely under Windows 8.
I still have to test it on Windows Phone 7.

The first sentence might use under because it could be under conditions which include Windows 7, but using under here is normal usage [at least in Britain].

The second sentence could be taken to mean on a machine running Windows Phone 7, but since reference to the machine is understood, "on an OS" is fine.

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I think this is the same everywhere. –  tchrist Oct 26 '12 at 14:53

A machine is running a certain operating system.

A program is running on a certain operating system.

References and examples:

From the Wikipedia article "Computer compatibility":

Software compatibility can also refer to ability for the software to run on a particular operating system.

From the article about Linux:

Cell phones and PDAs running Linux on open-source platforms became more common from 2007.

And thus, depending on who your audience is, you can say:

  • I'm using Ubuntu Linux
  • My PC is running Ubuntu Linux

And

  • I'm playing Braid (running)* on Ubuntu Linux
  • I was never able to get Adobe Photoshop to run properly on Ubuntu Linux

*the bracketed part is optional, but not necessary

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It actually just means what on and under mean. The software program either runs under the OS at a lower-level or on the OS at a higher-level.

For example; Microsoft Office runs on Windows 7, because it is a high-level software program that requires the services of the OS to function. Where as, the device drivers for a video graphics card run under the OS, since the driver provides functionality to the OS at a lower-level.

When you say software is running under an OS it implies that software is connecting to services under the top layer used by the user. Where as, when you say software is running on an OS it implies the software is executing above the top-layer.

I don't think on or under really make much difference anymore, since operating systems today are so automated, plug-in play and consumer friendly. People no longer need to manage device drivers or services manually. So the differences have been lost over time.

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2  
I don't think normal, everyday usage makes the distinction you propose. A game, for instance, can equally well run "under Windows 7" and "on Windows 7". –  Marthaª Oct 26 '12 at 18:07
    
As a commonly used expression, they both work. It's not something I think is important. I prefer the term "requires". That is more accurate. –  Mathew Foscarini Oct 26 '12 at 18:17
    
Hmm. I would use "requires" for capabilities — processor speed, that sort of thing —, not for the OS. –  Marthaª Oct 26 '12 at 18:22

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