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How to find what operating system is on a computer

Knowing what operating system is running on your computer can help you troubleshoot a computer and know your computer's compatibilities. Below are the steps on how to determine what operating system is running on your computer.

Tip: If you are not sure what type of computer you have start with our steps on identifying your computer. You can also use our system information tool to automatically detect your operating system.

IBM compatible (PC) users
Apple users

IBM compatible (PC) users

Microsoft WindowsThe majority of all IBM compatible (PC) users have Microsoft Windows installed on their computer. A good method of determining if you are running Microsoft Windows 95 or later is to look for the "Start Button" in the bottom left corner of your screen. If you see this button you are running Microsoft Windows. To determine what version of Windows you are using see our what version of Windows do I have document.

If you do not see a Start button it is likely you are running a different operating system. Below are some different visual indications to determine what operating system you are using. If you do not have any graphics or a GUI (only text) skip to the command line section.

GUI operating system visual indicators

  1. A Microsoft Windows logo or Microsoft Windows flag but no start button often indicates an earlier version of Microsoft Windows such as Microsoft Windows 3.11.
  2. A red hat in the corner of the screen - Computer is running Red Hat Linux.
  3. A green or blue "L" in the corner of the screen - Computer is running Lindows or Linspire.
  4. A gray or black foot print in the corner of the screen you have GNOME running on a Linux or Unix variant.
  5. A purple background with any visual indication of "Sun" or "Solaris" is an indication of the Sun Solaris operating system being used with X.

Command line operating system

If you only have text on the computer or only a console to work with often you can determine what operating system you are using by using any of the below commands. Note: On some systems the command to view what operating system or its version will be disabled for security reasons and not all operating systems will support all of the below commands.

Note to Linux and Unix users: Often users running a Linux or Unix variant have a Linux variant with any number of Graphic User Interfaces, for example, you could be running Red Hat Linux using GNOME as the GUI. It is often better to use the console to determine what variant of Linux or Unix you are using. The uname command will work with almost all variants of Linux and Unix.

If the uname command works and you need version information type: uname -a

Additional information about the Linux version can also be found by using the below commands if the uname command is not available.

tail /etc/redhat-release
cat /etc/issue

Visual identification

Finally, if you are in front of the computer you can usually determine what operating system is being run on the computer by rebooting the computer. As the computer boots it will indicate the operating system as it starts.

Tip: If the screen is loading too fast you can press the pause key on the keyboard to pause the screen as it is loading.

Apple users

All versions of the Apple Macintosh's operating systems have an Apple menu, a small apple icon in the upper left corner of the screen. If you do not have this apple logo on your screen verify that you are on an Apple computer.

  1. Click the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen.
  2. In the apple menu click "About this Mac" or "About this Computer"

Note: An Apple computer can also use Microsoft Windows through Boot Camp. If you need help determining what version of Windows is installed see our what version of Windows do I have document.

Additional information