How to find what operating system is on a computer

Updated: 06/30/2020 by Computer Hope
Word cloud of operating system terms.

Knowing what operating system is running on your computer, smartphone, or tablet help you troubleshoot issues and know your computer's or device's compatibilities. Below are the steps on how to determine what operating system is running on your computer, smartphone, or tablet.


Before identifying an operating system, you must know what type of computer you have. For help with identifying a computer, see: How to find information about my computer. You can also use our system information tool to automatically detect your operating system.

IBM compatible (PC) computer

Microsoft Windows

The 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 menu button in the bottom-left corner of your screen. If you see the Start menu button on your taskbar, you are running Microsoft Windows.

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 (graphical user interface) and only see 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 used with X Window System.

Command line operating system

If you only have text, you're at the command line, and can determine the operating system with any of the following commands.


On some systems, the command to view an operating and its version is disabled for security reasons. Also, not all operating systems have all of the following 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 works 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 is found with the following 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 on the computer by rebooting the computer. As the computer boots, it will indicate the operating system as it starts.


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 computer

Apple logo

All versions of the Apple Macintosh's operating systems (macOS) 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 using 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"

An Apple computer can also use Microsoft Windows through Boot Camp.

Apple iPhone and iPad

Knowing the version of the Apple iOS operating system on your iPhone or iPad help research and resolve issues that are specific to an iOS version. Follow the steps below to determine the iOS version on your Apple device.

  1. Access the Settings utility.
  2. Scroll down and tap the General option.
  3. Tap the About option.
  4. The iOS version on the device is listed in the Version line.

Android smartphone and tablet device

There are many different devices, including smartphones and tablets, that use the Android operating system. Follow the steps below to determine the version of Android OS on your Android device.

  1. Access the Settings utility.
  2. Find and tap the About phone or About device option.
  3. The version of Android OS is listed below the Android version entry.