Last month, I explained “operating systems” and promised to talk about what was compatible between different operating systems. To do this, I’d like to introduce a few more terms.
The technical term “cross-platform” typically refers to a program that is available on more than one operating system. Examples are familiar names like Java, Adobe, Skype, or Office.
The nice thing about cross-platform programs is that you can communicate with a wider range of people than with single-platform programs.
The ultimate examples of cross-platform programs are “browser-based” programs. With these, the computing is done “in the cloud”, so it doesn’t matter what sort of device you are on.
A similar term, “platform-independent”, is usually used for data files that can be used on more than one operating system. Examples are familiar file types like pictures (JPG, GIF, TIFF), sounds (MP3), videos (AVI, MP4, MKV), web pages (HTML), and office documents (DOC, XLS, PPT).
The great thing about platform-independent files is that you can easily share them with a wider range of people than with single-platform files.
As more programs become cross-platform or browser-based, and more files become platform-independent, it doesn’t matter which operating system you choose … you can still do the same work, be it accounting, graphic design, or word-craft … and you can still enjoy the same media, be it audio, video, word-craft.
That’s what gives us the freedom to choose operating systems like Chrome, Android, or iOS. Unless you are a designer of programs or databases, or require a specific program written for a specific operating system, you are free to be “platform independent” yourself! Eventually, all popular computer-based activities will be platform independent.