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You surely must be familiar with the concept of an operating system (OS) for your computer. How has not heard of Windows and its different incarnations? Windows 95, Windows 98, Vista or Windows 7? What about Mac OS X – Panther, Snow Leopard or Lion? And what about Linux and its different distros?

If you are a long term user of Microsoft products you are thus well aware of the moodiness of the operating system, blue-screen-of-death and the endless restarts after a seemingly infinite number of updates. Well, you would not be alone if you were to start antropomorphising your favourite OS, and if you are a Japanese user it doesn’t take long for you to start creating manga characters for them, i.e. OS-tans.

Why OS-tan? Well, you probably have heard the Japanese suffix -san (ーさん) used at the end of someone’s name. It is an honorific suffix and roughly translates as Mr, Mrs, Miss, or Ms. If you want to be more familiar with someone and what to show that the person is close to you, you might use the diminutive honorific suffix “-chan” (-ちゃん). A common childish mispronunciation of this suffix is “-tan” (-たん) and thus the meaning of OS-tan becomes clear.

OS-tans are personifications of various operating systems, which started with the  common perception of Windows Me as unstable and prone to frequent crashes. Discussions on Futaba Channel likened this to the stereotype of a fickle, troublesome girl and so Me-tan was born. The characters are usually represented by girls, although some male OS-tans exist. In particular the OS-tans for the different  Windows versions are represented by sisters of various ages.

For instance, XP-tan is a dark-haired girl with ribbons in her hair and an “XP” hair ornament typically worn on the left side. Windows XP is criticised for bloating a system and being very pretty without being as useful. Additionally, as a reference to the memory usage of Windows XP, she is often seen eating or holding an empty rice bowl labeled “Memory”.  Windows 7 is represented by a character called Nanami Madobe (窓辺ななみ Madobe Nanami). The premium set of the OS  includes a Windows 7 theme featuring 3 Nanami wallpapers, 19 event sound sets, CD with 5 extra Nanami sounds. This makes it the first OS-tan marketed by the company producing the operating system. In addition, the character also got its own Twitter account and Facebook page.

The Mac OS X girl is often portrayed as a catgirl, following with the Apple “wild cat” naming tradition, she wears a platinum white coat and a wireless AirPort device fashioned as a hat. In the Linux case, sometimes a penguin is used as a reference to Tux, but there is also the image of a girl with helmet and flippers. Her helmet usually has horns on it, likely a reference to the GNU software which comprises the common system programs present in nearly all Linux distributions.

There are many more OS-tans and there are even mangas and animations featuring the characters, including supporting ones such as Dr Norton, Firefox-tan and Opera-tan. A list of OS-tans can be found here. So next time your system crashes or you need an extra driver, you can always think of the OS-tan behind the machine.

A group of OS-tan. Background, left (clockwise...
Image via Wikipedia