Operating Systems

operating-systems-diagramA.K.A.

  • OS
  • Windows
  • Mac OS
  • Linux
  • UNIX

What Is an Operating System?

In its most basic form, an operating system is a set of computer programs that manage the hardware and software resources of a computer system.

In addition, it creates a graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced “gooey”) on the computer screen that allows users to see, access and use those software programs to create, add and delete information.

Note: This article mainly deals with GUI-based operating systems. There are also a command line based operating systems, such as DOS (Disk Operating System) and UNIX.  With command-line operating systems, you have to type using your keyboard every command you want the computer to perform.   See the articles at the end of this write up for more information on these types of OS’s.

What Does an Operating System Do?

At a more involved level, the definition of an operating system gets a little more complicated when you explore what the operating system does inside of your computer. The operating system or OS as it is commonly called, manages five key aspects of a computer’s operations:

  1. Process Management – Every program running on a computer is a process.  In general, a CPU can only run one process at a time.  The operating system will monitor requested processes and execute them in a pre-designed order often switching between them very quickly in a way called multi-tasking.
  2. Memory Management – The operating system’s memory manager coordinates the various types of memory use by tracking which one is available at any given time.  It will also monitor which type of memory can be allocated or de-allocated and how to move data between the memories.
  3. Disk and File Systems – The way an operating system reads different kinds of file system as well as file storage likes in the way the files are named.  Some operating systems read file names as case sensitive, while others disregard this.
  4. Security – All operating systems come with some type of security already built in.  Because access to a computer and its often privileged information should be restricted to only authorized users, this aspect of an operating system might actually be its most important function.
  5. Networking – In the Internet age, networking capabilities of operating systems are very important.  Networking capabilities can be either with an outside computer as in accessing the Internet or computer to computer as in a large mainframe operation.  The operating system will coordinate all of this below the surface without the user even being aware it is happening.  It acts on the one hand as a traffic cop, controlling the flow of data around your computer, starting and stopping processes. It also, provides a means through which your applications (Word, Excel, etc.) can access the hardware and system software on your computer as well as provides user interface.

Who Makes Operating Systems?

Operating systems are made by Microsoft and Apple Computer. The third one Linux,  is based on Unix technology developed as part of a programmer’s dream of freeware operating systems that people could download, analyze, change, and then re-distribute.  Linux was originally developed as a freeware product and remains free in most cases.

Also, you will discover that Linux comes in several different styles, called “distributions”.  One such Linux distribution I love using, is “Linux Mint“.

As a result, there are three primary camps of operating system users, they are:

But Which is Best?

The most popular operating systems today are Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS X.  The technology for most computer operating systems came from these two computer giants and other operating systems have evolved from those.  Linux is another operating system that’s beginning to take hold in popularity, although Linux distributions (Operating Systems) are mainly being used by PC enthusiasts and UNIX is used primarily on servers.

 

Learn More About Operating Systems!

 

Lean More About the Mac OS!

 

More About Linux, UNIX & Alternative Operating Systems!

 

Image Credits: http://graphjam.memebase.com/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/kamihacker/3707179566/

 

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