What is Operating System?


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An operating system is like mommy and daddy:

  • it’s supposed to help you succeed at whatever both you and it value.
  • gets you from place to place
  • gives you privileges
  • tries to clean up after you and anticipate your needs
  • sometimes it scolds you for doing something wrong.
  • generally, the best ones are consistent, reliable and do a good job making life simple for you.

The Operating System is often described as a translator; it translates the language of the hardware (binary numbers) into the language of the software (written programs) and then displays it in a way that humans can understand (text, images and sound).

An operating system is a translator that takes what the computer does and converts it to what you see. Think of the computer as speaking a very foreign language. To be able to talk with it you either have to learn it’s language or have somebody convert “translate” what you say to the other language and back to you when they say something to you. The operating system is the extra somebody that dose the converting or translating.

The language that the computer understands is long strings of 1’s and 0’s. You could input all of your information directly into the computer that way and get outputs also in 1’s and 0’s, which the computer understands but then you would still have to translate to and from the 1’s and 0’s to human understanding. If you saw the movie “The Matrix” the strings of symbols that they looked was the machine language of that computer. Those people learned to read that “code” directly without an operating system to translate it.

Almost all computers have an operating system, also called an OS, to act as a stage on which software applications are run. Common operating systems are Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux.

When you press a button to start your computer, however, the OS is not the first software to run. Your computer hardware must run software to check key parts of the hardware are present and working before the operating system is run. The process of running software to check key parts of your computer is called booting up.

What does an operating system do?

Once your computer checks key parts of your hardware work, the operating system is started so your other software has a platform to work on. If you use an email software program and want to print an email, for example, your computer operating system communicates with your software and a printer to print the email.

Operating Systems 1 - Introduction - YouTube

Other critical tasks managed by your OS include connecting to the internet or other computers, managing memory used by your software applications, and reading and writing files.

It is responsible for making sure that all the programs can use the CPU, system memory, displays, input devices, and other hardware. It also lets the user have a fast, clean, and safe interface so they can do work on the computer. It also talks to other computers or devices on a network.

 This software is as important to the running of a computer as its hardware. The operating system directs the input and output of data, keeps track of files, and controls the processing of computer programs, allocating computer resources to various functions. The operating system also serves as an interface between the computer and the user. Most computer programs complete a task and then end. An operating system, on the other hand, runs indefinitely and terminates only when the computer is turned off. 

The operating system controls the behind-the-scenes activities of a computer. It manages a computer’s memory, file systems, network connections, and input/output devices, such as the keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, printer, and modem. Critically, the operating system also controls access to the central processing unit (CPU), which is the heart of the entire computer system.

Early computers had no operating system. For this reason, they could perform only one task at a time, such as running one program or printing. Modern operating systems allow multitasking, in which many processes can be active at the same time. A major role of the operating system is to allocate system resources to various tasks, scheduling resource use to avoid conflicts and interference between programs. The system maintains prioritized queues, or “waiting lists,” of jobs that need CPU time. It must decide which job to take from which queue and how much time to allocate to it, so that all jobs are completed in a fair and timely manner. Each process is typically allowed to use the CPU for a limited time, which may be only a fraction of a second. The process must then give up control and become suspended until its next turn. The operating system may also allow one job to read data while another writes to a printer and still another performs computations. A process called time-sharing can allow hundreds of people to interact with a large computer simultaneously while giving each person the perception of being the sole user.

Today most operating systems include a graphical user interface (GUI). The GUI allows the user to communicate with the computer by using a mouse to point to symbols, or icons, and menu choices on the screen.

Most personal computers run on a version of the Microsoft Windows operating system. It grew out of and eventually replaced an operating system called MS-DOS. Versions of the Mac OS are provided for use on Apple Macintosh computers. A widely used operating system on larger “mainframe” computers is UNIX. It is also used on the Internet servers of Internet service providers and in universities for scientific and engineering workstations. A UNIX-like operating system known as LINUX has become popular for corporate computer networks, Web servers, and personal computers. LINUX is a free, open-source system, meaning that any user can modify it. In addition to such general-purpose systems, special operating systems run on computers that control cell phones, portable digital music players, factory assembly lines, aircraft, and even home appliances.

Summary: Operating System

  1. Operating system is software
  2. Operating system manages the entire computer
  3. OS manages all the resources of computer
  4. OS helps in communication between different parts of computer
  5. OS works as interface between user and computer

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