What is an operating system? What are the basic functions of an OS? Know about this and more in this Techspirited article on the fundamentals of operating systems.
Computer Operating Systems
Through the article given below, you will come to know about the various computer operating systems (OS) in use and what are the reasons why one of them is preferred over the other.
Windows, Linux, Sun Solaris, and Macintosh are undoubtedly some of the most popular computer operating systems. But do you know, there are individuals who have designed their own OS and they use it on their local machines? So, what is all this fuss about the different OS and how to decide which one to use? For understanding this, you need to understand the basics first. The paragraphs below provide all the relevant information.
In simple words, a computer operating system is nothing but a system software because of which the hardware and software can communicate with each other. In short, it is what brings life to a computer. It is where we can run all our applications. If you want to run a certain software (a.k.a. Application software) in your PC, it needs to be compatible with the installed OS.
The OS can be broadly classified into certain categories. One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that one particular OS can fall into more than one category. The classification is based on the features.
These allow different parts of the same software to run at the same time. They include Windows 9X, ME, XP, Vista, 7, and Linux.
If your OS allows you to run more than one application software at the same time, than it can be classified into this type. The examples of this type are the same as that of the previous.
GUI stands for graphical user interface. Windows 98, XP, ME, Vista, 7, and Linux, which allow users to navigate with the help of a mouse and have graphic representation of every process or application are classified into this type.
These are the ones where you need to learn the commands for working with that particular OS. MS DOS is one example of this type. There is a particular command for each process and to bring in variation to the command, you have switches.
Operating systems which allow more than one user to log in at the same time and use it can be classified into this type. Linux is an example of this type, which allows six users to login at the same time.
Managing Hardware and Software
As already mentioned, the OS causes the hardware and software to interact with each other. It is also the platform that causes one software to communicate with another. Once the OS loads during the booting up process, other application software can be loaded.
Consistent Application Program Interface
Application Program Interface, which software development professionals refer to as APIs, allow the applications that run on one PC to run on another PC having the same OS. It is thus important that the OS has a consistent API. Undoubtedly, every OS will have certain requirements, but it should be flexible enough to support the hardware from different vendors.
It is up to the OS to execute all the programs running in it. It is a rather complicated process. It may have to allow multitasking and allow different programs to run at the same time and share the resources. It needs to allot RAM space to different applications. The execution of more than one program may also require the OS to prioritize the operations running on the PC.
The OS needs to support a good number of interrupts to react with the immediate external environment. On receiving an interrupt, it should have the capability to stop the current execution and start off a new process. Interrupting is not a very simple process. On receiving an interrupt, the OS should be such that they immediately save the status of the current applications and start executing the code of that particular interrupt.
As already mentioned in the section on program execution, it is up to the OS to provide memory to the different programs. It has to prioritize and allocate memory to each application. Even when data is saved in a secondary storage device, it is the OS that decides how that particular chunk of information should be stored.
The data required by any particular application software for its smooth running needs to be accessed by the OS. It stores data in a particular storage area in such a way that the data can be retrieved as and when required. The file system that different PCs use may be different. The OS needs to support these different file systems. Let us try to understand this with an example. Some computers may be using the FAT 32 file system, while some may be using the NTFS file system. Irrespective of which one is being used, the OS should provide support for the same. However, not all support all types of file systems.
We are in the age of networking. Computers need to communicate with each other. A computer without Internet is not even imaginable. It is the task of the operating system to provide the required networking features. It should have features to allow two or more computers to connect and form a network or connect to the Internet.
Last but not the least, in today’s age, security is undoubtedly one of its most important features. Right from setting passwords for logging in, to providing firewall protection; everything comes under the tasks of an OS. Some network utilities may need file sharing, printer sharing, and using TCP/IP protocols. Hence, it becomes very important for the OS to provide proper security so that the computer’s security is not compromised in such cases.
Best Operating Systems
We are all aware of the fact that Unix is an open source OS. By open source, we mean that its source code is kept free for changes. No doubt, for a full version Linux, you will need to have the license key from the vendor from whom you are getting the OS. There are various vendors, like Red Hat, Fedora, etc., who design Linux.
History of Unix
Unix is designed by many vendors today. However, the success of Unix can be attributed to the AT&T’s Bell Laboratories from where it was released in the early 1970s. By the end of the 1970s, most people who had done pioneering work in the success of this OS were holding important positions in the computer world. They insisted on using Unix. Government bodies, educational institutions, and electronic companies, all continued to use Unix. This led to various vendors entering into this market and producing their own versions of Unix.
In 1980, ‘The Open Group’ or X/Open Company Ltd. was formed by a group of vendors to limit the encroachment by larger companies who wanted to control the interface. Open Systems had to meed specific standards, and Unix was chosen as the platform. In 1993, AT&T sold its Unix System Laboratories to Novell and in 1995, SCO bought the same from Novell. In 1995 X/Open introduced the Unix 95 brand for computer systems. It was meant to guarantee the Single Unix specification.
It is the operating system, which probably marks the rise of Microsoft. DOS has the basic feature of CUI (Character User Interface) mode. You need to learn the commands. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most powerful systems of the time and Microsoft continuously tweaked and improved this product, which led them to capture a significant market.
History of MSDOS
The original version of DOS, QDOS was purchased by Microsoft from Seattle Computer Products in 1981. Microsoft kept on improving this product and by 1984, they had added support for high density floppy disks, 32 MB hard disks and networking. Microsoft continued to release different versions of DOS and worked on the bugs present in those versions. By 1993, Microsoft had included the MOVE command, MSBACKUP and a simple anti-virus program and disk defragmenter. In 1994, Microsoft licensed a disk compression package called DriveSpace and included it in its DOS version. This version is also a part of Windows 95.
Macintosh is developed and marketed by Apple Inc. It is the primary OS of Apple right from 1984. It is Unix-based, and is often credited for the start of the graphical user interface systems.
History of MAC OS
Starting in early 1979, the Macintosh project was meant to build a system that will be easy to use for the average user. Unlike the IBM PC, which used 8KB of ROM for power on self test (POST). MAC ROM was larger (64 KB). The first version of Macintosh was an easy contrast from the operating systems of that time. Users no longer had to type commands. Newer versions of Macintosh were launched and it still holds a great graphical user interface system. The latest version in MAC OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard).
Here, I am referring to Windows. It is the most widely used OS in the world and again a product from Microsoft. The latest version is Microsoft Windows 7. Microsoft Windows included support for a variety of features before others had included them. The large market that they captured led to the production of a wide range of software specifically meant for Windows.
History of Microsoft Windows
In November 10, 1983, Microsoft announced the launch of Microsoft Windows, which was nothing but an extension of MS DOS. This marked the beginning of the GUI era. The success that they saw caused them to work upon newer versions of Windows. Windows 95 was acclaimed to a greater extent when it was released in 1995. The year 2000 saw the release of Windows ME after Windows 98 in 1998, and finally there was Windows XP, which was released in the year 2001.
All these included a variety of features. There was constant improvement with each version and the GUI got better and better. The year 2006 saw the release of Windows Vista with an even better graphical interface as compared to Windows XP, but it did have its own drawbacks. Finally Microsoft brought Windows 7 to the markets in March 2010, and most of the problems with Windows Vista were fixed.
What to Choose?
Well, the answer lies in the type of work you intend to do. There are various other factors that you need to look at. If you are into administration, learning how to use Unix will definitely prove helpful to you. For a common man, the best option is the one which is easy to use. It is also important to check out whether software manufacturers provide versions that are compatible with your OS. All other features that have been mentioned above should form the basis of your choice of your OS. Also, check for features like network support and character set support. They may not be important for everyone, but these features are of considerable importance for certain specific kinds of work.
There are many other operating systems other than those mentioned here, but these are the ones we most commonly hear about. The OS is the soul of a computer, so choose one wisely.