Purpose of operating systems

When working with computer systems you need to understand the purpose of operating systems to gain an in depth knowledge of how to configure systems for user needs. This article focuses on different types of operating systems, the functions and services provided by operating systems, OS features used to improve user experience and how device drivers are used to maintain systems and peripheral devices so that they work at the optimal level.

For an computer system to work it needs to have operating system software. The OS software enables the user to interact with the system and the operating system software manages the different peripheral devices connected to the system such as keyboard and mouse used by the system operator. Operating system software also enables the user to install other application software packages that provide additional functionality to the end user of the computer system. Most modern operating systems are easy to use for non-technical users but there are other types of operating system software that require more technical knowledge to be able to use them.

An operating system runs on a computer system so that the end user is able to use the system. The operating system provides a user interface to the machine and offers a way of controlling or using the system. An operating system or OS allows you to install and run other software applications that add functionality to a computer system. Different types of OS can be used depending on the requirements of the end user. Without an operating system installed a pc or server is not really usable. The operating system that you use is dependent on the technical expertise of the user.

Popular operating system examples are Windows, Linux, Mac OS and DOS. Windows is perhaps the most widely used operating system for home and office pc work stations. If you have one or more computers then the chances are that it will be running a Windows OS. Windows is developed by Microsoft and there have been many different versions over the years such as Windows NT, Windows 95, 98, XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Microsoft also develop Microsoft server that is an operating system developed for network server computer systems. Windows has developed over time to make a more graphical user experience in their operating system and Windows 8 is now very much aimed at web users and can be installed on touch screen computer systems. A lot of computer systems will come with the Windows operating system pre-installed and this will be included as part of the overall cost of the system. Whereas Microsoft make the Windows operating system the Linux OS is an has been developed as an open source OS meaning that it can be customised by anyone willing to get involved in the project. Originally designed as an operating system for servers many different distributions of Linux have been developed as operating systems for pcs. Linux is one of the largest open source projects around. By open source we mean the OS can be modified as users/developers have access to the code. As a result of this many distributions (distros) of Linux exist for different platforms. Linux normally requires more technical knowledge to install than Windows. It has been used to power massive business application, for example the New York Stock Exchange. A lot of technical people consider Linux to be a more stable, secure and reliable operating system than Windows but it definitely takes more IT experience to get used to than Windows. Mac OS or Macintosh operating systems were designed by the Apple corporation for use on their own personal computers (early version example is the Mac II). The original design of the Mac OS was to make a graphical user experience for end users allowing control of a system using external peripherals such as the mouse and keyboard. The latest version of Mac OS is called OS X. Mac systems that use the Mac OS are favoured by graphic designers as their initial investment in developing a good graphical user interface gained a lot of fans that have continued to use Mac systems as opposed to PCs running Windows. Another example of an operating system is DOS or disk operating system. MS-DOS is an early version of desktop operating system that was in use in the 1980s and 1990s. DOS is driven by commands entered by the user and did not have the graphical interface appeal of modern operating systems like Windows and OSX. Early versions of windows did have a gui DOS running underneath. Windows provided a graphical front end and dos took care of the managing files and running applications etc.

When explaining the purpose of operating systems we have already looked at some examples of different operating systems. There are two types of operating systems where the user can interact with the operating system in different ways. One type is a command line OS. Command line operating systems are for more technical users as they require you to remember specific commands that are used to control the system using the command line interface. DOS is an example of a command line OS but it is dying out. Some modern distributions of UNIX offer users the choice between command line and GUI. GUI operating systems or graphical user interface operating systems are the operating of choice for today’s PC user. Since the development of the web everything has become graphics bases and users expect a clickable and interactive operating system to easily control their computer system. Windows 8 is an example of a GUI OS that is very much based on providing an interactive experience for the user were everything is available at the click of a button or by touching the screen. Smart phones also run using GUI operating systems such as Android and IOS.

To explain the purpose of operating systems in more detail we need to discuss operating system functions and services such as machine and peripheral management, device drivers, file management and security. Modern operating systems have an inbuilt function to perform both machine and peripheral management. By this we mean the operating system is able to manage the components installed on the computer system such as the RAM and USB ports. The OS will send data to RAM when running applications to make the system run at the optimal level. It will also manage the communication between ports such as USB and and external peripheral devices such as the mouse and keyboard. The processor operating system and drivers used to support the operation of peripheral devices work together to add functionality to the computer system. Operating systems manage the devices drivers used to manage internal machine devices such as RAM and ROM and also peripheral devices such as a mouse. Think of a device driver as a list of instructions that tell the computer system how to talk to the external device like a mouse. It’s like a language that the operating system uses to manage the device to ensure in works correctly.

Operating systems have many excellent features such as the ability to customise, support for connectivity of portable media and built in security. The ability to customise is an excellent feature in terms of setting up a system to meet the needs of the user. Customising desktop setting such as the background image and window colours lets the user take ownership of their system and style it to look how they want it to. Windows 8 is customisable in terms of adding graphical interfaces for what you want to the desktop and users can have live links to social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook to make using the OS a much more interactive experience. Support for connectivity of portable media is an essential feature of the modern OS. Operating systems come with the ability to support a range of peripheral devices using plug n play technology were the user plugs in an external device and the OS supports the user to install the device or just does it automatically and supports the user. Modern operating systems also come with integrated security. An example of build in security is Windows Security Center. This is part of the operating systems and helps the system user manage essential security tools such as anti virus software and firewalls. The security center also comes with the Windows Firewall pre-installed. Features like this support less technical users to maintain a safe and secure system as much of the security becomes automated.

Different operating systems provide different levels of stability and reliability. There are famous incidents when new operating systems have been released and they have crashed with the blue screen of death. Very few PC users have not experienced some kind of stability issue at some stage. When an operating system is proving to be unreliable the developers will release patches to make it more stable. Operating systems comes with many tools that provide ease of management for the user in terms of managing applications and files stored on a computer system. The also come with built in help files that enable the user to manage the system more easily. Operating systems come with associated utilities that enable the user to customise their system such as file management software, calendars, clocks and network management tools to allow the user to organise their system and configure applications and provide connectivity. The cost of operating systems and level of support for the users varies greatly. Many free operating systems such as Linux distributions come with excellent features. Microsoft Windows has an excellent level of support for the user built into the help system that connects the user to expert forums available online that provide information and help guides on how to configure and use the operating system. When explaining the purpose of an operating system it is essential that you consider all of the above factors before selecting an operating system to meet the needs of the end user.

Explaining the purpose of operating systems is an essential thing to be able to do so that you can recommend a suitable OS for a given purpose. Use this guidance and research to select the correct operating system for user needs.

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