Basics of Operating Systems

In today's technological jungle the word "Operating Systems" would be familiar to most people. As well as, they have some understanding of what it means in their minds. But, it would be difficult to most people, if asked, to provide an exact definition of an "Operating Systems".

In this article, we will discuss the basic definition of an Operating Systems, types of Operating Systems, their usage and functions.

The basic and one of the earliest definitions of Operating Systems can be said to be - A system which takes inputs from different sources, processes them based on pre-designed instructions within it and provides meaningful outputs. The Operating System is very commonly referred to by its acronym "OS".

Computer Operating Systems -

However, typically Operating Systems are commonly known to be for computers. Some examples which would be easy to recall are Microsoft Windows (98, 2000, Vista, etc.), UNIX, Macintosh and many more. There are literally hundreds of Operating Systems developed worldwide and being used for various purposes, on various platforms and devices.

The job of an Operating Systems for a computer is mainly to manage the hardware and software resources of the system. In desktops or laptops, the hardware resources include processes, hard disk, memory, disk space, mouse, printers, other peripherals, etc.; whereas the software resources are the various software applications being used on that desktop/laptop. Operating Systems also play a very important role in providing a consistent interface for the applications irrespective of the hardware or peripherals used. There may be different drivers used along with the Operating Systems for this purpose.

Operating Systems

Common Tasks and standards of an Operating Systems - Following are the common tasks :

1. Operating Systems Processor Management: This involves ensuring that all the system resources receive sufficient processes time for expected functioning as well as making sure that the processer is used to its optimum capacity.

2. Operating Systems-Memory Management or Storage Management: Computer systems have different types of memories such as temporary (RAM, Cache, etc.) as well as permanent memories (Hard Drives, USB Drives, etc.). It is the job of an Operating System to allocate the relevant and necessary memory space to the applications & devices for efficient and optimum processing of information.

3. Operating Systems-Device Management: Managing the inputs and outputs of various devices / peripherals is also one of the critical functions of an Operating Systems. With the help of device drivers, the OS controls flow of information with the necessary allocation of system resources to ensure correct input and output.

4. Operating Systems-Application Management: As the OS manages the devices using drivers, it also manages the various applications running on a computer using different Application Program Interfaces (APIs). Based on the data received from the application through the APIs, the OS performs actions to provide the expected results.

5. Operating Systems-User Interface: A user interface provides a consistent way of interaction between the user and the computer system. The OS acts as an engine to provide means of interaction between user and computer through the user interfaces.

Operating Systems for devices other than computers - Electronic devices other computers also require Operating Systems of one form or another to function as per expectation. Example - cell phone, microwave, industrial systems, intelligent devices, etc. In case of such devices, the sources and form of inputs as well as outputs is different than that in a computer system. Accordingly, the Operating Systems designed to drive these devices are also programmed differently.

Types of Operating Systems - Following are the types of an Operating Systems:

1. Operating Systems for Real-time OS: These types of OS are used to control machinery, control systems and industrial systems and have very less or in certain case no user-interface capability.

2. Operating Systems for Single User, Single Task OS: This is a typical computer system where one user can work effectively only on one task. Cell phones and palm tops are examples where these types of systems are used.

3. Operating Systems for Single User, Multi-tasking: Computer Operating Systems of desktops or laptops typically fall within this category. Here, the user can use several applications at a time.

4. Operating Systems for Multi-User: Here, various users use the computer system through different terminal and the Operating Systems on that computer has to balance multiple users with multiple applications.