What Is an Operating System and What Does It Do?

What is a computer operating system and where can I find a list of them?

The question “What is an operating system?” is one I get asked often and I have even been told in the past while trying to sort out a customer’s problem that their operating system is Google when in fact that is the browser they are using not the operating system. (Google does have an open source operating system called Chrome OS I should state) That seems to be the problem people but computers and no one ever tells them the basics of what they are using. Once paid for you are kind of forgotten and left to fend for yourself.

So lets clear it and go through the main operating systems and exactly what they are and do.

What operating systems are there??

There are many different operating systems out there but the ones you will be familiar with by name will probably be:

Microsoft Windows 95

Microsoft windows XP

Microsoft windows ME

Microsoft Windows Vista

Microsoft Windows 7

Microsoft windows 8 (due for release later this year possibly October)

Mac OS 8

Mac OS 9

Mac OS X

Solaris

Ubuntu

Fedora

Open Suse

Free BSD

Symbian

Android

Palm

The list goes on but most of the well-known ones are there.

Ok but simply what is an operating system?

It is a complex set of programs that are designed to manage and control your computer hardware resources and software. This means they can provide services to programs you run on your computer.

OK so maybe that was not that simple. Think of it as the middle man between your physical hardware in your computer and the game or software you want to run.

You open your game or your program and this could be the conversation between your game/program, windows and the hardware.

Program: Hey windows I want to run can you sort me out some resources.

Windows: Sure what do you need?

Program: I could do with a bit of memory, a bit of processing power and some place to store my setting if that’s ok?

Windows: Let me have a chat with hardware and see what we can do. Program Pete: Cheers

*Windows goes to talk to Hardware*

Windows: Hey hardware hows it going down there? Program Pete is at it again “get me this get me that” do you have some free resources?

Hardware: He never leaves me alone does he. Tell him he can use 100% of the processor if he needs it as nobody else is using it at the minute but if anti-virus Annie comes in he will have to share it with her. Tell him he can have half the memory too and as much storage as he wants within reason.

Windows: Cheers hardware I will let him know and allocate it to him

*Windows goes back to Program Pete*

Windows: Right Pete here is what I can do for but is someone else comes along you are going to have to share the resources.

*Uri USB is plugged in and anti-virus Annie wakes up*

URI and Annie together: Can we please have some resources!!

Program Pete: *sigh* now its going to take me a nano second longer to do my task because I have to share with those two

And so the conversation continues….

It may sound silly but if you want to make it really basic this is pretty much what is happening although granted how it happens is very complex. Without the operating system the programs you use would not be able to run as they would not be able to talk to the hardware which is why you will find pretty much every desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, iPad smart phone has an operating system.