If you’ve ever used a PC, mobile device, or tablet, you’ll have used an operating system. However, unless you’re well-versed in the complex world of tech, you may not know why operating systems exist and why they’re vital for performing a variety of tasks, from word processing to website development. To help you learn more about operating systems and their uses, we’ve put together a handy guide below.
What is an operating system?
Put simply, an operating system is a program that manages all the software and hardware on a computer or digital device. As you probably already know, software requires access to a central processing unit (CPU), storage, and memory to run effectively. An operating system coordinates access to this hardware, ensuring each program has access to the resources it needs.
Applications communicate with operating systems by making service requests via what is known as an application program interface (API), an intermediary tool that allows two or more computer programs to interact. You can also communicate directly with operating systems via a user interface such as a command-line interface (CLI), a text-based command service that allows users to run programs, delete and edit files, and much more.
Why are operating systems so important?
If you’re still a little unclear about the real purpose of an operating system, it’s worth taking note of its key functions, including:
Managing memory: An operating system helps allocate space for software and ensure your computer isn’t overloaded with applications.
Powering up: Operating systems help ensure your computer turns on smoothly.
Device control: With an operating system, you can control access permissions for external devices, such as microphones, USBs, printers, and much more. It also allows you to send commands to your connected printers.
Data security: Operating systems represent a key component in a computer’s defense system, helping to keep data safe from cyberattacks.
Executing programs: Computers and digital devices require an operating system to open and stay running.
Managing processes: By allocating computing resources to different processes, the operating system helps to synchronize and protect these operations.
Without an operating system to carry out these fundamental tasks, your computer would need a separate user interface for every application, significantly increasing the burden on your computer’s memory and processing potential. With an operating system, applications can interact with hardware without having to process details about this hardware, reducing the amount of code required to develop and run software.
What are the different types of operating systems?
There are five main operating systems available on computers, phones, and tablets, including:
Microsoft Windows: By far the most famous operating system, Windows has been around for decades and undergone several makeovers. Often preloaded onto new PCs, Windows is known for being easy to use, featuring an intuitive control panel, disk cleanup tool, desktop assistant, and more. Many Microsoft applications, such as those in its Office suite, are designed to run best on Microsoft Windows.
Apple macOS: Often viewed as the main competitor to Windows, Apple’s macOS is preloaded onto Apple/Mac PCs. Its main benefits include fast processing speeds, robust security protections, and an esthetically pleasing desktop interface. Indeed, many artists and graphic designers use macOS due to its sleek style and contemporary feel.
Apple iOS: Apple’s iOS is an operating system used only for iPhones, offering an intuitive user interface, regular updates, and options for connecting an iPhone to other Apple devices.
Android OS: Google’s Android OS is preloaded onto a range of tablets and smartphones. It is considered the primary rival to iOS and undergoes regular improvements and updates.
Linux: Linux is an open-source operating system known for being highly customizable. Although it’s great for those with tech expertise, it may not work well for those who do not wish to get involved with coding and back-end customization.
Discover more about operating systems
As you can see, operating systems shape how you experience your computer or digital device while streamlining interactions between software and hardware. If you’re interested in discovering more about operating systems, please do not hesitate to get in touch on [insert contact details].