What Is An Operating System In Basic Terms

In a basic expression, an Operating System is a term used to describe software consisting of data and programs and that runs on a computer to manage its computer hardware resources and to provide common services for the actions of various pieces of application software (such as word processors and media players). As a result, these systems are found in almost all devices that contain some form of computer, such as video game consoles and mobile phones even to web servers and super computers.

Common features of these systems include process management (an integral part of such a system and in which the system allocates resources to processes); Interrupts (asynchronous signals indicating the need for attention); memory management (providing means of allocating memory to programs when required); file systems (methods of storing and organising computer files and their data into a database from which the operating system can then retrieve them); input/output (the communication between an information processing system and the outside world, be it a human or another information processing system); and device drivers (programs that allow higher level computer programs to interact with a hardware device) as well as basic computer security for the protection of data and files.

By comparison, multiple systems can be broken down into four types: Multi user, multi processing, multi tasking and multi threading operating systems. When referring to an ops systems, a ‘multi-user system’ refers to a computer with an incorporated operating system that can support multiple users at different times as well as all at once. For example, a ‘time sharing’ system can be classified as a being ‘multi user’ since such a system enables multiple users to have access to a computer through the sharing of time.

A ‘multi processing ops system’ by comparison is one that is capable of supporting and utilising more than one form of computer processor and, as suggested by the name, a ‘multi tasking operating system’ is a system that allows multiple software processes to run at the same time. ‘Multi-tasking systems’ can be of two types: pre-emptive (in which the operating system slices the central processing unit (CPU)’s time and assigns a single slot to each of the programs) or co-operative (which is achieved by relying on each of the individual processes to give a certain amount of time to the other processes in a defined manner). Finally, a ‘multi threading operating system’ is one that allows the concurrent running of different parts of a software program.

Preparing For the Worst – An Operating System Crash

An operating system crash on your computer can be devastating and it has happened to many of us already. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you are one of the fortunate few. In either case, it is much better to be prepared in advance in order to avoid the “worst case scenario” that normally follows the crash. Reformatting your hard drive and reinstalling the operating system is a long process. Even if you manage to get through the process effectively, most of us cannot make up the loss of productive time we use while getting a computer system in running condition again.

There are some very easy things you can do right now to prepare for such an emergency that will help to minimize the time required to restore your operating system and your vital data.

Almost all new computers are packaged with a couple CDs. Typically, there should be a System Restore disk, the operating system disk (the same as was originally installed on the computer), and a driver disk that includes various necessary files that will allow your computer to recognize critical pieces of internal hardware that the operating system may not have automatically listed. There may be more CDs, such as additional applications for CD/DVD writers or DVD players. It is critical to keep all of these in a safe, secure place. Along with these disks, keep a record of everything including login information, account numbers, and software key codes. An easy option is to list all of these items and place them on a CD but even if they are simply written down on a piece of paper, include them with the collection of disks. Be sure to also include any CDs of purchased applications such as office suites, graphic apps, etc.

Know where your files are. Back them up to a secure media as often as you have enough new data that you cannot afford to lose. The most secure media is CD or DVD, because even backup hard drives can crash. It is best to have more than one backup for critical data. An external hard drive is fairly easy to use as most of them come prepackaged with backup software. Many people are unaware that most of their files end up being stored in the default location of “My Documents”. This directory (or “folder”) is contained in your individual user profile which is inside the operating system. If the operating system is destroyed, so are all of these files. If you prefer to keep your files here, add them to your backups!

The eventual repair or reinstallation of your operating system and data may end up being very simple or it may be terribly complex. Keep in mind that restoring your operating system does not automatically include your various applications. These will need to be reinstalled from the CDs you kept in the collection we mentioned before. If you are fairly computer savvy in this area, you may be able to restore the system yourself. If you’re like most regular computer users, you may have to call a professional computer repair service.

It is a good idea to develop some sort of backup plan. It depends completely on how much work you do on various files. If you can get away with only backing up once per week or once per month, that is fine. If you know where your files are and how often you update them, you can make a qualified decision on when they need to be backed up. I recommend that you arrange your own data directory structure outside of the operating system and preferable on a different hard drive altogether, creating one primary directory, with sub-directories for the different types of files you work with. Many people set up sub-directories by project type such as “financial”, “school”, etc. Create these however they most suit your needs and then make sure you set add them to your backup list.

As is true with many other things, there can actually be some positive side effects that come as a result of having something negative happen. When it comes to computers, re-installing your operating system will generally deliver a much cleaner and faster system as a result. It’s a bit like moving into a new house and leaving all of the unusable junk behind. There are many pieces of data and application files that are never used that build up over time on a computer. Performance can actually be noticeably enhanced when the operating system and hard drive no longer have to search or process through all of the unnecessary files that disappeared with the new installation.

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




Open Suse

Free BSD




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.

Are there any free operating systems out there?

There are many free ones out there and over the years they have got more and more compatible with software we use on a regular basis. For example the new Raspberry pi comes with a Linux which is free and allows you to do all the basics such as go on the internet create documents.

Below is a list of some of the free Linux ones out there


Open Solaris


Free BSD

Chrome OS


There are many more out there this is just a sample of the most popular. You will find arguments all over the internet on operating systems that cost vs free operating systems so I wont go into it here but I will say if you are going to move to free software be sure to do your research. The most important thing to remember is Linux is not windows and is very different so be ready for a learning curve.

Ok so these all go on my computer so what are mobile operating systems?

Mobile operating systems are much the same as an operating system for your desktop or laptop but they are designed for tablets, PDA`s or mobile phones. These tend to combine a number of features such as touch-screen, Bluetooth, GPRS, video cameras, cameras and many other features. The most common mobile operating systems are:

Android – Open source from Google

Blackberry iOS

Apple closed source used on iPhones, iPads.

Symbian – Used by Nokia

Windows phone – Closed source software from Microsoft.

How do I find out what operating system I am using

If using a smart phone or iPad you should be able to determine what you are running from the above list. On a Mac you are most likely to be using OS X snow leopard.

To find out what you are running on a windows based machine find the my computer Icon on your desktop (if it is not on your desktop press your start menu button/windows button and you should find My computer or computer on the right hand side). Use your right mouse button to click on it and select properties. The screen that comes up will tell you the operating system you are running.