• Tech
  • News
  • Health

What is an Operating System? Here’s All You Need to Know


Ever wondered what is behind the graphics, display, audio, speed, user interface and so much more of a computer system or mobile? Well, the Operating System otherwise known as “OS” is efficiently responsible. This article explains what an Operating System is and helps you decide your preferred choice on choosing an operating system for your device.

What is an Operating System?

An operating system (OS) is the program that, after being primarily installed into the computer by a boot program, manages all of the other application programs in a computer. The application programs make use of the operating system by making requests for services through a defined application program interface (API). In addition, users can interact directly with the operating system through a user interface, such as a command-line interface (CLI) or a graphical UI (GUI).

When computers were first introduced, the user interacted with them using a command line interface, which required commands. At the present, almost every computer employs a GUI (Graphical User Interface) operating system that’s easy to use and operate.

Note: Some people may refer to an OS as “operating software.” Although this is a valid term, it is more appropriate to refer to this software as an “operating system.”

COPYRIGHT_NOVA: Published on https://www.novabach.com/i/what-is-an-operating-system/ by Daniel Barrett on 2022-08-02T09:03:54.000Z

Purpose of an Operating System

An operating system brings powerful benefits to computer software and software development. Without an operating system, every application would need to include its own UI, as well as the comprehensive code needed to handle all low-level functionality of the underlying computer, such as disk storage, network interfaces and so on. Considering the vast array of underlying hardware available, this would vastly bloat the size of every application and make software development impractical.

Instead, many common tasks, such as sending a network packet or displaying text on a standard output device, such as a display, can be offloaded to system software that serves as an intermediary between the applications and the hardware. The system software provides a consistent and repeatable way for applications to interact with the hardware without the applications needing to know any details about the hardware.

As long as each application accesses the same resources and services in the same way, that system software — the operating system — can service almost any number of applications. This vastly reduces the amount of time and coding required to develop and debug an application, while ensuring that users can control, configure and manage the system hardware through a common and well-understood interface.

Don’t miss: What To Do When The Windows Taskbar Won’t Auto-hide

Once installed, the operating system relies on a wide library of device drivers to tailor OS services to the specific hardware environment. Thus, every application may make a common call to a storage device, but the OS receives that call and uses the corresponding driver to translate the call into actions (commands) needed for the underlying hardware on that specific computer.

Today, the operating system provides a comprehensive platform that identifies, configures, and manages a range of hardware, including processors; memory devices and memory management; chipsets; storage; networking; port communication, such as Video Graphics Array (VGA), High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and Universal Serial Bus (USB); and subsystem interfaces, such as Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe).

Functions of an Operating System

An operating system provides three essential capabilities:

  • It offers a UI through a CLI or GUI
  • It launches and manages the application execution
  • It identifies and exposes system hardware resources to those applications — typically, through a standardized API.

1.0 Offers a User Interface

1.1 User Interface (UI)

Every operating system requires a UI, enabling users and administrators to interact with the OS in order to set up, configure and even troubleshoot the operating system and its underlying hardware. There are two primary types of UI available: CLI and GUI.

1.2 Command Line Interface

The CLI, or terminal mode window, provides a text-based interface where users rely on the traditional keyboard to enter specific commands, parameters, and arguments related to specific tasks. The GUI, or desktop, provides a visual interface based on icons and symbols where users rely on gestures delivered by human interface devices, such as touchpads, touchscreens, and mouse devices.

1.3 Graphic User Interface (GUI)

The GUI is most frequently used by casual or end users that are primarily interested in manipulating files and applications, such as double-clicking a file icon to open the file in its default application. The CLI remains popular among advanced users and system administrators that must handle a series of highly granular and repetitive commands on a regular basis, such as creating and running scripts to set up new personal computers (PCs) for employees.

2.0 Application management

An operating system handles the launch and management of every application. This typically supports an array of behaviors, including timesharing multiple processes, or threads, so that various tasks can share the available processors’ time; handling interruptions that applications produce to gain a processor’s immediate attention, and ensuring there is enough memory to execute the application and its corresponding data without interfering with other processes; carrying out error handling that can gracefully remove an application’s processes, and performing memory management without disrupting other applications or the OS.

Also read: How To Do A Clean Installation For Windows

An operating system can also support APIs that enable applications to utilize OS and hardware functions without the need to know anything about the low-level OS or hardware state. As an example, a Windows API can enable a program to obtain input from a keyboard or mouse; create GUI elements, such as dialog windows and buttons; read and write files to a storage device; and more. Applications are almost always tailored to use the operating system on which the application intends to run.

Additionally, an operating system can perform the following services for applications:

In a multitasking operating system, where multiple programs can be running at the same time, the OS determines which applications should run in what order and how much time should be allowed for each application before giving another application a turn.

It handles input/output (I/O) to and from attached hardware devices, such as hard disks, printers and dial-up ports. An operating system sends messages to each application or interactive user — or to a system operator — about the status of operation and any errors that may have occurred. It can offload the management of batch jobs — for example, printing — so that the initiating application is freed from this work.

On computers that can provide parallel processing, an operating system can manage how to divide the program so that it runs on more than one processor at a time.

All major computer platforms (hardware and software) require, and sometimes include, an operating system, and operating systems must be developed with different features to meet the specific needs of various form factors.

3.0 Device Management

An operating system is responsible for identifying, configuring, and providing applications with common access to underlying computer hardware devices. As the OS recognizes and identifies hardware, the OS will install corresponding device drivers that enable the OS and applications running on the OS to use the devices without any specific knowledge of the hardware or devices.

An operating system is responsible for identifying the correct printer and installing the appropriate printer drivers so that an application needs to only make calls to the printer without having to use codes or commands that are specific to that printer — that is the operating system’s job. The situation is similar for other devices, such as USB ports; networking ports; graphics devices, such as graphics processing units (GPUs); motherboard chipsets; and storage devices, such as Serial-Attached SCSI (SAS) disk adapters and disks that are formatted with a suitable file system.

Don’t miss: What Is The WMI Provider Host? And Why Is It Using So Much CPU?

The OS identifies and configures physical and logical devices for service and typically records them in a standardized structure, such as Windows Registry. Device manufacturers periodically patch and update drivers, and the OS should update them to ensure the best device performance and security. When devices are replaced, the OS also installs and configures new drivers.

Operating System Types And Examples

Although the fundamental roles of an operating system are ubiquitous, countless operating systems serve a wide range of hardware and user needs.

1. General-purpose Operating System

A general-purpose OS represents an array of operating systems intended to run a multitude of applications on a broad selection of hardware, enabling a user to run one or more applications or tasks simultaneously. A general-purpose OS can be installed on many different desktop and laptop models and run applications from accounting systems to databases to web browsers to games. General-purpose OS typically focuses on process (thread) and hardware management to ensure that applications can reliably share the wide range of computing hardware present.

Examples Of Desktop Operating Systems


What is an Operating System?
What is an Operating System?

Windows is Microsoft’s flagship operating system, the de facto standard for home and business computers. Introduced in 1985, the GUI-based OS has been released in many versions since then. The user-friendly Windows 95 was largely responsible for the rapid development of personal computing.

Also read: What is “COM Surrogate” And Why Is It Running On My PC

Mac OS


Mac OS is the operating system for Apple’s Macintosh line of PCs and workstations.


What is an Operating System?
What is an Operating System?

Unix is a multiuser OS designed for flexibility and adaptability. Originally developed in the 1970s, Unix was one of the first operating systems to be written in the C language.



Linux is a Unix-like operating system that was designed to provide PC users with a free or low-cost alternative. This OS has a reputation as an efficient and fast-performing system.

Mobile Operating System

Mobile OS are designed to accommodate the unique needs of mobile computing and communication-centric devices, such as smartphones and tablets. All mobile devices typically offer limited computing resources compared to traditional PCs, and the OS must be scaled back in size and complexity in order to minimize its own resource use while ensuring adequate resources for one or more applications running on the device. Mobile OS tends to emphasize efficient performance, user responsiveness and close attention to data handling tasks, such as supporting media streaming. Apple iOS and Google Android are examples of mobile operating systems.There are two main Operating Systems available for mobile which are;

  • Android
  • Apple iOS

Don’t miss: How to Factory Reset Windows 10


What is an Operating System?
What is an Operating System?

Android is an operating system used with smartphones and tablets. Today, Android is the most popular OS worldwide because of how many smartphones use a variant of the Android OS.

Apple iOS


The iOS operating system is the OS used with the Apple iPhone and iPads.

Embedded Operating System

Not all computing devices are general purpose. A huge assortment of dedicated devices — including home digital assistants, automated teller machines (ATMs), airplane systems, retail point of sale (POS) terminals and internet of things (IoT) devices — includes computers that require an OS. The principal difference is that the associated computing device only does one major thing, so the OS is highly stripped down and dedicated to both performance and resilience. The OS should run quickly, not crash, and handle all errors gracefully in order to continue operating in all circumstances. In most cases, the OS is provided on a chip that is incorporated into the actual device. A medical device used in a patient’s life support equipment, for example, will employ an embedded OS that must run reliably to keep the patient alive. Embedded Linux is one example of an embedded OS.

Network Operating System

A network operating system (NOS) is another specialized OS intended to facilitate communication between devices operating on a local area network (LAN). A NOS provides the communication stack needed to understand network protocols to create, exchange and decompose network packets. Today, the concept of a specialized NOS is largely obsolete because other OS types largely handle network communication. Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019, for example, include comprehensive networking capabilities. The concept of a NOS is still used for some networking devices, such as routers, switches and firewalls, and manufacturers may employ proprietary NOSes, including Cisco Internetwork Operating System (IOS), RouterOS and ZyNOS.

Real-time Operating System

When a computing device must interact with the real world within constant and repeatable time constraints, the device manufacturer may opt to use a real-time operating system (RTOS). For example, an industrial control system may direct the operations of a sprawling factory or power plant. Such a facility will produce signals from myriad sensors and also send signals to operate valves, actuators, motors and countless other devices. In these situations, the industrial control system must respond quickly and predictably to changing real-world conditions — otherwise, disaster may result. An RTOS must function without buffering, processing latencies, and other delays, which are perfectly acceptable in other types of OS. Two examples of RTOSes include FreeRTOS and VxWorks.

Also read: What Is Windows Modules Installer And How To Enable/Disable It

Differences in OSs

The differences between OS types are not absolute, and some operating systems can share characteristics with others. For example, a general-purpose OS routinely includes the networking capabilities found in a traditional NOS. Similarly, an embedded OS commonly includes attributes of an RTOS, while a mobile operating system can still typically run numerous apps simultaneously like other general-purpose OS.

Where Is The Operating System Found On A Computer?

With almost every computer, the operating system is found on the primary hard drive inside the computer. Computers OS can also be installed and loaded from an external hard drive, disc drive, or flash drive.

When installing the operating system, the install files are stored on a CD, DVD, or USB flash drive. Early computer OS used multiple floppy diskettes to install an operating system.

Editor’s picks:

Share: Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

About The Authors

Daniel Barrett

Daniel Barrett

Recent Articles

  • 9 Superior Ways How To Connect IPhone To MacBook Without USB


    9 Superior Ways How To Connect IPhone To MacBook Without USB

    How to connect iPhone to MacBook without USB is essential for transferring files, backing up data, or simply charging your device. Traditionally, we use a USB cable to connect the two devices, but what if you don't have a USB cable on hand?

  • 10 Ways To Disconnect Iphone From Mac


    10 Ways To Disconnect Iphone From Mac

    How to disconnect iphone from mac is an essential task that should be done properly to avoid any potential data loss or damage to your device. There are several ways to disconnect your iPhone from your Mac, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

  • How To Fix “Updating Cloud Music Library” Error On Apple Music

    How Tos

    How To Fix “Updating Cloud Music Library” Error On Apple Music

    How to Fix Updating Cloud Music Library Error on Apple Music. If you are an Apple Music user and you encounter the error message "Updating Cloud Music Library" that stays stuck and won't go away, you may find yourself feeling frustrated and unsure of what to do.

  • How To Set Up Output To Multiple Speakers On MacOS

    How Tos

    How To Set Up Output To Multiple Speakers On MacOS

    If you are someone who enjoys listening to music or watching movies on your Mac, you may have considered setting up multiple speakers to enhance your audio experience. However, the process of how to set up output to multiple speakers on MacOS may seem daunting at first.

  • UK Is Developing Its Own ‘BritGPT’ AI Model


    UK Is Developing Its Own ‘BritGPT’ AI Model

    According to recent reports, the UK government has committed to investing £900 million ($1.1 billion) into the development of a cutting-edge supercomputer. This supercomputer, known as "BritGPT," is intended to create the UK's own Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) AI model. It will be the first uk's own britgpt ai model.

  • ChatGPT Vs Bing - Which Search Engine Comes Out On Top?


    ChatGPT Vs Bing - Which Search Engine Comes Out On Top?

    When it comes to search engines, Google and Bing are arguably the most well-known platforms. But now that AI-based language models like ChatGPT are out there, the search landscape is changing. Among the numerous search engines available, ChatGPT vs Bing are two of the most popular.

  • Upgrade Your Tech Game - Tips For Staying Ahead In The Digital World


    Upgrade Your Tech Game - Tips For Staying Ahead In The Digital World

    Whether you're a tech enthusiast or a casual user, if you upgrade your tech game it can help you enhance productivity, efficiency, and convenience.

  • Top Affordable Premium Tablets - Affordable Luxury For Tech Enthusiasts

    Editor's Pick

    Top Affordable Premium Tablets - Affordable Luxury For Tech Enthusiasts

    Top affordable premium tablets have become a popular choice for people who want to experience the benefits of a high-end tablet without breaking the bank. These tablets offer advanced features, high-quality displays, powerful processors, and long battery life at a lower cost compared to the more expensive models.

  • A 36-year-old Man Warned By His Apple Watch Of An Unknown Heart Problem


    A 36-year-old Man Warned By His Apple Watch Of An Unknown Heart Problem

    A 36-year-old man warned by his Apple Watch of an unknown heart problem. According to BBC News, a man who had been experiencing dizziness went to bed and woke up the next morning to notifications from his Apple Watch informing him that he had a cardiac ailment.

  • Messenger Is Returning To The Facebook Application

  • Using Tasker To Talk With ChatGPT On Your Phone Looks Equal Parts Powerful And Terrifying

  • Snapchat Launches "My AI," Its Own ChatGPT-powered Chatbot

  • Xnxubd 2023 Nvidia New - The Future Of Graphics Technology

  • How To Delete A Youtube Channel On IPhone?