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Understanding Operating Systems

Understanding operating systems is essential to every computer user. Without at least a basic understanding, you wouldn’t have much use for a computer. The three main types of operating systems today are Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and Linux, and all of them share a similar visual structure.

The leading operating system in the world right now is owned by Microsoft. The second largest is Macintosh, and lastly Linux. All of them have pros and cons, but the best one to use can only be determined by your own preference.

All computers sold in the market today have a preloaded operating system installed but this does not restrict you from installing other versions of Windows instead.

What is an operating system?

An operating system, also known as the OS, is the piece of software that enables all users to interact with the computer. The software creates a graphical user interface called GUI (pronounced “gooey”) that allows users to effortlessly navigate the computer.

Without an operating system running your computer, there wouldn’t be a computer. It would just be hardware without software, much like a car without the steering wheel. It has the engine and hardware to run, but you can’t drive it. The two must be present and functional at the same time. For this reason, the operating system is the most important software that runs on a computer.

What is the Operating System’s job?

I have come up with a simple explanation for this question that will help make it easier to understand and remember – There are three main functions for the operating system that encloses all of its jobs:

  1. Functions as a mediator

    The operating system keeps constant communication with the internal hardware (CPU, memory, storage devices, etc.) to provide efficient execution of other programs. This means it functions as a mediator between the hardware and software running within the operating system.

    For example, if you open a word document, the new document or file will require certain resources from the hardware such as memory, space from the hard drive, graphic resources from the video card, and processing power from the CPU to process the information. The operating system then, coordinates all of these tasks at once to make sure the document (in this example) gets what it needs for the amount of time that it stays opened.

  2. Functions as a container

    It functions as a container because every program installed in the computer cannot be installed outside the operating system. It is similar to a motherboard in that it acts as a bridge of communication for all the parts inside the computer since all parts must connect to it to work. The same way all software can only be installed or executed through the operating system so the OS can act as bridge of communication with the hardware.

  3. Functions as a translator

    Lastly since we do not speak the same language as computers do (binary code), the OS translates this code of "0s" and "1s" in a form that everyone can understand (this would be your graphical user interface) which is what your computer screen displays using a combination of graphics and text. Unless you were an expert in binary code you wouldn’t be able to navigate your computer without the OS help.

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