Computers have significantly redefined how we run our day-to-day lives. They give us access to a wide range of services and opportunities. With computing devices, we can perform various tasks, like browsing the internet, gaming, sharing files, sending emails, and making purchases via e-commerce stores. But have you ever wondered how it is possible to interact with a computing device? That’s where operating systems come in.
Most computing devices, such as laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones are powered by an operating system that provides a platform or a link between the user and the device. Without an OS, it would be difficult to operate computers and other mobile devices.
In this guide, we will explore the different types of operating systems alongside their uses, functions, and everything else you need to know.
What Is an Operating System?
An operating system is software that acts as an interface between the user and the computer hardware, controlling the execution of all programs and applications. Computers have different hardware, such as memory, processor, input, and output devices. If we are to interact with all these hardware directly, we would need to write a separate program every time.
Undoubtedly, this would not be an efficient way of doing things. That’s where an OS comes in handy. It makes the interaction between the user and the hardware or the machine easy and efficient.
Using simple commands, you can tell the computer what to do and get instant results. Examples of OS include Microsoft Windows, Apple iOS, Chrome OS, macOS, Google Android, and Linux.
The OS consists of two components; namely, the kernel and the shell. Each of these components has its specific function. The kernel is the central component of the operating system that manages the communication between the hardware and the software. As the name implies, the shell is the outer part of the OS, and it mainly facilitates the user and the OS communication.
A Brief History of Operating Systems
The earliest computers did not have an OS. Instead, they had punched paper cards with preloaded data. The history of operating systems dates back to the late 1950s. The first operating system was developed for managing tape storage.
General Motors Research Lab introduced the operating system for their IBM 701. In the mid-1960s, operating systems began incorporating the use of disks, and, later in the decade, Unix OS started taking shape.
Operating systems back then were referred to as single-stream batch processing systems because data was submitted in groups or batches. From 1965 to 1980, operating system designers developed the multiprogramming system.
This was a major development in OS which allowed many applications to run simultaneously, keeping the CPU busy. Since the 1980s, the operating system has gone more into personal computing. In 1981, the Microsoft OS MS-DOS was built. This was a command-driven interface, handling one task at a time.
In 1984, the Macintosh was released with a more impressive graphical user interface that allowed for multitasking. In 1985, Microsoft released its GUI version paired with DOS: the MS Windows OS, as we know it now. Today, the OS has significantly evolved, and modern operating systems are leaning towards artificial intelligence, which can self-learn.
Types of Operating Systems
The common types of operating systems include:
The batch operating system is a type of operating system that executes jobs in batches. The operating system groups users in batches where they perform tasks without interfering with each other’s function.
This type of OS was popular with early-day computers. Jobs that have a similar function are grouped to speed up the processing. Since it supports multiple users, this OS is ideal for large tasks that require more time to execute.
Also, it is suitable for performing many tasks simultaneously as the users do not interact, and there will be minimal interference. Batch OS can also handle large files compared to standard operating systems. Batch operating systems are widely used in data entry and the management of payroll systems.
Time-Sharing or Multitasking OS
Time-sharing operating systems allow multiple users in different locations to use the same computer to run tasks simultaneously. This means that each task is allocated a specific time limit to execute tasks.
The CPU is used to the max because the jobs run concurrently, reducing the processor’s idle time. This OS makes it easy to switch between tasks, providing a quick response.
A distributed OS is software that connects a collection of separate computational nodes, each with its operating system in a common network. It is an advanced form of network OS that supports more integrations and advanced communication levels of the connected nodes.
This means separate computational nodes which are independent and connected to a network; either Local Area Network or Metropolitan Area Network can communicate with each other over the network.
It uses multiple processors to serve multiple real-time applications and users. Data processing tasks are split among the connecting devices, reducing the workload and boosting operational efficiency. There are many lines of communication through which the processors can communicate to ensure they work in a synchronized manner.
Since resources are shared, the system delivers solid computation, reducing delays. The load on the server computer is significantly reduced, enhancing performance and speed. This helps serve customers in a better and more efficient way.
A network operating system is software that connects different independent computers over a shared network. This means a powerful central computer that works as the server powers all the autonomous computers and runs the application programs.
The independent computers share resources, memory, and files in the network operating system. This helps users share tasks and access resources concurrently.
Performance is maximized, and the results will be delivered fast. There is also a sense of teamwork, since multiple users can access and amend documents over the network.
In terms of security, network OS has several security protocols that regulate access through authentications and controlled entry. This way, only authorized personnel can access the network, protecting data from malicious attacks.
On the downside, the servers are expensive to install and maintain, and the user has to rely on a central location for most network operations.
Real-time operating systems are designed to serve systems that work in real-time and require minimal time to respond to commands or requests. Robots, missiles, and air control systems require high precision, with no room for error. Any delay may cost lives and properties.
An RTOS provides functions or APIs to create tasks by selecting a priority for each job. The real-time OS consistently manages the time between accepting and completing tasks.
Therefore, the processing and execution of tasks take place within the designated time. This makes this system highly reliable and accurate. Its scheduling algorithms are sophisticated, enabling precise prioritization of processes.
Mobile devices use a different operating system than the one that powers computers. However, the mobile operating system borrows a lot from the computer operating system.
In fact, it builds on the same concept but introduces new features for handheld devices. The mobile OS runs application programs on smartphones and other handheld devices, bringing functionalities only possible with computers.
Modern-day smartphones have a specific computing capacity, like computers. Users can send emails, share files, watch movies, download and play online games, stream content, and watch the news. Different smartphones have different operating systems which define their look, feel, and function.
Mobile OS — like Android, for example — is compatible with a wide range of devices and widely used by many smartphone manufacturers because of its flexibility and high performance. Other popular mobile OSes include iOS and Windows Mobile.
The Functions of Operating Systems
An operating system performs various functions, including:
- Memory management: An operating system manages a computer’s memory by allocating space to the programs, processes, and files. It also tracks memory usage and decides what to do when there is insufficient memory.
- Data security: If you have several people using the computer, the operating system allows you to create separate user accounts and passwords. It enforces the right to ensure people’s work is safe. It allows access to files and special utility programs such as firewalls.
- Running of software: The OS runs programs, allowing them to operate as intended. Doing this will enable programs to benefit from the features of a particular operating system, such as existing communications and connected hardware.
- Booting: It helps in the startup process of a device.
- User interface: The OS allows the user to interact with the computer. Historically, this was done using command-line interfaces (CLIs) which used text only, but most modern processors use the graphical user interface, or GUI, to allow us to interact with the computer. The GUI has icons, menus, and pointers to interact with the computer.
- File management: The operating system creates a file system that organizes files as computer directories. They provide programs that consist of a way of storing and retrieving data from storage.
- Management of hardware and peripherals: The operating system controls all the devices connected to the computer and tells them how to interact and operate. These include USB ports, hard drives, printers, and many more. The OS uses device drivers to manage connections with the peripherals and allow communication to occur effectively.
- Processor management: The processor is the computer’s brain and needs something to manage it. The operating system manages the CPU. When a file is opened, the OS will locate and load the instruction on the RAM; then, the CPU will execute the program. The OS will also manage the sharing of the processor time.
Types of Operating Systems: Bottom Line
Operating systems have come a long way since the history of computers. They have evolved to provide better performance, speed, and efficiency for all users. These complex pieces of software have multiple functions, such as prioritizing hardware task requests and allocating them processing time or memory space as needed.
They come in different types, each with its own unique functionality and features. Although most devices come with OS pre-installed, you can change or upgrade to an OS version that fits your performance needs best.