Today’s modern operating systems do an amazing variety of functions right out of the box. Aside from controlling the most rudimentary computer functions like disk input/output, memory management, and networking, an OS also allows the user to run a variety of programs or applications which can, among other things, display video and play music, create and print complex documents, and of course, access and surf the internet. Indeed, the OS and its associated GUI have made home-based personal computers nearly as ubiquitous as televisions and microwave ovens.
With over 90% market share, Microsoft has been the dominating force in PC operating systems for over 25 years. From the early Windows 3.0, through the revolutionary Windows 95, 98 and ME, to the record setting Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, Microsoft has continued to evolve its flagship line of operating systems with innovative new programs and user-friendly features and continues to set the gold standard.
What is an Operating System?
Imagine you are building your own computer. You order the parts which include a motherboard, a central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM), a hard drive, a CD/DVD drive, a power supply unit (PSU), and of course a case in which to house all this new hardware. Once built, you will have a brand new, modern computer, but when all is said and done, how are you going to use it?
A computer by itself isn’t worth much if it is filled with hardware that doesn’t do anything. That is where an operating system (OS) comes into play.
Imagine all the hardware inside your computer’s case are like human body parts. Each has a specific function, like instincts, which are raw and untrained. The OS is equivalent to taking a computer’s brain (for all intents and purposes, the CPU) and giving it the information needed to perform a variety of basic to advanced functions. The CPU uses its parts then to perform these functions which it places in its short-term memory (RAM) as well as to recall things that are stored away in long-term memory (hard drive). To this end, it can use all this data it has stored to display pictures on a monitor using a video interface or project audio files using a sound card. In addition it can accept a number of peripherals like printers, scanners, cameras, and more!
Not too long ago, when personal computers were still relatively new and a novel addition to most households, the computer OS was typically text-based requiring the user to enter commands or choose functions from lists of prompts. That all began to change with the introduction of the graphical user interface (GUI) which now allowed users to effortlessly interact with a computer using not only a keyboard but also input devices such as mice and trackballs.
The GUI was a powerful development because for the first time, a computer user, rather than typing out long, tedious commands or worse, using primitive punch cards, could simply click on items programmed to perform the same functions quickly, easily, and largely out of sight. It should be noted that the GUI is not technically an operating system but rather an increasingly complex interface which runs on top of the actual OS giving the computer an otherwise humane method of using and interacting with it.
Operating systems can be found on a countless number of items including mobile phone, ATM machines, and even many modern day automobiles. Still most people are familiar with OS offerings from Microsoft (Windows), Apple (OS X), and to a lesser extent, Linux/GNU (Ubuntu, Fedora, etc).