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What is an Operating System?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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An operating system is a program designed to run other programs on a computer. A computer’s operating system is its most important program. It is considered the backbone of a computer, managing both software and hardware resources. Operating systems are responsible for everything from the control and allocation of memory to recognizing input from external devices and transmitting output to computer displays. They also manage files on computer hard drives and control peripherals, like printers and scanners.

The operating system of a large computer system has even more work to do. Such operating systems monitor different programs and users, making sure everything runs smoothly, without interference, despite the fact that numerous devices and programs are used simultaneously. An operating system also has a vital role to play in security. Its job includes preventing unauthorized users from accessing the computer system.

There are multiuser, multiprocessing, multitasking, multithreading, and real-time operating systems. A multiuser operating system enables multiple users to run programs simultaneously. This type of operating system may be used for just a few people or hundreds of them. In fact, there are some operating systems that are used to allow thousands of people to run programs at the same time.

A multiprocessing operating system allows a program to run on more than one central processing unit (CPU) at a time. This can come in very handy in some work environments, at schools, and even for some home-computing situations. Multitasking operating systems work a little differently; they make it possible to run more than one program at a time. Multithreading operating systems are even more different, allowing varied parts of one program to be used simultaneously.

Real-time operating systems are designed to allow computers to process and respond to input instantly. Usually, general-purpose operating systems, such as disk operating system (DOS), are not considered real time, as they may require seconds or minutes to respond to input. Real-time operating systems are typically used when computers must react to the consistent input of information without delay. For example, real-time operating systems may be used in navigation.

Today’s operating systems tend to have graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that employ pointing devices for input. A mouse is an example of such a pointing device, as is a stylus. Commonly used operating systems for IBM-compatible personal computers include Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a EasyTechJunkie writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon960674 — On Jul 11, 2014

What business processes changed because of the operating system?

By anon296140 — On Oct 09, 2012

I am a really good OS collector. What I have: Windows 1.01-3.1; chicago 58 and 189; windows 95, me, windows 8 beta, 7, xp, etc.

By anon280578 — On Jul 18, 2012

How is the operating system created?

By anon280369 — On Jul 17, 2012

What is the purpose of the operating system?

By anon277060 — On Jun 27, 2012

What is equitable processor sharing and how do I implement that?

By naseema — On May 21, 2012

what is memory management?

By khadeeja123 — On Apr 27, 2012

How can an operating system control a network?

By anon228611 — On Nov 09, 2011

Can I ask what are the types of operating systems?

By Gricel Cardona — On Aug 21, 2011

I wish to know how to update my computer's operating system. I brought a printer and it is asking for a operating system update in order to install. Help.

By anon186789 — On Jun 16, 2011

What are the features of operating systems?

By anon185345 — On Jun 11, 2011

you have given my nice data regarding o.s. can you give me a data about unix?

By anon161977 — On Mar 22, 2011

what is the characteristic of an operating system?

By anon158829 — On Mar 08, 2011

it is possible to buy OS on a disc? well normally it is on disc lol but I'm not sure if there is any other way of obtaining a OS.

By anon139723 — On Jan 05, 2011

operation system is the device that controls all the applications and software.

By anon138892 — On Jan 03, 2011

great! it is a good site for students. thanks for the help.

By anon137469 — On Dec 28, 2010

thanks for your help.

By anon109298 — On Sep 06, 2010

what are the characteristics of an OS?

By anon103618 — On Aug 13, 2010

nice and simple answer. -- jssaten

By anon101080 — On Aug 01, 2010

Why do operating systems come in versions?

By anon99615 — On Jul 27, 2010

What are the advantages and disadvantages of operating system kernels?

By anon97530 — On Jul 20, 2010

nice information. Please, is data based on an OS?

By anon94161 — On Jul 07, 2010

branches of OS? is there such a thing? can someone please discuss? thank you so much

By anon91154 — On Jun 20, 2010

Is dBASE an operating system?

By anon89192 — On Jun 09, 2010

thank you.

By anon82903 — On May 08, 2010

Operating systems play very important roles in computer technology and this is the key of any technology.

By anon82201 — On May 05, 2010

thanks for giving this information.

By anon79834 — On Apr 24, 2010

nice information.

By anon79581 — On Apr 23, 2010

thank you, it's very good. thanks for the help.

By anon78513 — On Apr 19, 2010

An overview of OS-- good.

By anon78300 — On Apr 18, 2010

thank you for your help.

By anon77629 — On Apr 15, 2010

what are the different characteristics of an operating system? what is the role of an operating system in system software?

By anon77617 — On Apr 15, 2010

It's good.

By anon75280 — On Apr 06, 2010

what is chipset?

By anon73300 — On Mar 26, 2010

same problem is with me. processing is slow with hp vista. i also want to degrade my system to xp, but i heard don't degrade with recommended vista. Please help me to improve the speed of the system.

By anon73038 — On Mar 25, 2010

Good job!

By anon72717 — On Mar 24, 2010

what is another name for an operating system?

By anon71823 — On Mar 20, 2010

i am an ict student who is finding some difficulties in understanding the role and functions of operating system. can you make it simple for me to understand?

By anon71641 — On Mar 19, 2010

Thank you for a brief explanation about the operation system. Cheers!

By anon70766 — On Mar 16, 2010

What are some examples of an operating system?

By anon69415 — On Mar 08, 2010

thanks for the help.

By anon68632 — On Mar 03, 2010

What are five current os and the computers or configuration each operates?

By anon66152 — On Feb 17, 2010

it helped me a lot! Thanks.

By anon65828 — On Feb 16, 2010

anon7461: the latest operating system is windows 7. it's really good. the ultimate is only like 11,000 rupees.

By anon65121 — On Feb 11, 2010

Most probably the most recent Operating system is going to have to be a Linux distribution - Linux is a free growing system which anybody can download and install as their main or secondary operating system (OS) - All of its applications are free and it is always getting updated and there is always new software out for it.

Comment 2: Changing From Vista to XP. it all depends really if you want to keep Vista?

By anon58900 — On Jan 05, 2010

I have lost my audio input and output and don't know where to find them on my computer. my microphone and speakers no longer work.

By anon56385 — On Dec 14, 2009

how can i change my operating system?

By anon52633 — On Nov 16, 2009

there is a lot to explore. the links in the site are very useful.

By anon49572 — On Oct 21, 2009

What are some examples of an operating system.

By anon46669 — On Sep 28, 2009

this website is the best website for help on computers.

By princepats17 — On Jul 02, 2009

what is (DOS)? and what are

its functions?

By CarHow9 — On Feb 02, 2009

I have a brand new hp computer I bought at Best Buy and I am a work at home agent. The problem is most of the customer service inbound or outbound calling systems aren't compatible with windows vista yet. Is there any way I can change the operating system of my computer to a more easier system to work with? Such as is there a disc I can buy to run to install windows xp and run it sometimes when I need it? Or is none of this possible?

By anon14594 — On Jun 20, 2008

the latest operating system today????

By theni — On May 28, 2008

operation system is the device that controls all the applications and software.

By anon7461 — On Jan 27, 2008

How can i change my operating system from vista to window xp professional?

By anon4140 — On Oct 04, 2007

Thanks for your help!

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a EasyTechJunkie writer, where she focuses on topics like...
Learn more
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