While an operating system is a central part of your computer system, knowing the definition of an operating system is not integral to knowing how to use one. However, when you do know the definition of an operating system, you can better understand what it is doing inside your computer to make it run and to make using it easier for you.
In its basic form, the definition of an operating system is as follows: a set of computer programs that manage the hardware and software resources of a computer system. We can add to that definition to say that an operating system rationally processes electronic devices in response to approved commands.
At the foundation of all system software, an operating system performs basic tasks such as controlling and allocating memory, prioritizing system requests, controlling input and output devices, facilitating networking, and managing file systems.
Most operating systems have a command line interpreter as a basic user interface, but they may also provide a graphical user interface (GUI) for ease of operation. The operating system forms a platform for other system software and for application software.
At a more involved level, the definition of an operating system gets a little more involved when you explore what the operating system does inside of your computer. Here are some of the most common tasks:
* Process Management – Every program running on a computer is a process. In general, a CPU can only run one process at a time. The operating system will monitor requested processes and execute them in a pre-designed order often switching between them very quickly in a way called multi-tasking.
* Memory Management – The operating system’s memory manager coordinates the various types of memory use by tracking which one is available at any given time. It will also monitor which type of memory can be allocated or de-allocated and how to move data between the memories.
* Disk and File Systems – The way an operating system reads different kinds of file system as well as file storage likes in the way the files are named. Some operating systems read file names as case sensitive, while others disregard this.
* Security – All operating systems come with some type of security already built in. Because access to a computer and its often privileged information should be restricted to only authorized users, this aspect of an operating system might actually be its most important function.
* Networking – In the Internet age, networking capabilities of operating systems are very important. Networking capabilities can be either with an outside computer as in accessing the Internet or computer to computer as in a large mainframe operation. The operating system will coordinate all of this below the surface without the user even being aware it is happening.
The definition of an operating system can be simple or it can be more involved. Either way, knowing how your operating system is running your computer can be a very important part of being a responsible computer user.