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What is an operating system? That’s a question I’ve received from time to time here. While I provide an adequate explanation in The Ultimate PC Primer, my intent in the book wasn’t to spend a lot of time explaining operating systems. Here’s why…
For most ordinary users, an operating system is a nothing. It is taken for granted. We don’t care much about it so long as it works. Applications/programs are where the value of the computer lies for us. But the question about operating systems often comes from computer newcomers who are starting to spread their wings. They’ve learned not all computer systems look and function the same, and by raw research, asking a friend, or context clues they eventually realize that this is due to different “operating systems.”
So, today on Explain Technology, today’s questions are: what is an operating system and what good is one? Why does a computer need it, and what does that mean for us?
Let’s answer this backwards. If you know that nearly everything you want to do with a computer involves programs or “apps,” then the first thing to learn is that those programs won’t work without an operating system (OS). Think of this like automobiles and the road. If you have several nice cars parked in your garage, you undoubtedly own them so that you can drive them somewhere — so that they will carry you from one place to another. Could you drive them with no road? No, you need a road for them to function and rules of the road (driving rules) for them to operate safely, without crashing into other cars. Likewise, computer programs that you like to use to achieve some useful benefit also need a bedrock to work from and rules in which to operate.
But the OS is more than just a necessity. It’s a nicety for you, because Read the rest of this entry »