What is an Operating System?

Desktop PC.
Multitasking operating systems can run more than one program at the same time.
A computer's operating system is one of its most important aspects.
An operating system can be used to managed files on a computer hard drive.
A central processing unit.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2015
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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.


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Discuss this Article

Post 122

What business processes changed because of the operating system?

Post 113

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.

Post 107

How is the operating system created?

Post 106

What is the purpose of the operating system?

Post 104

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

Post 103

what is memory management?

Post 100

How can an operating system control a network?

Post 96

Can I ask what are the types of operating systems?

Gricel Cardona
Post 95

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.

Post 93

What are the features of operating systems?

Post 91

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

Post 84

what is the characteristic of an operating system?

Post 82

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.

Post 78

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

Post 77

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

Post 76

thanks for your help.

Post 70

what are the characteristics of an OS?

Post 67

nice and simple answer. -- jssaten

Post 66

Why do operating systems come in versions?

Post 64

What are the advantages and disadvantages of operating system kernels?

Post 63

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

Post 62

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

Post 57

Is dBASE an operating system?

Post 56

thank you.

Post 52

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

Post 50

thanks for giving this information.

Post 47

nice information.

Post 44

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

Post 43

An overview of OS-- good.

Post 42

thank you for your help.

Post 41

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

Post 40

It's good.

Post 39

what is chipset?

Post 38

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.

Post 37

Good job!

Post 36

what is another name for an operating system?

Post 34

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?

Post 33

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

Post 32

What are some examples of an operating system?

Post 31

thanks for the help.

Post 29

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

Post 28

it helped me a lot! Thanks.

Post 27

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

Post 26

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?

Post 24

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.

Post 21

how can i change my operating system?

Post 20

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

Post 19

What are some examples of an operating system.

Post 13

this website is the best website for help on computers.

Post 9

what is (DOS)? and what are

its functions?

Post 7

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?

Post 4

the latest operating system today????

Post 3

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

Post 2

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

Post 1

Thanks for your help!

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