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4.2.1: Overview

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    Every general-purpose computer in whatever form—mainframe, workstation, desktop, laptop, tablet, iPad, smartphone—requires an operating system (OS). The OS is the heart of the computer, enabling all the other components (hardware and software) to perform the functions assigned to them.

    Although you may be most familiar with the two most common operating systems in use on PCs (Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Mac OS), there are others available. But like the integration of firmware with a particular computer chip, an OS must match the platform (hardware) for which it was intended. For example, the pre-2005 Apple's OS was designed for Apple computers and the particular hardware configuration used by these computers (the first generation Intel-based Macintoshes were released in January 2006 with Mac OS X 10.4.4 Tiger). Windows is designed for most other PCs. Versions (usually with less functionality) of the Apple OS or Windows OS, or variants of the Linux-based operating systems are designed for items such as tablets, smartphones, and other handheld devices.

    In this module, we will

    • examine what an OS is and what its basic functions are,

    • compare various operating systems and determine which one best fits certain situations, and

    • look at the general utility programs that are included with operating systems.

    4.2.1: Overview is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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