In this module, we have been examining the second major category of software—system software. We have focused on two types of system software: operating systems and utilities.
What an Operating System Is
We have been exploring operating systems, with a focus on personal computing devices in their various current configurations—laptops, tablets, phablets, and smartphones. An OS is the software component that manages the hardware pieces and all of the other software, enabling both parts to perform the functions for which they are designed.
In some cases, the OS is unique to the platform. But it is also true that various versions of a particular OS can be found on dissimilar platforms. For instance, Windows 8 may be found on a laptop, and a slightly modified version is used on the Windows tablet and the Windows Phone.
What an Operating System Does
Regardless of the version or the platform, every OS must support up to five major categories of services:
management of the processor (CPU)
management of memory and storage
management of the devices, both internal and external to the computing device
management of an interface between applications and the hardware
control of the user interface between the user and the machine.
Comparison of Operating Systems
Next we compared various operating systems and looked at some factors that might determine which one best fits certain situations.
The conclusion is that there is no one best OS. The three most widely used operating systems for computers are Apple’s Mac, Microsoft’s Windows 7 or 10, and Linux. People may prefer one over another based on their past use of a particular OS, or they may determine that one OS suits the type of work they need to do on a computing device. Or they may prefer one type of platform over another, in which case that particular device may very well come loaded with an OS that cannot be replaced, or should not be replaced with an OS that is meant for a different hardware configuration. Linux can be loaded on various platforms, Apple- or Windows-based, but it requires considerably more experience in both installation and use.
Much like standard computers, mobile devices like smartphones or phablets also use an OS—Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, for example—that is proprietary but often built on a Linux base. (The exception is the Windows-based Windows Phone.) The user interface allows for ease of use and it is not evident to the user that there is Linux-based code underneath. Apple’s iOS, Microsoft’s Windows Phone, and Google’s Android operating systems are the major players in the mobile arena. Much like with standard computers, user decisions on which OS to use may be based more on the device and service provider than on the OS itself, since there is little opportunity to change an OS that is installed on, for example, a particular smartphone.
Finally, we took a look at the general utility programs that are included with operating systems. Utility programs are software packages that are loaded along with an OS. They perform analysis, configuration, optimization, or maintenance activities for a computing system. Those that come packaged with the OS are targeted for a particular platform, as is the OS itself. Thus, the utility programs that perform disk optimization, for example, are tied to the OS which, in turn, is tied to a particular hardware configuration. The disk optimizer for use on an Apple machine will not work on a Windows-based machine.
Before you complete the quiz activity, please evaluate your understanding of the learning objectives for the Operating System Software module and use the first My Response link below to ask any questions that you would like the instructor to address. Your questions can be for clarification of the material or further insight. Your self-evaluation will not be graded, but it will be available for your instructor to read. Answering these questions may also shape the discussions in class.
If you do not feel ready for the quiz, identify the objectives you need to review. Go back to those pages. Read the examples and do the activities. Don’t just read the activities; actually complete them to get practice with the types of questions that will be in the quiz.