Many people use electronic devices such as PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets every day, so they are always using an operating system. However, very few users know what this software really is for and why it is installed on all these devices. While laptops and desktops primarily include Windows, macOS, or Linux, most mobile devices run on iOS or Android. Although all these operating systems differ in many ways, their structure and functions are basically the same..
When you turn on a laptop, the first thing you see is how the operating system starts up, that is, Windows, Linux or macOS, depending on which one you have installed. Only when this very important system for the operation of the device has been loaded, you can start running programs, connect to the Internet or open files. However, the operating system is not responsible for booting the device, but is preceded by the BIOS, the firmware responsible for the actual boot process.
BIOS capabilities are very rudimentary and are primarily related to the boot process. This element is responsible for starting the operating system itself, which then takes over managing the entire computer . Much of this process takes place in the background. Windows and other operating systems also act as interfaces between the user and the computer: these comprehensive programs allow you to configure devices, install and uninstall programs, or run software..
Operating systems are not only found on the most popular devices, such as smartphones and tablets . In principle, almost all complex digital devices have an operating system that usually runs in the background.
Today, most operating systems have a graphical interface and are designed for ease of use. The objective is that the user can access the most important functions with just a few mouse clicks and navigate through the menus in the most intuitive way possible. However, this was not always the case. At the dawn of computing, when computers were used for scientific and military purposes, there was no operating system at all. Back then, everything was done directly on the machine itself and there was still no interface. However, when the first PCs began to appear, that is, computers that were no longer the size of a closet, operating systems became a standard..
The first operating systems did not yet have a graphical user interface, but instead worked with a command line that is still found in Windows PowerShell. For every action, be it opening a file, navigating the folder structure, or running a program, the correct command had to be known and entered. Over time, as computers became used for home use as well, simpler user interfaces were established by the companies Microsoft (with Windows) and Apple (with macOS).
The operating system is the core of a computer: without this complex software, all other programs cannot function. The tasks he is in charge of are the most diverse. Some run completely in the background, and many occur in parallel.
This function, one of the most important of the operating system, usually remains in the background, that is, it is hidden from the user. The program manages all the hardware, both input and output. It does this by using drivers provided by hardware manufacturers, which it uses to receive and forward commands from devices, as well as to transfer its own commands to the hardware. This is how the keyboard, mouse, screen, hard drive, graphics card, and all other components of a computer work.
Generally, when you download a program from the Internet, you can choose between several versions for the different operating systems on the download page, which shows to what extent the programming of the applications is related to the specifications of the operating system. The basic systems of computers have interfaces that regulate communication with all applications. In this way, it is possible to allocate memory, allow them to use processor resources, or perform actions performed with the keyboard and mouse.
If you have written a document, you can print it (for which the program passes the command to the operating system, which in turn passes it to the printer) or you can save it as a file in a folder. The fact of being able to work with a folder structure is only possible thanks to the operating system, since this order does not exist on the hard disk itself.
In certain situations, for example, in the business environment, several people work with the same device. However, not everyone should be able to configure the system. Thus, modern operating systems allow creating different users and granting them rights individually. Additionally, each account can be protected with a password.
Everyone should be able to use a computer without any problem, even people without much computer knowledge. Therefore, it is important that the operating system makes the functions and options as easy as possible. Also the most important aspects should be easy to use for the basic user, although many operating systems (especially PC ones) offer additional options for professionals.
As the operating system manages the hardware, it is also responsible for the network card and therefore the connection to the Internet and other networks. In general, the computer can be configured as a network node through the operating system and, for example, assigned a specific IP address. In the settings, you can also enter the specifications of the LAN and other subnets so that the device can connect to other computers. The network settings also allow you to individually set the DNS server.
Traditionally, security is not a task of the operating system, although it can also be added to its functions by means of additional software. Since computers constantly connected to the Internet are exposed to dangers, operating systems have also implemented their own security measures. For example, Windows already has a built-in firewall and antivirus .
The operating system mediates between the hardware and the rest of the software. For the management procedures to work, the operating system has a slightly different structure than most programs. We could say that it is made up of different layers. The core , its most important element, is in the lower layer, the one furthest from the user interface. Therefore, this program is also loaded first. The kernel is the interface that is in direct contact with the hardware, starting it and transmitting the commands of the programs that are executed.
The rest of the layers are superimposed one on top of another on the kernel of the operating system, distancing themselves more and more from the interaction with the hardware. Each level only communicates with the one above or below it. Finally, the last layer is the user interface - which, in these terms, would be the level at which the user himself communicates with the software. If the user performs an action, the command is sent through the different layers until it reaches the right place - for example, the processor.
Operating systems can be classified from different points of view. For example, there is an obvious distinction between operating systems for mobile devices and for desktop and laptop computers. Moreover, they can also be classified on the basis of the underlying software: Usually, a distinction is made between Unix-based systems (such as macOS and Linux) and VMS-like operating systems, such as the newer versions of Windows. Earlier versions of Windows are based on DOS. In addition, there are operating systems specially designed for servers. The most popular and widespread operating systems are Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and the various Linux distributions.
It is probably the most famous operating system on the market and, with its more than thirty years, one of the oldest: surely almost everyone has worked with a Windows computer, mainly due to the fact that many of the computers that are They already have the Microsoft product installed on the market. At regular intervals, a new version of this operating system is released. The most current is Windows 10 and, despite what it may seem, it is not the tenth, because the count has been changing over and over again.
Microsoft has also developed some mobile operating systems that, so far, have not been very successful in the market. Therefore, the latest version (Windows 10 Mobile) is no longer being developed.
The computer company Apple also launched its first operating system at the same time as Microsoft. Back then, the Macintosh series operating system was known simply as System, and from the beginning it became famous for its graphical user interface . Over time, Apple began marketing the System software under the name Mac OS X and later renamed it macOS - adapting it to the nomenclature of iOS, its mobile operating system. One of the special features of macOS is that it is used almost exclusively on Apple hardware.
The best known alternative to the two great products of Microsoft and Apple is Linux. Although many users have never used this operating system, most have heard of it and wrongly labeled it a more complicated Windows equivalent. In fact, Linux itself is just the kernel, which is integrated into different distributions . The best known include Ubuntu, Debian, openSUSE, Fedora, or CentOS.
Many Linux distributions are open source, are being developed by a community of motivated users, and are available for free.
Apple's iPhone is one of the most successful smartphones on the market and has therefore spread the iOS mobile operating system around the world. This operating system is installed on all Apple smartphones and follows the same approach as macOS: allowing users to navigate through the various menus and programs as easily as possible. However, all that is gained in terms of usability is lost in freedom, because it is well known that Apple's iOS offers almost no individual configuration options.
Until 2019, also iPad, Apple's tablet , had iOS installed, but, currently, it has its own operating system, called iPadOS. For its part, iPod Touch, the mobile media player of the American company, continues to include iOS.
The other player in the mobile operating systems sector is Android, a product developed mainly by Google. It is taking a completely different path than Apple, its main competitor. Android is available as free software and therefore offers many customization options and is not limited to a single device manufacturer. Almost all non-Apple smartphones have Android installed today.
Device manufacturers often adapt Android to their own concept, so the configuration options can differ significantly from one smartphone to another.