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An operating system (OS) is the backbone of any computer system. Without it, you simply has a "dumb" hardware sitting there and unable to do anything.
Imagine this :
An OS is like a manager of a huge factory ( your PC ) who is able to co-ordinate all necessary functions in-house to ensure that the well-being of the business is carried out smoothly. Each individual department heads ( Application Software ) will be the one responsible to churn out the expected output so that it satisfy the overall masterplan. Therefore all allocation of materials, logistic or manpower issue ( Input ) are managed through this manager ( your CPU ) in order for the whole business to become a success. ( Output )
Literally, it means that the OS on your computer system control how your computer works. In the beginning the term DOS ( Disk Operating System ) was coined because whatever files (output) you generated is saved on to your hard disk or floppy disk. However, today almost all computer users identify OS as a platform for specific type of computer systems.
In the earlier days, most peripherals are link to the PC via independent software driver that communicate directly for it to work and they are connected via different type of connecting wire through the COM port, Parallel Port or SCSI Adapter of the computer system. However, these interfaces have been made easier by the more powerful OS of today. It not only handles Storage issue, it is now also handles the programming and user aspect of the computer. Most peripherals today interface with the computer using a standard USB ( Universal Serial Bus ) connector.
How smooth your hardware works with your software and how well you blend in to use the feature of the software depends mainly on how the OS can interface all these functions together. However, the only function that you can see physically is the User interface where the potential output of what you want on the screen can be displayed. Many of these graphical output today is term as a WYSIWYG because What You See on the screen Is What You Get when you print it out. All this is made possible by an interface known as GUI ( Graphical User Interface ). An example of a GUI interface is your Desktop where you can see the color of the background, the various icons or text display etc.
type of computer uses different type of OS for its hardware to work.
Most personal computer today uses OS as follows :
Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME
These OS evolved from the year 1995 till year 2002. They were designed to run on Intel-based machine and majority of the computer that uses this system are in the Pentium I and Pentium II range although some eventually runs on the earlier generation of the Pentium III PC.
Another Microsoft Family of OS is the Windows NT
These 32-bit Windows OS includes Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP and the later version, Windows Vista
It evolves from the year 2003 till today (year 2009). As it is not very compatible with the earlier generation DOS-based programs and also being a more robust OS, a newer generation of PC system is required ( Pentium 4, Dual Core and Quad Core )
Other OS in the market ( Brief Outline )
From the beginning ( 1974 ), Unix was designed to be a time-sharing, multi-user system for mainframe-style computers. It proved so elegant and robust that it has been adapted to nearly every microprocessor platform, and it runs on everything from desktop computers to huge clusters of servers.
Nearly every major hardware platform has a proprietary version of Unix available to it. Some of these include AIX for IBM computers, Solaris for Sun Microsystems machines, and even OS X, the latest Apple Macintosh operating system. Note that programs written for one version of Unix will likely not run on other hardware than for which it was intended. It has become a sort of universal language among many computer professionals.
Unlike other OS, Linux in 1994 became acceptable in the industries because it is an "open source" software. That is, the source code ( the program code ) of this operating system is FREE for the world to use with no strings attached ( you don’t buy it ).
Linux is not a variety of Unix. It looks and works like Unix, the commands and structure are the same, but its kernel is entirely different. Programs written for Unix will not run under Linux.
Programmers have adapted Linux to many hardware platforms, including those based on Intel microprocessors. Because it's like Unix and it's free, it became the choice for many Web servers and small business systems. On the other hand, It is difficult for most people who want to install and utilize it because it lacks technical support as opposed to users of Windows OS.