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Engineering LibreTexts

7: Operating Systems with Brief History

  • Page ID
    39217
  • On operating system (OS) is a set of programs that that runs the various services a computer has to offer including running other programs. The main operating systems today are UNIX (MacOS is a UNIX variant), Linux, and Windows. This chapter attempts to highlight some history of operating systems with a very brief introduction to operating systems. It is not intended for operating system theory which can get pretty involved especially with todays layered operating systems.

    There are literally hundreds of operating systems so this should not be construed as a complete history. A complete history of operating systems would be a 1000 page tome. Not going there, but you can if you wish as this information is readily available on the internet (though be careful as there are bias sources - see the "understanding" chapter).

    The three major operating systems take up about a third of the market each.

    • Windows (general OS, primarily business and gaming system)
    • Unix (many different variants including MacOS and iOS)
    • Linux (many different variants including Android)
      • Popular Linux platforms include Ubuntu for it's user friendly installation and Mint
      • Most variants now come from three sources, Red Hat (split into Enterprise and Fedora), SUSE, and Debian (one of the oldest distribution and includes Ubuntu and Mint as variants)
      • All of the top supercomputers use some form of Linux presently (originally Unix was the king of supercomputers)
      • A good number of scientists and engineers use Linux especially in fields that are not as well support by the commercial software industry
      • Linux is free (MacOS is free as well, but it only runs on Macs which can be expensive for students)
      • Most Unix operating systems have some sort of licensing issue, so be careful of "free" Unix operating systems (they probably aren't actually free)

    For this class Linux is recommended as from an academic point of view; it is inexpensive compared to the other operating systems (just need the hardware and some time investment). It can provide all the useful features you might need like word processor, presenter, etc. (through free open-source LibreOffice or Google Docs Editors) and numerous freeware or open sources science and engineering software programs some of which only run on Unix and Linux. Ubuntu is recommended for ease of installation by beginners. For experienced Linux users any Linux is recommended as there is no overriding problem with any major version of Linux.

    Operating systems originally were developed from assembler languages but now are usually build using C or C++. While hardware does the actual I/O, memory, shifts, counting, multiplexing, etc the operating software directs the action. Usually engineers do not need to get too much involved with this aspect of computers (unless you are an engineer who designs computers). Like regular programs the operating system is saved in memory and "read" by some very basic hardware operating system (firmware or software on hardware that is "burned" on a PROM) which executes the instructions that in essence supersede it in the form of a larger operating system that does more functions (including security and conflict management). This is a layered approach where hardware is controlled by firmware which is controlled by the OS which is used by other programs to run with secure access to lower level hardware commands.

    This cartoon describes the interaction between the operating system and the hardware. Both the hardware and the firmware are actually physical hardware items.  Firmware is used here as it is more general then BIOS which is a type of firmware. Firmware is "burned" (it isn't actually burned) on to either a ROM (read only memory), PROM, or EPROM which is hardware.  All the rest of the cartoon is software but with different levels of access.  A number of terms in this figure will be defined later in the course.
    This cartoon describes the interaction between the operating system and the hardware. Both the hardware and the firmware are actually physical hardware items. Firmware is used here as it is more general then BIOS which is a type of firmware. Firmware is "burned" (it isn't actually burned) on to either a ROM (read only memory), PROM, or EPROM which is hardware. All the rest of the cartoon is software but with different levels of access. A number of terms in this figure will be defined later in the course.

    Now the history of operating systems starting from the beginning of electronic computers.

    ¬ First computers have no operating system
    • The first computers were as large as a small building and are referred to as main frames
    • Major Main Frames
      • ENIAC
        • Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (1947)
        • Pure hardware
        • No operating system instead a Turing-machine (binary)
      • UNIVAC I
        • UNIVersal Automatic Computer I (1951)
        • First commercial computer
        • No operating system
    ¬ Computers with beginning operating systems
    • The first computers with operating systems were main frames
    • Major Main Frames
      • UNIVAC 1103
        • MIT's Tape Operating System (1953)
        • Probably first operating system (but some debate this)
      • IBM 701
        • General Motors operating system (1955)
        • Probably first commercial operating system (but some debate surrounding limits of this system)
      • IBM 704
        • GM-NAA I/O (input/output) operating system (1956)
        • SHARE operating system (1959)
        • One of the first operating system if not the first
      • IBM System/360 (1964)
        • First widely used operating system (general use)
        • OS/360
          • IBM System/360 Operating System
          • Batch processing operating system
          • Later known as DOS/360 (hmmm...)
      • Burroughs' B5000
        • Master Control Program (MCP) operating system (1961)
          • First operating system written in a higher level language (ALGOL-like language)
            • ALGOL is the predecessor of C
            • ALGOL was developed a couple years after FORTRAN
          • MCP (Master Control Program) was also the evil operating system in the ground-breaking movie TRON (no data on where the filmmakers got the name for this operating system, but the similarities are hard to ignore)
            • TRON is a movie (1982), but it is an operating system as well (1984)...again no data on if it was called TRON because of the movie, but again the similarities are hard to ignore
              • TRON was an operating system that has some controversy surrounding it with accusations that Microsoft tried to stop the development of it
              • The TRON OS still is in existence
          • First operating system supporting multiple processors
          • This OS is still active
    • DEC VAX
      • VAX/VMS (1970s)
      • Operating system that is optimized to work with the DEC VAX
      • In the past there was an argument that this was one of the best operating systems every produced (though the MCP might have something to say about this)
      • OpenVMS
        • Open source version of VMS that was until recently supported in some Hewlett Packerd computers
        • Still in use
    ¬ Workstations start with new types of operating systems
    • Workstations are very much smaller than main frames and are the predecessor to the Personal Computers (PCs)
    • Operating systems developed for workstations
      • Unix
        • OS developed in 1969 originally called Unics
        • BSD, IRIX, NEXTSTEP, Darwin, System V, Solaris, HP-UX
        • Playstation 4 uses BSD free (Playstation 5 as well)
      • Linux
        • Unix-like (1991)
        • Free operating system; open source
        • Uses a number of GNU utilities and libraries, but is still distinct
        • GNU Utilities started around 1983 (before Linux) so it might be argued that the operating system is GNU/Linux (The Free Software Foundation)
        • PlayStation 2 and 3 used Linux and many hackers put Linux on Playstation 4
        • Mobil phones, routers, etc. use Linux as well
        • Ubuntu, Mint, Android are all based off GNU/Linux
      • GNU
        • Unix-like (1993)
        • Does not include any UNIX code
        • Free under the GNU General Public License and similar licenses
        • GNU software is different; GNU software has been shown to be very reliable however the operating system needs to be more widely distributed to get the same reputation
        • GNU-Darwin is a merging of GNU and open source Darwin for Macs
    ¬ Personal Computers start with new types of operating systems
    • The personal computer started with Desktops (which are Workstations that fit on a desk) and then migrated to Laptops
    • This is type of computer brought the computer into people's homes
    • Personal Computers
      • Xerox Alto
        • Introduced in 1973 and had the first Graphical User Interface (GUI)
        • Technically not the first personal computer because while it was small enough to be person it was never actually used as a person computer
        • Unique operating system
        • Developed by a number of University scientists/engineers who developed the GUI, mouse, and a number of items that are now routinely associated with computers at first on their own then in coordination with companies (this is typical for development of cutting-edge items)
      • Atari Video Computer System
        • Introduced in 1976
        • Unique operating system
        • Same time as Apple Computers Introduced their Apple I
    • Apple I
      • Firmware (System Monitor)
      • Didn't run on what was traditionally called a "real" operating system
    • Apple II
      • Apple DOS
    • IBM PC
      • Introduced in 1981 (was inferior to many systems at the time, but won the day...)
      • Used Intel chip, first time IBM didn't use their own chip design
      • Spawned a number of clones because IBM did not use their own chip design
      • Ran on PC-DOS which initially the same as MS-DOS which was pretty much the same as QDOS which was pretty much the same as CP/M
      • PC-DOS and MS-DOS eventually became different each being developed by the different companies (IBM and Microsoft) - PC-DOS would be fore true IBM PCs and MS-DOS generally was for the clones and some IBM PCs
      • Microsoft acquired 86-DOS (or QDOS - "quick and dirty OS") which was then minimally rewritten to work on IBM's new computer. This enabled Microsoft to get an quick and profitable revenue stream early on
      • QDOS was a redesign of CP/M (Control Program/Monitor) which was at the time a major operating system - switch to handle 16-bit systems
      • CP/M was in turn based of TOP-10 which was an operating system for the DEC's PDP-10 (a popular computer a long time ago)
      • TOP-10 was written in the programming language BLISS (eventually the newbie language C lead to BLISS going extinct) developed by Carnegie Mellon University
      • A small number of IBM PC clones ran on Xenix which was Microsoft's rebranded and modified AT&T Unix; Xenix could also run on Apples' failed computer system, the Lisa (don't ask)
      • Interestingly, Microsoft used this form of Unix internally for many years after it left the public market
    • Apple is technically a hardware company; but it does have some operating system (OS) history
      • Apple PC (as above)
        • Apple I introduced in 1976 with a firmware operating system
        • Apple II introduced in 1977 with Apple DOS
      • Macintosh
        • "Classic" MacOS introduced in 1984 (before this the Apple DOS was rather fairly simple)
          • 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,7.1,7.5,8,9,9.5
          • Multi-tasking (which MS-DOS did not do)
          • No command line (the biggest drawback and one one of the reasons for the popularity of MS-DOS)
        • MacOS
          • Unix-based (Darwin)
            • From NeXT's OPENSTEP (part of the kernel was developed by Carnegie Mellon University) and BSD Unix
            • NeXT was a unique Unix computer from the Apple founder when he left Apple (later he returned)
            • Beta,(Kodiak),10.0(Cheetah),10.1(Puma),10.2(Jaguar),10.3(Panther),10.4(Tiger),10.5(Leopard),10.6(Snow Leopard),10.7(Lion),10.8(Mountain Lion),10.8(Mavericks),10.10(Yosemite),10.11(El Capitan),10.12(Sierra),10.13(High Sierra),10.14(Mojave),10.15(Catalina),11,11.1,11.2(Big Sur),...
            • Allowed "Classic" MacOS 9 to run until 10.4 (Tiger)
          • iOS
            • Unix-based (Darwin)
            • iPhone,iPad,etc.
      • Microsoft is a software company (with a few hardware lines that they acquired) and started in the OS world
        • "Intel" PCs
          • MS-DOS (Microsoft), PC-DOS (IBM)
            • "Looks and feels like UNIX"
            • Very limited
          • Windows 1.01,2.0(286,386 - limited distribution),3.0,3.1,95,98,2000,NT,XP,Vista,7.0,8.0,8.1,10.0
            • Introduced in late 1985 (claims from Microsoft suggest a much early introduction probably to shore up defense against Apple lawsuits)
            • Initially ran on top of MS-DOS to provide GUI abilities like the Macintosh did
              • Since 1.01 (used by one of Authors, not very good) and 2.0 were not that successful most users would not have seen Windows until 3.0 and 3.1 (one of Microsoft's best operating systems)
              • As of 95 the system only had a "virtual" DOS which is still quite useful but not in full control like MS-DOS
              • Windows works a little like Star Trek movies, every other one is good
            • "Look and feel" of Macintosh (or Xerox technically)
            • Multi-tasking though MS-DOS did allow multi-tasking (one of Authors did this) to some extent
    ¬ Mobile computer world's OS
    • Watches, cell phones and personal pads have become full-fledged computers with operating systems
      • iOS (iPhone OS, 2007)
        • Unix (Darwin) based
        • Used in iPhones and iPads (though in 2019 a iPadOS was split off)
      • Android (2007)
        • A Linux-based system for Mobile phones
        • Started by Android, Inc. which was backed by Google and eventually merged into Google
        • The dominant OS
      • Windows 7,8, and 10 (started around 2010)
        • The only major non-Linux based operating system in the Mobile phone industry
        • Windows 8 was a redesign to move from traditional computers into Mobile/Notepad world
        • Discontinued
      • Ubuntu Touch (2011)
        • Ubuntu has had multiple entries into the phone industry many of them discontinued, but Ubuntu Touch is still active
        • Mostly can replace Android
        • Long term viability is questionable, however that doesn't mean it won't succeed...time will tell

    For more information and an in-depth understanding of operating systems the student should take a traditional computer science course on operating systems. Most engineers do not need to go into this depth of understanding. Installing a Linux operating system and learning how to install programs and configure the computer should be sufficient for most engineers.