The operating system provides several essential functions, including:
- managing the hardware resources of the computer;
- providing the user-interface components;
- providing a platform for software developers to write applications.
All computing devices run an operating system. For personal computers, the most popular operating systems are Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s OS X, and different versions of Linux. Smartphones and tablets run operating systems as well, such as Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, and Blackberry.
Early personal-computer operating systems were simple by today’s standards; they did not provide multitasking and required the user to type commands to initiate an action. The amount of memory that early operating systems could handle was limited as well, making large programs impractical to run. The most popular of the early operating systems was IBM’s Disk Operating System, or DOS, which was actually developed for them by Microsoft.
In 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh computer, featuring an operating system with a graphical user interface. Though not the first graphical operating system, it was the first one to find commercial success. In 1985, Microsoft released the first version of Windows. This version of Windows was not an operating system, but instead was an application that ran on top of the DOS operating system, providing a graphical environment. It was quite limited and had little commercial success. It was not until the 1990 release of Windows 3.0 that Microsoft found success with a graphical user interface. Because of the hold of IBM and IBM-compatible personal computers on business, it was not until Windows 3.0 was released that business users began using a graphical user interface, ushering us into the graphical-computing era. Since 1990, both Apple and Microsoft have released many new versions of their operating systems, with each release adding the ability to process more data at once and access more memory. Features such as multitasking, virtual memory, and voice input have become standard features of both operating systems.
A third personal-computer operating system family that is gaining in popularity is Linux (pronounced “linn-ex”). Linux is an open source operating system. Linux is used on a wide variety of computing devices, including smartphones, tables, personal computers, Raspberry Pi, and even supercomputers. In 1991 a Finnish computer science student, Linus Torvalds, decided to create a new free operating system. Linux was the result. Linux has many variations and now powers a large percentage of web servers in the world. It is also an example of open-source software.
Sidebar: Mac vs. Windows
Are you a Mac? Are you a PC? Ever since its introduction in 1984, users of the Apple Macintosh have been quite biased about their preference for the Macintosh operating system (now called OS X) over Microsoft’s. When Microsoft introduced Windows, Apple sued Microsoft, claiming that they copied the “look and feel” of the Macintosh operating system. In the end, Microsoft successfully defended themselves.
Over the past few years, Microsoft and Apple have traded barbs with each other, each claiming to have a better operating system and software. While Microsoft has always had the larger market share (see sidebar), Apple has been the favorite of artists, musicians, and the technology elite. Apple also provides a lot of computers to elementary schools, thus gaining a following among the younger generation.
Sidebar: Why Is Microsoft Software So Dominant in the Business World?
If you’ve worked in the world of business, you may have noticed that almost all of the computers run a version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Why is this? On almost all college campuses, you see a preponderance of Apple Macintosh laptops. In elementary schools, Apple reigns as well. Why has this not extended into the business world?
Almost all businesses used IBM mainframe computers back in the 1960s and 1970s. These same businesses shied away from personal computers until IBM released the PC in 1981. When executives had to make a decision about purchasing personal computers for their employees, they would choose the safe route and purchase IBM. The saying then was: “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” So over the next decade, companies bought IBM personal computers (or those compatible with them), which ran an operating system called DOS. DOS was created by Microsoft, so when Microsoft released Windows as the next iteration of DOS, companies took the safe route and started purchasing Windows.
Microsoft soon found itself with the dominant personal-computer operating system for businesses. As the networked personal computer began to replace the mainframe computer as the primary way of computing inside businesses, it became essential for Microsoft to give businesses the ability to administer and secure their networks. Microsoft developed business-level server products to go along with their personal computer products, thereby providing a complete business solution. And so now, the saying goes: “No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft.”