What Is An Operating System?

An operating system (OS) is a comprehensive collection of software that effectively manages computer hardware resources and consistently provides standardized services for computer programs. 

Considered the most vital software within a computer system, an operating system performs fundamental tasks such as expeditiously recognizing input from the keyboard, accurately transmitting output to the display screen, attentively maintaining records of files and directories on the disk, and proficiently controlling peripheral devices such as disk drives and printers.

Some examples of well-known operating systems include Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android. Each operating system boasts a unique user interface and adeptly handles diverse hardware and software.

As a critical component of a computer system, the operating system plays a pivotal role in the seamless functioning and efficient management of the hardware and software resources of the system.

Types Of Operating Systems

There exist a variety of operating systems, which can be classified based on their capability to concurrently execute multiple tasks, otherwise known as multi-tasking.

Single-tasking operating systems

Single-tasking operating systems are designed to only run a single program at a time.

While a program is running, the operating system is unable to perform any other tasks until the program has completed or been closed.

These operating systems are scarce and typically found in older or simpler systems.

Multi-tasking operating systems

Contrarily, multi-tasking operating systems are engineered to run multiple programs concurrently and efficiently.

The operating system can effectively allocate its time and resources among multiple programs and execute them simultaneously.

There are two main types of multi-tasking operating systems:

  1. Cooperative multi-tasking: Cooperative multi-tasking is a type in which each program is expected to share the CPU (Central Processing Unit) with other programs and must yield control of the CPU to the next program when its allotted time slice has been used. In this type of multi-tasking, each program is given a slice of time to execute its instructions and then must willingly give up control of the CPU. This type of multi-tasking is generally found in older or simpler systems.
  2. Preemptive multi-tasking: Preemptive multi-tasking is a more advanced, sophisticated type of multi-tasking in which the operating system can interrupt a currently running program and give control of the CPU to another program at any time. This allows the operating system to prioritize specific tasks and ensure that more important, time-sensitive tasks are completed promptly. As a result, preemptive multi-tasking is more common in modern, advanced operating systems.

Here are some other types of operating systems:

Real-time operating systems

Real-time operating systems are specifically designed to promptly respond to external events and are used in different applications where the operating system must powerfully respond to input within a specific time frame, such as in industrial control systems, aviation, and military applications.

Embedded operating systems

Embedded operating systems are boldly designed to run on devices with limited resources, such as smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices.

They are cleverly optimized to be lightweight and efficient and often have a small, compact footprint, making them suitable for devices with limited storage and processing power.

Server operating systems

Server operating systems are expertly designed to run on servers, which are powerful, high-performance computers that provide swift resources and services to other computers or devices on a network.

Common examples of server operating systems include Microsoft Windows Server and Linux.

Mobile operating systems

Mobile operating systems are designed to run on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Examples of mobile operating systems include Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

Distributed operating systems

Distributed operating systems are designed to run on multiple computers connected by a network and diligently allow multiple computers to work together and share resources, such as processing power, memory, and storage.

Some examples of distributed operating systems include Windows NT and UNIX.

The Main Components Of An Operating System

The main components of an operating system are:


The kernel is the central and critical component of the operating system that effectively manages the hardware and software resources of the system. It is responsible for efficiently scheduling tasks, managing memory, and controlling input/output operations.

System libraries

System libraries are comprehensive collections of software routines that proficiently perform everyday tasks, such as input/output operations and communication with hardware devices.

System utilities

System utilities are specialized programs that perform specific tasks related to the maintenance and management of the operating system and the computer.

Examples of system utilities include: 

  • Disk defragmenters
  • Disk cleaners
  • System update tools

System services

System services are programs that run in the background and provide essential support for other programs.

Examples of system services include:

  • The print spooler (which efficiently manages print jobs).
  • The event log (which accurately records system events).
  • The task scheduler (which effectively schedules tasks to be performed at a later time).

User interface

The user interface is a critical part of the operating system that allows users to interact with the computer in various ways, such as using a graphical user interface (GUI) that employs visual elements like windows, icons, and menus, or a command-line interface (CLI) that utilizes text-based commands to execute tasks efficiently.

Application programming interfaces (APIs)

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are comprehensive sets of programming instructions that enable diverse software programs to communicate with one another and the operating system, providing a standardized method for programs to request services from the operating system or other programs efficiently.

Device drivers

Device drivers are specialized programs that facilitate communication between the operating system and hardware devices, such as printers, keyboards, and disk drives, serving as a bridge between the two and translating the instructions of the operating system into actions that the hardware can comprehend smoothly.

File system

The file system is a crucial aspect of the operating system that manages the storage, organization, and access of files on a computer, including the directory structure, file permissions, and other mechanisms that regulate access to files efficiently.

Memory management

Memory management involves allocating and deallocating memory to different programs as required, with the operating system responsible for managing the computer’s memory and ensuring that programs have adequate memory to run smoothly.

Process management

Process management involves creating, scheduling, and controlling the execution of programs on a computer, with the operating system responsible for creating and managing processes and determining how resources, such as the CPU and memory, are allocated to each process efficiently.


Some operating systems incorporate networking capabilities that allow the computer to connect to and communicate with other devices on a network, including support for various network protocols like TCP/IP and tools for managing network connections and resources efficiently.

Scheduling a Network Upgrade? Here’s How to Get Started.


Security is a vital aspect of contemporary operating systems, including authentication, authorization, and encryption mechanisms to protect the system and its data from unauthorized access and malicious attacks effectively.


An operating system is a collection of software that manages computer hardware resources efficiently and provides standard services for computer programs effectively.

It consists of several components, including the kernel, system libraries, system utilities, system services, user interface, and application programming interfaces (APIs).

In addition to these core components, an operating system may include device drivers, a file system, memory management, process management, networking capabilities, and security features.

The specific components of an operating system depend on its design and the system’s particular needs, which are carefully evaluated and considered in the development process.

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