An operating system (OS) is a set of programs that manage computer hardware resources and provide common services for application software. The operating system is the most important type of system software in a computer system. A user cannot run an application program on the computer without an operating system, unless the application program is self booting.
Time-sharing operating systems schedule tasks for efficient use of the system and may also include accounting for cost allocation of processor time, mass storage, printing, and other resources.
For hardware functions such as input and output and memory allocation, the operating system acts as an intermediary between application programs and the computer hardware, although the application code is usually executed directly by the hardware and will frequently call the OS or be interrupted by it. Operating systems are found on almost any device that contains a computer—from cellular phones and video game consoles to supercomputers and web servers.
Examples of popular modern operating systems include Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Linux and Android.
A real-time operating system is a multitasking operating system that aims at executing real-time applications. Real-time operating systems often use specialized scheduling algorithms so that they can achieve a deterministic nature of behavior. The main objective of real-time operating systems is their quick and predictable response to events. They have an event-driven or time-sharing design and often aspects of both. An event-driven system switches between tasks based on their priorities or external events while time-sharing operating systems switch tasks based on clock interrupts.
Multi-user vs. Single-user
A multi-user operating system allows multiple users to access a computer system concurrently. Time-sharing system can be classified as multi-user systems as they enable a multiple user access to a computer through the sharing of time. Single-user operating systems, as opposed to a multi-user operating system, are usable by a single user at a time. Being able to have multiple accounts on a Windows operating system does not make it a multi-user system. Rather, only the network administrator is the real user. But for a Unix-like operating system, it is possible for two users to login at a time and this capability of the OS makes it a multi-user operating system.
Multi-tasking vs. Single-tasking
When only a single program is allowed to run at a time, the system is grouped under a single-tasking system. However, when the operating system allows the execution of multiple tasks at one time, it is classified as a multi-tasking operating system. Multi-tasking can be of two types: pre-emptive or co-operative. In pre-emptive multitasking, the operating system slices the CPU time and dedicates one slot to each of the programs. Unix-like operating systems such as Solaris and Linux support pre-emptive multitasking. Cooperative multitasking is achieved by relying on each process to give time to the other processes in a defined manner. MS Windows prior to Windows 2000 used to support cooperative multitasking.
A distributed operating system manages a group of independent computers and makes them appear to be a single computer. The development of networked computers that could be linked and communicate with each other gave rise to distributed computing. Distributed computations are carried out on more than one machine. When computers in a group work in cooperation, they make a distributed system.
Embedded operating systems are designed to be used in embedded computer systems. They are designed to operate on small machines like PDAs with less autonomy. They are able to operate with a limited number of resources. They are very compact and extremely efficient by design. Windows CE and Minix 3 are some examples of embedded operating systems.