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Names and types of computer operating systems

Posted on: October 20, 2023
Operating System Access Connection Interface Concept

The absence of operating systems (OS) – highly important software that runs on a computer – would render computers essentially useless.

Operating systems are intermediaries between users and computer hardware. They are highly organised computer programmes designed to perform a wide range of essential functions, from managing computer hardware to running applications to enabling users to communicate with computers through a user-friendly interface. For example, performing a basic function such as running a web browser to access the internet requires at least one operating system to be installed.

Other functions generally include:

  • processor management – allocating various tasks to a processor and giving it enough time to function
  • memory management – allocating and deallocating memory across different processes
  • device management – controlling the workings of input-output devices, including receiving and communicating requests, performing tasks and interacting with peripheral devices such as printers and cameras
  • file management – tracking information that supports file system storage and maintaining integrity of data
  • security – ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of data, including protecting against unauthorised or malicious access and relaying vulnerabilities
  • error detection – checking for external threats, malicious software and hardware changes
  •  job scheduling – determining which applications need to run in which order.

Generally, an operating system will be pre-loaded onto any personal computer, tablet, smartphone or computerised device that a user purchases. In most cases, users have the ability to install an alternative OS if they choose to. Whichever OS is installed, upgrading to the latest version of the software – usually when prompted by the device or via the app store – enables optimised performance and features.

What are the different types of operating system?

While there exist many similarities between operating systems – such as critical shell and kernel components – there is also plenty of variety. Where some OS utilise a graphical user interface (GUI), others will have a text-based, command-line interface (CLI).

Different operating systems serve different purposes and have different applications. Some OS are suited for everyday tasks and functions, such as using a smartphone or personal laptop, whereas others are required for more specialised work or tasks, such as gaming.

The main types of operating system are:

  •   Multi-tasking operating system
  •   Multi-processing operating system
  •   Time-sharing operating system
  •   Real-time operating system
  •   Multi-programming batch operating system
  •   Distributed operating system
  •   Network operating system
  •   Simple batch operating system
  •   Mobile operating system.

Which OS is required will depend on the individual needs of the device and its requirements and uses, and is a consideration that developers, engineers and programmers will need to take into account. For example, IBM list some features of different OS software and hardware as data privacy, security, resiliency, hybrid cloud, DevOps agility, application modernisation and AIOps, which may need to be taken into account.

What are some examples of different operating systems?

Our modern world, characterised as it is by rapid digitisation and technological innovation, requires increasing complexity and sophistication from the operating systems we’ve come to rely on.

Here is a selection of some of the most commonly used OS around the world:

  • Microsoft Windows.  The most widely used global operating system, Windows has been the market leader of desktop OS since the early 1990s. Recent statistics report that Windows 10 is the most popular operating system, accounting for a huge 71.29% of the market, with Windows 11 coming in second at 15.44%. Windows is characterised by its easy-to-use graphical user interface, versatility, compatibility and practicability. It also has the most extensive software selection of any OS. There are numerous different versions, including Windows 7, Windows Vista, MSDOS, Windows Server and Windows XP.
  • macOS (Mac Operating System). Apple macOS is the system software that powers iMacs and MacBooks, featuring highly aesthetic design, solid security, high performance and usability. It’s also regarded as one of the quickest, most reliable OS.
  • Linux. A free, open-source, UNIX-based software, used widely by computer science professionals as a development environment, Linux is ideal for data centres, cloud-based offerings, and high-volume critical applications and websites that rely on large servers.
  • ChromeOS. Google’s ChromeOS was developed for use with tablets and netbooks, and is an intuitive, secure and straightforward OS.
  • Android. Google’s Android OS is the world’s leading mobile operating system. A modification of the Linux kernel and other types of open-source software, its primary use is for touchscreen devices such as mobile devices, smartwatches, smart TVS and any smart display. Many users choose Android due to its high level of customisation and visual appeal.
  • iOS. The second most widely used mobile OS, iOS was developed solely for use with Apple hardware devices such as the iPhone, iPad, iPod and other handheld devices.

Any OS comes with advantages and disadvantages. Other notable OS include Unix, Ubuntu, Fedora, Solaris, Symbian, Zorin and FreeBSD.

What are the factors to consider when choosing an operating system?

Cost is likely to be a factor when deciding which OS to use. While some are free to use, like Linux, others, like macOS and Windows, others will carry a fee.

Compatibility is another significant consideration. It’s important to investigate whether certain hardware and software is restricted to certain OS, such as with Apple ioS and Apple products.

There are OS that are known for their user-friendliness and intuitiveness – such as iOS and macOS – but there are plenty that aren’t. Factoring ease of use into any decision is an important step.

Finally, consider any security requirements. Certain OS may be at increased risk of security threats and breaches, whereas others feature robust, in-built security features and measures.

Gain highly sought-after skills and expertise in the growing computer science industry

Whether you have a background in computer science or not, gain the skills to start a new career or take your current role in a new direction with Keele University’s online MSc Computer Science programme.

Develop and extend your skills, expertise and application of knowledge to implement computer science solutions for businesses of all types. You’ll learn how to design, build, deploy and evaluate modern software systems and applications, as well as learning programming and web languages such as Python, Java and XL. Whether you want to work as a programmer, developer, analyst or engineer, modules including user interaction design, data analytics, apps and software engineering, and web security will equip you with core understanding across the discipline.

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