Every computer, laptop, or smartphone has an operating system that helps the device function.
Most of us don’t think about why these devices need an operating system or what functions an OS performs.
If you are curious to know about this, you are in the right place.
Here is a complete guide that will help you understand why computers need an operating system.
Why Does A Computer Need An Operating System?
A computer needs an operating system to execute the various user programs and make tasks easy for you.
That is because the hardware systems of the computer work with the application programs to keep your computer running.
The operating system is responsible for managing and controlling all the resources of the computer.
The operating system acts as a medium between the application programs and the hardware.
For example, many different computer programs are running on your PC simultaneously.
All of them have to access your CPU, storage, and memory.
The operating system coordinates this access to ensure that each program on your computer gets what it needs.
It acts as a bridge between these two to ensure the smooth running of your computer.
Without the operating system, your computer would not be of much use to you.
8 Functions Of An Operating System
Let’s elaborate more on why your computer requires an operating system.
There are certain functions that an operating system performs which are crucial to the running of your computer.
1. Device Management
The operating system is the device manager that keeps everything running smoothly on your PC.
It communicates with the hardware and all the attached devices that you use.
The aim is to create a balance between these devices and the CPU.
Such a task is crucial because the processing speed of the CPU is much higher than your devices.
That is why the operating system needs to optimize the CPU time.
It does this using two methods, which are known as spooling and buffering.
Here is what you need to know about these two methods:
SPOOL is short for Simultaneous Peripheral Operation OnLine.
Spooling is a technique of device management that is utilized for processing various tasks on the same I/O device.
For example, if there are different users on one network sharing the same resources, then it is possible that more than one user can give it a command at the same time.
That is when the operating system will temporarily store the data of each user on the computer’s hard disk.
The user will not have to wait for the completion of the execution process.
The operating system will direct the data from the hard disk towards the resource one by one.
Another way to optimize the CPU time is by using buffering.
This technique is used by temporarily storing the I/O data in the input and output buffer.
For example, once the signal for the output or input is sent to or from the CPU, the operating system will move the data from the input device to the input buffer using the device controller.
There may also be a chance that the buffer can be full.
In this case, the operating system will send a signal to the program that will process the stored data inside the buffer.
As soon as the buffer is empty, the program will let the operating system know, and it will reload the buffer so that the operations can run smoothly.
2. Application Program Platform
The second function of an operating system is that it offers a platform where all the application programs can easily run.
Such programs help various users to perform certain tasks easily.
You can think of it as an interface between the user and the computer.
The operating system is created in such a way that it will control, operate, and execute the different applications on the computer with ease.
It is the backbone of the computer that will guarantee the smooth running of various applications available.
3. File Management
File management is another important function of the operating system.
It manages all the directory systems, folders, and files available on your computer.
That is because any data you store on your computer is stored in the form of files.
The operating system uses FAT (file allocation table) to keep you informed of all the files.
On the other hand, it can also use a data structure in Linux, known as an inode.
The FAT will store general information about all the files.
These include the type of file, file name, access mode, starting address, size, and much more.
The file manager will then help to copy, create, edit, and allocate memory to the various files.
It will also update the FAT from time to time.
The function of the operating system is also to take care of the files that you open with proper access rights to edit or read them.
This is a vital function of the operating system that helps you manage your files in one place on your PC.
4. Memory Management
The memory of the computer is a crucial component because that is what keeps it functioning and running.
For example, the I/O devices and the CPU interact with the memory of the computer.
When there is supposed to be an execution of a program, the program is loaded on the main memory until the final stages of execution.
After that, the memory space is available for other applications and programs on your computer.
There are two main methods that the operating system uses to manage memory.
These include virtual memory and partition.
A. Virtual Memory
Virtual memory is a method that the operating system uses that enables the user to load programs that are larger than the main memory.
This method guarantees that the program can be executed even if you can’t load the complete program in the main memory.
In the long run, doing this helps memory utilization to be more efficient.
The complete memory of your computer is separated into different partitions of different or same sizes.
Such separations help to accommodate the number of programs stored in the memory.
Partitions can be variable, which means that memory is allocated when a certain application or program is loaded into the memory.
Partitions can also be fixed, which means that it remains the same for all the applications in the memory.
The former approach guarantees less waste of memory, but you will notice with time that this type of partition can lead to fragmentation.
5. CPU Management
CPU management is perhaps the most important function of your operating system.
The operating system is responsible for taking care of the CPU time and allotting it efficiently to various processes inside the computer.
After a certain process finishes its CPU processing for the allotted time, it is known as scheduling.
The operating system makes use of different types of scheduling techniques, which include:
- SJF: This is known as the shortest job first, and the process that requires the shortest CPU time is scheduled to go first.
- RRS: This is known as round robin scheduling, and each process is given a fixed CPU execution time in a cyclic manner
- PBS: This is known as priority-based scheduling, and processes are scheduled based on priorities. The ones with the highest priority will be scheduled first
Optimizing time is key when it comes to managing a computer.
That is where the operating systems come in to manage CPU times.
In the long run, it ensures that your computer doesn’t lag or slow down.
6. Managing I/O Devices
Managing I/O devices is also a vital function of the operating system.
It enables the PC to manage its own resources, such as a printer, keyboard, monitor, and much more.
The operating system is in control of the different I/O resources and allocates them to the programs and users, depending on the requirements.
One of the top functions of such management is to provide users with an easy interface.
Because of this, the user will not have to learn a new UI each time and can focus on the content.
This leads to high productivity levels.
The operating system will offer UI components and templates to ensure that using I/O devices is incredibly easy.
You will not have to worry about the devices you want to attach to your computer.
The operating system is responsible for the management of memory, which ensures that many programs are running on your computer and communicating with one another.
Multitasking will guarantee the users a great experience.
It will allow them to conduct different tasks on the computer at one time.
When your operating system is performing efficiently, multitasking will be a breeze for you.
If it lags or slows down, it is a sign that your operating system may not be functioning optimally.
8. Context Switching
Finally, when an operating system is multitasking, it will run various processes on the system.
Some of these processes may require a change in execution.
While your operating system is executing many processes at one time, only one task is usually executed at the front while others remain in the background.
Whatever will be run in the front will be determined by your operating system through priority-based scheduling.
The operating system will save the execution state of the process running previously before it switches to the one running currently.
In simple terms, this is known as context switching.
It is a crucial function of the operating system that helps execute different tasks at a single point in time.
If you are running many programs in one go, remember that your operating system is always optimizing its use.
Types Of Operating Systems For Computers
Now that you are familiar with the functions of the operating system, you must also familiarize yourself with the different operating systems available in the market.
There are three operating systems that are the most popular in today’s digital age.
These include macOS, Windows, and Linux.
Here is what you need to know about each operating system in detail to decide which one is right for you:
The macOS is an operating system that has been created by Apple.
If you purchase an Apple device, it will have this operating system already.
Apple devices are expensive, which is why there are not as many Mac users around the world.
For example, macOS users account for 10% of the global operating systems.
On the other hand, Windows users account for more than 80% of operating systems globally.
Affordability is a big reason most people stick to Windows operating systems.
If people have the budget, they always opt for the macOS.
That is because it looks much better in appearance and also works better in some ways than the Windows operating system.
In the end, it is a personal preference which operating system you want to opt for.
The Windows operating system has been around for a long time and has been running since the 1980s.
During this time, there have been endless versions of Windows.
If you buy a new PC, the Windows operating system will already be loaded because it is one of the most popular operating systems.
The most recent Windows version is Windows 10 and 11.
The key is to keep updating the operating system so that it can offer your PC the best functionality.
There are also many guides and tutorials online that will help you make the most out of your Windows operating system.
Linux is the least popular among these three operating systems, but it is still used by many people around the world.
It is a family of open-source operating systems.
This means that the operating system can be modified and distributed by anyone.
The best part about Linux is that it is free, and there are endless versions you can choose from.
You can easily customize the server according to your preference.
It is easy to take this action, and you will learn to use this operating system in no time.
Types Of Operating Systems For Mobile Devices
Operating systems are also included in mobile devices to ensure the smooth running of programs and applications.
If you have an iPhone at home, then you are using the Apple iOS, which is responsible for the applications that run on your phone.
On the other hand, if you own a phone from another brand such as Samsung or LG, then the operating system on your device is Android.
Neither of these is better than the other, and what you should select will depend on your personal preference.
This has been your complete guide to understanding why a computer needs an operating system, along with the functions and types of operating systems available.
It is the most important software on your computer that manages its processes, memory, hardware, and software.
Besides that, it also enables you to communicate with the computer so that you can execute all of your tasks seamlessly.
Without the operating system, your computer would not be of much use to you.
There are also three main operating systems present for computers: Windows, macOS, and Linux.
You might be using one to browse around and execute tasks such as reading this article on your PC.
Even mobile devices have various operating systems that help the device operate smoothly and execute important functions.
In recent times, even smart TVs have an operating system that fulfills important functions such as running various applications.
What are your favorite operating systems for your mobile devices and your computer?