Operating system

Operating system (OS) definition: Functions and types

What is an operating system (OS)?

An operating system (OS) is the core software that manages your computer's hardware and software resources. It serves as an intermediary between you, the user, and your device, to coordinate tasks like running programs and handling files.

An operating system enables you to interact with your personal computer, providing a user-friendly interface while efficiently managing system operations to make your device function smoothly and securely.

Functions of an operating system

The primary function of an operating system is to simplify and streamline your computing experience. Other than that, there are many functions of an operating system 👇

1 - Process management

The OS oversees all running programs or processes. It schedules them, allocates resources (like CPU time and memory), and ensures they run without interfering with each other. This keeps your system responsive and efficient.

2 - Memory management

It manages your computer's memory by allocating space for processes and optimising memory usage to prevent crashes due to insufficient memory.

3 - File system management

The OS organises and stores your files, making them accessible, searchable and secure. It controls file management, creation, deletion and access permissions.

4 - Device management

It handles communication with hardware devices like printers, keyboards, and network adapters. By providing device drivers, the OS ensures compatibility and seamless operations.

5 - User interface

The OS offers a user-friendly interface, such as graphical user interfaces (GUIs) or command-line interfaces (CLIs), enabling you to interact with your computer easily.

6 - Security and access control

It enforces user authentication and access rights. It protects your system from unauthorised access and malicious software, ensuring the safety of your data.

7 - Networking

The OS facilitates network connections, allowing you to access resources over a network or the internet. It manages network protocols, configurations and data transfer.

8 - Task scheduling

It prioritises tasks and manages CPU utilisation efficiently. This ensures that essential processes receive the required resources while maintaining system responsiveness.

9 - Updates and maintenance

The OS often manages software updates and system maintenance, ensuring your computer remains secure and up to date.

Types of operating systems

There are many different types of operating systems tailored to your specific needs and computing environments. The choice of operating systems mainly depends on the intended use and hardware resources of the system.

1 - Single-user operating system

Single-user operating systems are the most common operating systems designed for individual users on personal devices like laptops and desktops.

They allow only one user to interact with the system at a time and are focused on providing a user-friendly interface and efficient resource management for a single user's tasks.

Examples of a single-user operating system are Microsoft Windows Vista or Mac OS.

2 - Multi-user operating system

Multi-user operating systems are employed in environments where multiple users need simultaneous access to a shared computer.

These systems manage resources and ensure fair access for multiple users, like servers, mainframes or time-sharing systems. An example of a multi-user operating system is Linux (Ubuntu Server).

3 - Real-time operating system (RTOS)

RTOS is used in applications where immediate response and timing precision are critical. This kind of software is used in control systems, robotics, defence systems and medical devices.

Real-time systems ensure that the tasks are executed within specific time constraints, minimising latency. An example of a real-time operating system is VxWorks.

4 - Network operating system (NOS)

NOS focuses on network management, making it easier for multiple computers to communicate and share resources. This type of operating system is commonly used on network servers, where file and printer sharing are crucial.

An example of a network operating system is Novell NetWare, which is used to manage local area networks (LANs).

5 - Mobile operating system

Mobile operating systems are designed for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Popular operating systems, like Android and iOS, emphasise touch-based interfaces and app management. They often have app stores for easy software installation.

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