The Operating System: What Does It Do and Why Is It Important?
Software is what brings a computer to life, and an operating system (OS) is the framework that allows all other software to run. A computer is of no use without an OS. There are many different operating systems available for computers of all shapes and sizes, but there are only a few main branches that dominate the consumer market: Windows, OS X and its sibling iOS, and Linux which forms the basis for Android. The systems are very different, but have borrowed and learned from each other over time.
The first operating systems were entirely text based. Users would type archaic commands into the terminal, and the computer would type something back. Before Windows, there was MS-DOS. Before Mac OS, there was the Apple DOS. Before Android, there was Unix. Each system accepted input from the keyboard, and produced output to the screen. The major difference between the three was the hardware each operating system would run on.
All that changed in 1984 when Apple released the first Macintosh computer. The Mac’s operating system was graphical, and was the first of its kind to be available in a mass market product to the general public. The Mac was followed by the first version of Windows in 1985 which also featured a point-and-click graphical interface. Microsoft’s Windows went on to dominate the computer industry for the next twenty years, but both operating systems continued to evolve.
The next major leap forward in operating systems happened in 2007 when Apple released the iPhone, followed quickly by Google releasing Android. While the first major shift in operating systems was from command line to graphics, the second was from keyboard and mouse to touch.
Given the historical trend of operating systems to become faster, more capable, and more personal, it’s not hard to predict a future where personal computers are reduced down to your phone. Eventually, your phone will be the only device you need, and the operating system will adapt itself to suit your style of work for whatever environment you are in. A keyboard and mouse at your desk on a big screen, and a quick- touch interface on the go.
Some Android phones have already tried this, but Microsoft has been morphing Windows into the only operating system for all computing devices. The technology field thrives on innovation, competitiveness, and standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before. The evolution of operating systems has always been about making computers easier to use. No matter which operating system you prefer, the future looks bright for consumers.