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Operating Systems Argumentative

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Operating Systems are computer programs that serve as the middle layer between the hardware and the applications software of the computer. The task of the operating system is to manage how different applications use the software and hardware resources of the computer. Also, the operating system is an abstraction layer between the hardware and the software, serving to make the specific hardware implementation invisible to the application. Aside from managing the resources, another task for modern operating systems is providing a user interface for the operation of the computer.

In the past, computers didn’t have an operating system. The user would provide the program and the data to the hardware. The hardware then executed the program until the program ended or crashed. Computers could only execute one program at a time and programs were physically loaded (in the form of punch cards or magnetic tape) into the computer.

As computer hardware grew faster and applications for computers kept increasing, the process of manually loading a program on a machine that only runs one program at a time became increasingly impractical. The beginning of the modern operating system (OS) was in response to this problem. The earliest traces of the OS could be seen in runtime libraries, programs that were executed before the first job of the computer. The runtime libraries would read in the customer job, control the execution, perform cleaning up of the resources after the customer job, record its usage then fetch and load the next customer job. This is the ancestor of the OS – a program that performs hardware management, software-scheduling, and resource usage monitoring.

With computes becoming more and more ubiquitous, more and more features were packed into the OS. In addition to the duties performed by its runtime library ancestor, Modern commercial OS’s especially for commercial users include utilities, basic applications (text editors, media players, etc), user interfaces, and configuration tools among other things. From a program that simply managed the computer, modern OS’s take on the role of a program that is essential to make a computer usable.

The main management responsibilities of a modern OS called services include the following.

  • Process Management – At the most fundamental layer, a CPU can only execute a single program at any point in time, the OS being one of these programs. Modern OS support multitasking wherein the user could run multiple programs simultaneously (such as running a music player while typing on Microsoft Word). The OS job is to continuously switch the CPU from one program to the next, giving the user the impression that the programs are running in parallel.
  • Memory Management – The OS manages the many types of memory available to the computer (CPU registers, cache, main memory, hard disk), making sure that it knows which memory is available for use, which memory is safe to overwrite. The OS is also responsible for moving data in between the different memory systems of the computer. The OS is also responsible for allocating space in lower levels of the memory when the upper levels have run out of space. As part of its process control service, the OS also assigns memory to running processes and makes sure that the memory footprints of the currently running processes do not overlap.
  • Disk and File System Management – The OS is in charge of arranging the many different files in storage. The OS provides a method of hierarchy between the different files. The OS also supports removable storage devices such as CD-ROMS, floppy disks and USB thumb drives.
  • Networking – The OS also operates the needed programs needed for the computer to communicate through a network using several different communications protocols. The OS also makes sure that the user has access to different resources in the network such as storage and printers.
  • Security – The OS makes sure that computer resources are allocated only to authorized programs and that unauthorized programs gain no access to the computer.
  • User Interface – The user also operates the computer through an interface presented by the operating system. The interface takes in input from the computer and presents a dynamic output for the user to monitor. The first interfaces were character based wherein the user types in his or her commands to the operating system at a prompt. Modern user interfaces are Graphical User Interfaces (GUI). In a GUI, the user manipulates graphical objects such as icons, windows and buttons using a stylus or a mouse.
  • Input/Output – The OS is responsible for controlling the various input and output devices connected to the computer. The OS is responsible for handling input requests and output processes. Additionally, the OS is responsible for processing unexpected inputs that terminate the running of one program such as CTRL+ALT+DEL.
  • Interprocess Communication – The OS serves as a way for different running processes in the machine to communicate with each other. By doing this, different processes in effect can use other processes. The OS also makes sure that the data needed by different processes that are working together is made available to both processes.

Not all current computers have an operating system. For example, the computer inside your microwave does not have an operating system. Operating Systems arose due to the increasing complexity and demands of computer users and the increasing performance of the computer hardware. Similarly, different types of operating systems exist for different users. There are the familiar OS’s for everyday use such as Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS X. There are also operating systems for mobile devices like PDAs. These OS’s include Windows CE, Mainframe computers generally run an operating system like Linux, UNIX or any of its other variants.

The most dominant OS in the consumer market is the Windows family of operating systems from Microsoft. The first Windows version was launched in 1985. Windows 1.0 was not a complete operating system; rather it was an extension of the MS-DOS operating system. Windows 1.0 gave MS-DOS a graphical user interface and allowed multitasking of multiple graphical applications. Windows 1.0 also had a basic memory management that allowed it to run applications larger than available memory.

The very first full operating system Windows variant was Windows 95 released August 24, 1995. Windows 95 combined the MS-DOS operating system with the windows GUI. Windows 95 was a complete OS different from its predecessors that needed MS-DOS separately.

Currently, the most popular operating is Windows XP with XP running on 76.7% of computers as of March 2007 according to w3schools.com. XP was released on October 25, 2001. However, there is a newer version of Windows for consumers – Windows Vista which was released last November 8, 2006.

Microsoft claims that a major improvement of Vista over XP is in the area of security. The Windows family has always been criticized for its poor security record. There are reportedly five times more malware on Windows than in other operating systems. Microsoft integrated a slew of new features in Vista just for security purposes. These include improved user accounts management, drive encryption for the whole drive, and improvements to the Windows Firewall.

A major difference between XP and Vista is in the look and feel of the two operating systems. Windows Vista implemented a new user interface which they call Aero which has improved features over the interface of XP. XP itself featured massive user interface changes over its predecessor Windows ME. All these user interface changes are with the aim of making the computer easier to use for the consumers. These user interface improvements are also solutions for presenting a user interface that is not intimidating for non-technical users.

XP featured the use of bitmaps all throughout the interface which greatly enhanced the graphical aspect of the operating system. The interface was also more task oriented in many ways. For example, in windows explorer the most commonly used tasks for the selected folder are displayed in a sidebar. The start menu was also changed into a two column format, one column for most commonly used programs and the other for customizing the computer and for the personal files of the user.

Windows Vista’s Aero on the other hand is more graphical oriented than XP. Designed to showcase Vista’s graphical capabilities, Aero is designed to be cleaner, and more pleasing than previous windows interfaces. It includes more eye candy such as semi-transparent windows, animations, and glass effects. Windows Aero also marks the first time since Windows 95 that the user interface has been redesigned. Aside from graphical changes, Aero also had improvements to common controls such as buttons, wizards, control panels, icons, and even the tone and phrasing of the text.

All of these improvements are meant to make the operating system become a smoother abstraction for the user. The operating system is eventually hoping to allow the user to forget about the inner workings of the computer and enabling the user to perform whatever he or she wants to on his machine effortlessly.


Coustan, Dave. “How Operating Systems Work.” HowStuffWorks.com. n.d.. How Stuff Works. 25 Apr 2007 <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/operating-system.htm/printable>.

Tanenbaum, Andrew, and Woodhull, Albert S.. Operating Systems. Design and Implementation.. 1st ed. New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006.

Reimer, Jeremy. “Antivirus company suggests home users switch to Macs.” Ars Technica. 06 July 2006. 25 Apr 2007 <http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060706-7204.html>.

“Browser Statistics.” W3schools.com. April 2007. W3 Schools. 25 Apr 2007 <http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp>.

“See Windows Vista.” Microsoft Website. 2007. Microsoft. 25 Apr 2007 <http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/seeit/default.mspx>.

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