Understanding the Operating System

Without fail every newly purchased personal computer has an operating system installed on it when it arrives from the company. This operating system is usually shortened to OS when discussions are center around your computer operation. Without an OS the computer is nothing more then a machine with extremely limited potential. It will merely sit idly by and literally be useless for any type of productive use. Most computers when they are booted up will automatically run through several start up routines and finally reach the point where it searches for an installed operating system. If it fails to locate this OS it then displays various messages on the video monitor screen requesting the user to signify where on the computer this OS can be located.

The early computers had no such operating system what so ever installed nor did they even have hard drives. I remember my first computer that I built. I had to program it by flipping a row of switches either up or down. It didn’t have much memory either, perhaps 2 K total and if for some reason the power were lost I would once again have to repeat the same long sequence of pushing switches up and down in order to restore the computer to operation. In reality all I had was a huge conversation piece. Hard drives where unthinkable at the time due to the high prices and the complicated interfacing necessary for such luxuries. They simply were completely unaffordable.

Those early computers eventually began using an MS/DOS system and in time had floppy drives from which your rudimentary OS could be booted from. It may seem primitive however it certainly beat flipping the switches each time.

In short an operating system is no more then a program which controls how your computer hardware functions. It keeps track of all the actions that are going on within your computer and eventually displays them on a GUI interfaced monitor. With an adequate OS the user is no longer required to boot from a floppy disk and the process moves much quicker then previously. All the necessary drivers for the various programs are stored permanently on the computers hard drive.

If and when you consider the possibly of upgrading your computer to a different operating system you will need to ensure that you have all the necessary hardware that is needed to do this change. An example is an older laptop which I have sitting in a nearby closet. It currently has Windows 98 installed on it however when I attempt to put Windows XP on it I get a message stating that I have no CD ROM capabilities. It appears that this machine does not support Windows XP. Perhaps the Windows XP OS requires features within the computer that simply were not developed at the time the Laptop was made.


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