In addition to the apps that you use, there are a lot of programs required to operate computer hardware. These programs, collectively, are known as the operating system and have a number of functions:
- managing the hardware components
- providing a visual interface for you to use to do things on the computer
- organising things so that the computer runs efficiently
- acting as a gateway between that apps that you run and the hardware
Using the restaurant analogy mentioned on the computers page, the operating system is the kitchen manager; it makes sure that everything is organised and running efficiently (the apps would be equivalent to kitchen workers) The operating system is the most important software on the computer. Without it you just have a big (or small) box that doesn't do anything. The operating systems that we use are called graphical user interfaces (GUI). These is a fancy way of saying that we interact visually with the operating system. We switch on and login and there's a screen like this (this is Windows 10)
This screen is called a desktop. We run apps or open files on the desktop by:
- clicking on the small pictures (called icons)
- typing the name of the app or file in the search box and clicking on the search result
- clicking on the start icon on the bottom left of the screen and looking for the app or file that we want
We use a mouse to navigate around the screen and click on items.
It's possible to set up speech recognition on operating systems, but visual is the default method for using the most common operating systems.
One thing to note about operating systems is that they are all different. Apps that work on one operating system will not work on another operating system.
Different computers and different computer types have different operating systems. These are the most common:
Desktops and Laptops
Windows, produced by Microsoft, is the most used operating system on computers throughout the world and comes preloaded on most desktop computers. A few versions of Windows have been developed, with Windows 10 the latest. Windows comes with its own set of apps with which you can browse the Internet, check your email, listen to music, play games and much more besides.
MacOS is a series of operating systems created by Apple (makers of the iPad, iPhone and iPod). MacOS is not nearly as common as Windows, accounting for around 10% of operating systems used around the world. Apple computers tend to be more expensive than those that use Windows, but many prefer their look and feel. MacOS comes with its own set of apps with which you can browse the Internet, check your email, listen to music, play games and more - just like Windows.
Linux is different in that it is open source, which means it can be freely used, modified and distributed by anyone. This is different from proprietary software like Windows or MacOS which can only be modified by Microsoft or Apple. Some proprietary software can be free to use, but most of the time you must pay for it. Linux is free to use and there are many different versions of it because people have chosen to modify it for a particular use or need. Despite this, only around 2% of operating systems used around the world are Linux-based, although Linux is often used on web servers, computers that store webpages and websites.
Mobile Operating Systems
The vast majority of desktop and laptop computers run Windows, MacOS or Linux. Mobile devices - smartphones and tablets are different and use different operating systems specifically designed for mobile use. Mobile operating systems don't tend to be as complex or as feature-rich as desktop operating systems, but you can still do a lot with them. Like desktop operating systems, mobile operating systems use a graphical user interface, but instead of using a mouse to navigate screens, Mobile systems are designed to use touchscreens and have "assistants" that recognise speech.
Android is a mobile operating system that is based on Linux and like Linux, it is free and open source. Google have sponsored a lot of development work on Android and have trademarked the Android name and logo. Around 70% of Android phones run Google's version of Android. Tablets made by Amazon use a version of Android called FireOS. Google's version of Android comes with a speech-recognising assistant (Google Assistant)
iOS is Apple's operating system for iPhones and iPads. Siri is a virtual assistant that is part of iOS that will answer voice queries and allow the device to be operated by voice.
There are other mobile operating systems, but Android and iOS are used by most mobile devices.