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Lesson 4 The role of the operating system
Objective Describe the role of an operating system.

Role of the Operating System

The operating system is a special program that is always running on your computer. It provides other programs with a common interface to the resources of the computer and is responsible for tasks such as getting input from the mouse, sending output to the printer, and managing the files and directories of the file system.
The operating system is essentially the air traffic controller of your computer. Just as the air traffic controller is responsible for when planes take off and land and what runways they use, the operating system is responsible for running other programs and making the computer's resources available to them.
As a simple example, let's assume you are currently running several programs on your computer: a word processing program, a spreadsheet program, and a Web browser. When you enter text at the keyboard, how do you know which program receives the text?
The operating system keeps track of which program currently has keyboard focus .
If you're using an operating system such as Windows or MacOS, you are presented with a graphical user interface (GUI) in which each program is displayed in a window. The window that is highlighted indicates which program will receive the text.
You are now familiar with what a computer program is and what it does. You can also describe the major components of a computer and explain the role of an operating system. In the next lesson you will learn how all these things work together when you run a program.


Role of the Operating System

An operating system organizes the interaction between the user and the computer, starts application programs, and manages disk storage and other resources. Instead, IBM offered customers the option of three separate operating systems. Most customers could not care less about the operating system. They chose the system that was able to launch most of the few applications that existed at the time. It happened to be DOS (Disk Operating System) by Microsoft. Microsoft cheerfully licensed the same operating system to other hardware vendors and encouraged software companies to write DOS applications. A huge number of useful application programs for PC-compatible machines was the result. PC applications were certainly useful, but they were not easy to learn. Every vendor developed a different user interface: the collection of keystrokes, menu options, and settings that a user needed to master to use a software package effectively. Data exchange between applications was difficult, because each program used a different data format. The Apple Macintosh changed all that in 1984. The designers of the Macintosh had the vision to supply an intuitive user interface with the computer and to force software developers to adhere to it. It took Microsoft and PC-compatible manufacturers years to catch up. At the time of this writing, most personal computers are used for accessing information from online sources, word processing, and home finance. Some analysts predict that the personal computer will merge with the television set and cable network into an entertainment and information appliance.