What Is an Operating System?

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The operating system regulates the operation and resources of the computer through controlling the access to the central processor unit (CPU) memory, file storage and input/output device. It also manages tasks such as scheduling the use of resources to avoid conflict and interference between processes, regulating the content and structure of files stored on non-primary media, and determining which programs are able to utilize hardware components, such as disc drives or WiFi adaptors. It also permits users to connect to the system using a Graphical User Interface or Command-Line Interface.

Process Management

The operating system handles the start, stop and resumption process of applications. It determines which applications get to execute first and for how long it is able to make use of the CPU, as well as when it is time to stop. It can also split an application into multiple threads that allow it to run in parallel on more than one processor. Each of these actions are controlled by a routine in the operating system, referred to as the process block.

File management

Operating systems manage the structure and contents of files stored in nonprimary storage. They can move data between memory and storage in the event of need. They can also map virtual memory pages into physical memory pages for faster access. This is referred to as demand paging.

It also interacts directly with hardware in the computer through drivers and other interface software. If, for instance, an application is looking to use specific hardware, like a WiFi adaptor the operating system will supply the driver, and let it access the hardware. This is done without the programmers having to write a new piece of code for each Wi-Fi adaptor, disk drive, or any other type of hardware.