Computer Software

How does a computer's operating system work?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. You could think of the operating system as a bridge that connects your computer's hardware to all of the software applications you use every day. The shiny hardware in the new computer your brought home from your local box store couldn't do much of anything if you bought one during a special "no operating system!" sale. For your software -- say a word processing package -- to work it needs to "talk" to your system's hardware, such as its hard drive, memory, monitor and keyboard. Similarly, all of the fancy hardware is pretty useless if it isn't given anything to do, and it can only do stuff -- save your document to disk, print your vacation itinerary or upload your child's birthday party pictures, for example -- by communicating with the application software through the operating system.

    So, then, an operating system helps your computer do a lot of amazing things, and, broadly speaking, it works in two basic ways:

    • First, your computer's operating system coordinates the demands that the computer's software makes on its hardware, especially the central processing unit. Each piece of software running on your computer ideally would like to have the undivided attention of its hardware. It's the operating system's job to make sure that each application gets its fair share of your computer's finite resources in the most efficient way possible.
    • Second, the operating system provides a consistent set of rules for applications to use in order to be able to interface with your computer's hardware. The system's application program interface lets developers create software that will run on computers of the same type even if the hardware is different or open to change.

    Today's operating systems, while quite complex in their own right, still work on the simple principle of being the glue that helps bind application programs to system hardware.

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