So what on earth does a computer operating system do?

In a computer, the operating system performs the same function as the staff in a hotel. It takes care behind the scenes of everything that you, the user (or guest) need, to turn an unwieldy object - the inert computer, or empty hotel - into a personalised environment. The operating system allocates space for the programs (the computer equivalent of guests) who want to use the computer. When all goes according to plan, the operating system, like good staff, is just an invisible presence.

In technical terms, the operating system is itself a computer program which runs other programs and looks after the hardware of the machine, such as its central processor, hard disc drive, floppy disk drive, keyboard, screen monitor, CD-Rom, speakers and external connections to networks or telephone lines. If a user wants to run a word-processing program, the operating system finds that program on the hard disc and loads it into the computer's memory. It then runs it, while picking up the input from the keyboard and displaying it on the monitor, and saving any data to the disc drives.

The concept of the Windows operating system, and of the rival Apple's Macintosh computers, is that rather than typing commands to make the system perform a task, you move a pointer (the handheld "mouse") across the screen and click a button on it.

Microsoft dominates the market for operating systems of personal computers: Windows already runs on 100 million PCs worldwide, compared with the 20 million using Apple Macintoshes. And Windows 95 marks a notable advance - though not a revolution - over the current version. "It's like putting new soles, heels and polish on an old pair of shoes," says Lawrence Magid, a US consultant. "It makes the PC look and feel better without disturbing the user's comfort."

With Windows 95, the screen will be less cluttered and easier to use. It should run programs more quickly, and be able to run a number of different programs at once. It will be able to sense when a new piece of hardware, such as a printer or speakers, is attached to the computer. And it will have a link to Microsoft's own online computer service, which will have connections to the Internet, the worldwide network with 30 million users.

Apple Macintosh users say all these are hardly innovations, as they have been available on their systems for years; some refer to Microsoft's new product as "Macintosh 89". But this ignores the market dominance of Windows. A common joke in computer circles is: "How many Microsoft programmers does it take to change a light bulb?" To which the answer is, "None - they just redefine the industry standard as darkness."

C A

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific