Operating System Facts

All computers require an operating system in order to function. The operating system is the software used by the computer to control all the different programs and commands. Most people buy a computer that comes pre-loaded with an operating system. For consumers, this is normally either a Microsoft Windows operating system or a Macintosh OS X operating system. Some business users may alternatively have a Linux or UNIX operating system. Learn more about operating systems with these key facts.

Types of operating system

There are broadly four different types of operating system.

  • Real-time operating system. Also known as RTOS, this type of operating system is used to control machinery, scientific instruments and industrial systems. An RTOS will be used to execute a particular task or operation in exactly the same way every time. Any kind of user interface is unlikely. The system will operate 'as is' once installed.
  • Single-user, single task. This type of operating system allows the user to carry out one task at a time. Some hand-held computers operate in this way.
  • Single-user, multi-task. This type of operating system is the kind that you will most commonly find at home. Microsoft Windows and Mac OSX are examples of single-user, multi-task operating systems.
  • Multi-user. A multi-user operating system allows a number of different users to use the computer's resources simultaneously. Unix is an example of a multi-user operating system.


Operating system tasks fall into six different categories.

  • Processor management. The operating system controls the resources used by the processor to ensure that the system can run efficiently.
  • Memory management. The operating system manages the virtual memory to ensure that the system runs as effectively as possible.
  • Device management. The operating system manages devices connected to the computer, such as the keyboard.
  • Storage management. The operating system controls the data stored on the computer.
  • Application interface. The operating system controls how the applications perform alongside one another.
  • User interface. The operating system controls how the experience for the user.

Most popular operating systems

Windows remains the most popular operating system in the world, by a massive majority, partly because so many businesses and corporate organizations deploy Microsoft operating systems. According to data reported by W3 Schools, in August 2012, Microsoft Windows operating systems account for more than 80 percent of the global operating system market. The top 5 operating systems at this time were:

  1. Windows 7 - 54.5 percent
  2. Windows XP - 24.8 percent
  3. Max OSX - 8.7 percent
  4. Linux - 5 percent
  5. Windows Vista - 3.7 percent

The newest addition to the market comes from the mobile operating system market. While this only accounted for 1.8 percent of the market as of August 2012, this is an area of growth that looks set to continue to rise consistently.

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