Friday, December 10, 2010

Operating Systems

An operating system (OS) is software, consisting of programs and data, that runs on computers and manages the computer hardware and provides common services for efficient execution of various application software.
For hardware functions such as input and output and memory allocation, the operating system acts as an intermediary between application programs and the computer hardware, although the application code is usually executed directly by the hardware, but will frequently call the OS or be interrupted by it. Operating systems are found on almost any device that contains a computer—from cellular phones and video game consoles to supercomputers and web servers.
Examples of popular modern operating systems for personal computers are Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and GNU/Linux.

Early computers were built to perform a series of single tasks, like a calculator. Operating systems did not exist in their modern and more complex forms until the early 1960s. Some operating system features were developed in the 1950s, such as monitor programs that could automatically run different application programs in succession to speed up processing. Hardware features were added that enabled use of runtime libraries, interrupts, and parallel processing. When personal computers by companies such as Apple Inc., Atari, IBM and Amiga became popular in the 1980s, vendors added operating system features that had previously become widely used on mainframe and mini computers. Later, many features such as graphical user interface were developed specifically for personal computer operating systems.
An operating system consists of many parts. One of the most important components is the kernel, which controls low-level processes that the average user usually cannot see: it controls how memory is read and written, the order in which processes are executed, how information is received and sent by devices like the monitor, keyboard and mouse, and decides how to interpret information received from networks. The user interface is a component that interacts with the computer user directly, allowing them to control and use programs. The user interface may be graphical with icons and a desktop, or textual, with a command line. Application programming interfaces provide services and code libraries that let applications developers write modular code reusing well defined programming sequences in user space libraries or in the operating system itself. Which features are considered part of the operating system is defined differently in various operating systems. For example, Microsoft Windows considers its user interface to be part of the operating system, while many versions of Linux do not.

In the early 1950s, a computer could execute only one program at a time. Each user had sole use of the computer and would arrive at a scheduled time with program and data on punched paper cards and tape. The program would be loaded into the machine, and the machine would be set to work until the program completed or crashed. Programs could generally be debugged via a front panel using toggle switches and panel lights. It is said that Alan Turing was a master of this on the early Manchester Mark 1 machine, and he was already deriving the primitive conception of an operating system from the principles of the Universal Turing machine.Later machines came with libraries of software, which would be linked to a user's program to assist in operations such as input and output and generating computer code from human-readable symbolic code. This was the genesis of the modern-day operating system. However, machines still ran a single job at a time. At Cambridge University in England the job queue was at one time a washing line from which tapes were hung with different colored clothes-pegs to indicate job-priority. 
Through the 1950s, many major features were pioneered in the field of operating systems, including batch processing, input/output interrupt, buffering, multitasking, spooling, runtime libraries, link-loading, and programs for sorting records in files. These features were included or not included in application software at the option of application programmers, rather than in a separate operating system used by all applications. In 1959 the SHARE Operating System was released as an integrated utility for the IBM 704, and later in the 709 and 7090 mainframes.
During the 1960s, IBM's OS/360 introduced the concept of a single OS spanning an entire product line, which was crucial for the success of the System/360 machines. IBM's current mainframe operating systems are distant descendants of this original system and applications written for OS/360 can still be run on modern machines. In the mid-'70s, MVS, a descendant of OS/360, offered the first implementation of using RAM as a transparent cache for data.
OS/360 also pioneered the concept that the operating system keeps track of all of the system resources that are used, including program and data space allocation in main memory and file space in secondary storage, and file locking during update. When the process is terminated for any reason, all of these resources are re-claimed by the operating system.
The alternative CP-67 system for the S/360-67 started a whole line of IBM operating systems focused on the concept of virtual machines. Other operating systems used on IBM S/360 series mainframes included systems developed by IBM: DOS/360 (Disk Operating System), TSS/360 (Time Sharing System), TOS/360 (Tape Operating System), BOS/360 (Basic Operating System), and ACP (Airline Control Program), as well as a few non-IBM systems: MTS (Michigan Terminal System) and MUSIC (Multi-User System for Interactive Computing).
Control Data Corporation developed the SCOPE operating system in the 1960s, for batch processing. In cooperation with the University of Minnesota, the KRONOS and later the NOS operating systems were developed during the 1970s, which supported simultaneous batch and timesharing use. Like many commercial timesharing systems, its interface was an extension of the Dartmouth BASIC operating systems, one of the pioneering efforts in timesharing and programming languages. In the late 1970s, Control Data and the University of Illinois developed the PLATO operating system, which used plasma panel displays and long-distance time sharing networks. Plato was remarkably innovative for its time, featuring real-time chat, and multi-user graphical games. Burroughs Corporation introduced the B5000 in 1961 with the MCP, (Master Control Program) operating system. The B5000 was a stack machine designed to exclusively support high-level languages with no machine language or assembler, and indeed the MCP was the first OS to be written exclusively in a high-level language – ESPOL, a dialect of ALGOL. MCP also introduced many other ground-breaking innovations, such as being the first commercial implementation of virtual memory. During development of the AS400, IBM made an approach to Burroughs to licence MCP to run on the AS400 hardware. This proposal was declined by Burroughs management to protect its existing hardware production. MCP is still in use today in the Unisys ClearPath/MCP line of computers.
UNIVAC, the first commercial computer manufacturer, produced a series of EXEC operating systems. Like all early main-frame systems, this was a batch-oriented system that managed magnetic drums, disks, card readers and line printers. In the 1970s, UNIVAC produced the Real-Time Basic (RTB) system to support large-scale time sharing, also patterned after the Dartmouth BC system.
General Electric and MIT developed General Electric Comprehensive Operating Supervisor (GECOS), which introduced the concept of ringed security privilege levels. After acquisition by Honeywell it was renamed to General Comprehensive Operating System (GCOS).
Digital Equipment Corporation developed many operating systems for its various computer lines, including TOPS-10 and TOPS-20 time sharing systems for the 36-bit PDP-10 class systems. Prior to the widespread use of UNIX, TOPS-10 was a particularly popular system in universities, and in the early ARPANET community.
In the late 1960s through the late 1970s, several hardware capabilities evolved that allowed similar or ported software to run on more than one system. Early systems had utilized microprogramming to implement features on their systems in order to permit different underlying architecture to appear to be the same as others in a series. In fact most 360's after the 360/40 (except the 360/165 and 360/168) were microprogrammed implementations. But soon other means of achieving application compatibility were proven to be more significant.
The enormous investment in software for these systems made since 1960s caused most of the original computer manufacturers to continue to develop compatible operating systems along with the hardware. The notable supported mainframe operating systems include:
  • Burroughs MCP – B5000, 1961 to Unisys Clearpath/MCP, present.
  • IBM OS/360 – IBM System/360, 1966 to IBM z/OS, present.
  • IBM CP-67 – IBM System/360, 1967 to IBM z/VM, present.
  • UNIVAC EXEC 8 – UNIVAC 1108, 1967, to OS 2200 Unisys Clearpath Dorado, present.
The first microcomputers did not have the capacity or need for the elaborate operating systems that had been developed for mainframes and minis; minimalistic operating systems were developed, often loaded from ROM and known as Monitors. One notable early disk-based operating system was CP/M, which was supported on many early microcomputers and was closely imitated in MS-DOS, which became wildly popular as the operating system chosen for the IBM PC (IBM's version of it was called IBM DOS or PC DOS), its successors making Microsoft. In the '80s Apple Computer Inc. (now Apple Inc.) abandoned its popular Apple II series of microcomputers to introduce the Apple Macintosh computer with an innovative Graphical User Interface (GUI) to the Mac OS.
The introduction of the Intel 80386 CPU chip with 32-bit architecture and paging capabilities, provided personal computers with the ability to run multitasking operating systems like those of earlier minicomputers and mainframes. Microsoft responded to this progress by hiring Dave Cutler, who had developed the VMS operating system for Digital Equipment Corporation. He would lead the development of the Windows NT operating system, which continues to serve as the basis for Microsoft's operating systems line. Steve Jobs, a co-founder of Apple Inc., started NeXT Computer Inc., which developed the Unix-like NEXTSTEP operating system. NEXTSTEP would later be acquired by Apple Inc. and used, along with code from FreeBSD as the core of Mac OS X.
The GNU project was started by activist and programmer Richard Stallman with the goal of a complete free software replacement to the proprietary UNIX operating system. While the project was highly successful in duplicating the functionality of various parts of UNIX, development of the GNU Hurd kernel proved to be unproductive. In 1991, Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds, with cooperation from volunteers collaborating over the Internet, released the first version of the Linux kernel. It was soon merged with the GNU user space components and system software to form a complete operating system. Since then, the combination of the two major components has usually been referred to as simply "Linux" by the software industry, a naming convention that Stallman and the Free Software Foundation remain opposed to, preferring the name GNU/Linux. The Berkeley Software Distribution, known as BSD, is the UNIX derivative distributed by the University of California, Berkeley, starting in the 1970s. Freely distributed and ported to many minicomputers, it eventually also gained a following for use on PCs, mainly as FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD.

Examples of operating systems

Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows is a family of proprietary operating systems most commonly used on personal computers. It is the most common family of operating systems for the personal computer, with about 90% of the market share.Currently, the most widely used version of the Windows family is Windows XP, released on October 25, 2001. The newest version is Windows 7 for personal computers and Windows Server 2008 R2 for servers.
Microsoft Windows originated in 1981 as an add-on to the older MS-DOS operating system for the IBM PC. First publicly released in 1985, Windows came to dominate the business world of personal computers, and went on to set a number of industry standards and commonplace applications. Beginning with Windows XP, all modern versions are based on the Windows NT kernel. Current versions of Windows run on IA-32 and x86-64 processors, although older versions sometimes supported other architectures.
Windows is also used on servers, supporting applications such as web servers and database servers. In recent years, Microsoft has spent significant marketing and research & development money to demonstrate that Windows is capable of running any enterprise application, which has resulted in consistent price/performance records (see the TPC) and significant acceptance in the enterprise market. However, its usage in servers is not as widespread as personal computers, and here Windows actively competes against Linux and BSD for market share, while still capturing a steady majority by some accounts.Unix and Unix-like operating systems.
Ken Thompson wrote B, mainly based on BCPL, which he used to write Unix, based on his experience in the MULTICS project. B was replaced by C, and Unix developed into a large, complex family of inter-related operating systems which have been influential in every modern operating system .The Unix-like family is a diverse group of operating systems, with several major sub-categories including System V, BSD, and GNU/Linux. The name "UNIX" is a trademark of The Open Group which licenses it for use with any operating system that has been shown to conform to their definitions. "Unix-like" is commonly used to refer to the large set of operating systems which resemble the original Unix.
Unix-like systems run on a wide variety of machine architectures. They are used heavily for servers in business, as well as workstations in academic and engineering environments. Free Unix variants, such as GNU/Linux and BSD, are popular in these areas.
Some Unix variants like HP's HP-UX and IBM's AIX are designed to run only on that vendor's hardware. Others, such as Solaris, can run on multiple types of hardware, including x86 servers and PCs. Apple's Mac OS X, a hybrid kernel-based BSD variant derived from NeXTSTEP, Mach, and FreeBSD, has replaced Apple's earlier (non-Unix) Mac OS.
Unix interoperability was sought by establishing the POSIX standard. The POSIX standard can be applied to any operating system, although it was originally created for various Unix variants.
Mac OS X
Mac OS X is a line of partially proprietary graphical operating systems developed, marketed, and sold by Apple Inc., the latest of which is pre-loaded on all currently shipping Macintosh computers. Mac OS X is the successor to the original Mac OS, which had been Apple's primary operating system since 1984. Unlike its predecessor, Mac OS X is a UNIX operating system built on technology that had been developed at NeXT through the second half of the 1980s and up until Apple purchased the company in early 1997.
The operating system was first released in 1999 as Mac OS X Server 1.0, with a desktop-oriented version (Mac OS X v10.0) following in March 2001. Since then, six more distinct "client" and "server" editions of Mac OS X have been released, the most recent being Mac OS X v10.6, which was first made available on August 28, 2009. Releases of Mac OS X are named after big cats; the current version of Mac OS X is "Snow Leopard".
The server edition, Mac OS X Server, is architecturally identical to its desktop counterpart but usually runs on Apple's line of Macintosh server hardware. Mac OS X Server includes work group management and administration software tools that provide simplified access to key network services, including a mail transfer agent, a Samba server, an LDAP server, a domain name server, and others.
Plan 9
Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Douglas McIlroy at Bell Labs designed and developed the C programming language to build the operating system Unix. Programmers at Bell Labs went on to develop Plan 9 and Inferno, which were engineered for modern distributed environments. Plan 9 was designed from the start to be a networked operating system, and had graphics built-in, unlike Unix, which added these features to the design later. It is currently released under the Lucent Public License. Inferno was sold to Vita Nuova Holdings and has been released under a GPL/MIT license.
Linux and GNU
Linux is the generic name for a UNIX-like operating system that can be used on a wide range of devices from supercomputers to wristwatches. The Linux kernel is released under an open source license, so anyone can read and modify its code. It has been modified to run on a large variety of electronics. Although estimates suggest it is used on only 0.5-2% of all personal computers, it has been widely adopted for use in servers and embedded systems (such as cell phones). Linux has superseded Unix in most places and is used on the 10 most powerful supercomputers in the world.
The GNU project is a mass collaboration of programmers who seek to create a completely free and open operating system that was similar to Unix but with completely original code. It was started in 1983 by Richard Stallman, and is responsible for many of the parts of most Linux variants. For this reason, Linux is often called GNU/Linux. Thousands of pieces of software for virtually every operating system are licensed under the GNU General Public License. Meanwhile, the Linux kernel began as a side project of Linus Torvalds, a university student from Finland. In 1991, Torvalds began work on it, and posted information about his project on a newsgroup for computer students and programmers. He received a wave of support and volunteers who ended up creating a full-fledged kernel. Programmers from GNU took notice, and members of both projects worked to integrate the finished GNU parts into the linux kernel in order to create a full-fledged operating system.
Google Chrome OS
Chrome is an operating system based on the Linux kernel and designed by Google. Chrome targets computer users who spend most of their time on the Internet—it is technically only a web browser with no other applications, and relies on Internet applications used in the web browser to accomplish tasks such as word processing and media viewing.


Older operating systems which are still used in niche markets include OS/2 from IBM and Microsoft; Mac OS, the non-Unix precursor to Apple's Mac OS X; BeOS; XTS-300. Some, most notably Haiku, RISC OS, MorphOS, AmigaOS 4 and FreeMint continue to be developed as minority platforms for enthusiast communities and specialist applications. OpenVMS formerly from DEC, is still under active development by Hewlett-Packard. Yet other operating systems are used almost exclusively in academia, for operating systems education or to do research on operating system concepts. A typical example of a system that fulfills both roles is MINIX, while for example Singularity is used purely for research.
The components of an operating system all exist in order to make the different parts of a computer work together. All software—from financial databases to film editors—needs to go through the operating system in order to use any of the hardware, whether it be as simple as a mouse or keyboard or complex as an Internet connection.

 The user interface

Every computer that receives some sort of human input needs a user interface, which allows a person to interact with the computer. While devices like keyboards, mice and touchscreens make up the hardware end of this task, the user interface makes up the software for it. The two most common forms of a user interface have historically been the Command-line interface, where computer commands are typed out line-by-line, and the Graphical user interface, where a visual environment (most commonly with windows, buttons, and icons) is present.

Graphical user interfaces

Most of the modern computer systems support graphical user interfaces (GUI), and often include them. In some computer systems, such as the original implementations of Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS, the GUI is integrated into the kernel.
While technically a graphical user interface is not an operating system service, incorporating support for one into the operating system kernel can allow the GUI to be more responsive by reducing the number of context switches required for the GUI to perform its output functions. Other operating systems are modular, separating the graphics subsystem from the kernel and the Operating System. In the 1980s UNIX, VMS and many others had operating systems that were built this way. GNU/Linux and Mac OS X are also built this way. Modern releases of Microsoft Windows such as Windows Vista implement a graphics subsystem that is mostly in user-space; however the graphics drawing routines of versions between Windows NT 4.0 and Windows Server 2003 exist mostly in kernel space. Windows 9x had very little distinction between the interface and the kernel.
Many computer operating systems allow the user to install or create any user interface they desire. The X Window System in conjunction with GNOME or KDE is a commonly found setup on most Unix and Unix-like (BSD, GNU/Linux, Solaris) systems. A number of Windows shell replacements have been released for Microsoft Windows, which offer alternatives to the included Windows shell, but the shell itself cannot be separated from Windows.
Numerous Unix-based GUIs have existed over time, most derived from X11. Competition among the various vendors of Unix (HP, IBM, Sun) led to much fragmentation, though an effort to standardize in the 1990s to COSE and CDE failed for various reasons, and were eventually eclipsed by the widespread adoption of GNOME and KDE. Prior to free software-based toolkits and desktop environments, Motif was the prevalent toolkit/desktop combination (and was the basis upon which CDE was developed).
Graphical user interfaces evolve over time. For example, Windows has modified its user interface almost every time a new major version of Windows is released, and the Mac OS GUI changed dramatically with the introduction of Mac OS X in 1999.
 Device drivers
A device driver is a specific type of computer software developed to allow interaction with hardware devices. Typically this constitutes an interface for communicating with the device, through the specific computer bus or communications subsystem that the hardware is connected to, providing commands to and/or receiving data from the device, and on the other end, the requisite interfaces to the operating system and software applications. It is a specialized hardware-dependent computer program which is also operating system specific that enables another program, typically an operating system or applications software package or computer program running under the operating system kernel, to interact transparently with a hardware device, and usually provides the requisite interrupt handling necessary for any necessary asynchronous time-dependent hardware interfacing needs.
The key design goal of device drivers is abstraction. Every model of hardware (even within the same class of device) is different. Newer models also are released by manufacturers that provide more reliable or better performance and these newer models are often controlled differently. Computers and their operating systems cannot be expected to know how to control every device, both now and in the future. To solve this problem, operative systems essentially dictate how every type of device should be controlled. The function of the device driver is then to translate these operative system mandated function calls into device specific calls. In theory a new device, which is controlled in a new manner, should function correctly if a suitable driver is available. This new driver will ensure that the device appears to operate as usual from the operating system's point of view.
Under versions of Windows before Vista and versions of Linux before 2.6, all driver execution was co-operative, meaning that if a driver entered an infinite loop it would freeze the system. More recent revisions of these operating systems incorporate kernel preemption, where the kernel interrupts the driver to give it tasks, and then separates itself from the process until it receives a response from the device driver, or gives it more tasks to do.


Currently most operating systems support a variety of networking protocols, hardware, and applications for using them. This means that computers running dissimilar operating systems can participate in a common network for sharing resources such as computing, files, printers, and scanners using either wired or wireless connections. Networks can essentially allow a computer's operating system to access the resources of a remote computer to support the same functions as it could if those resources were connected directly to the local computer. This includes everything from simple communication, to using networked file systems or even sharing another computer's graphics or sound hardware. Some network services allow the resources of a computer to be accessed transparently, such as SSH which allows networked users direct access to a computer's command line interface.
Client/server networking involves a program on a computer somewhere which connects via a network to another computer, called a server. Servers offer (or host) various services to other network computers and users. These services are usually provided through ports or numbered access points beyond the server's network address. Each port number is usually associated with a maximum of one running program, which is responsible for handling requests to that port. A daemon, being a user program, can in turn access the local hardware resources of that computer by passing requests to the operating system kernel.
Many operating systems support one or more vendor-specific or open networking protocols as well, for example, SNA on IBM systems, DECnet on systems from Digital Equipment Corporation, and Microsoft-specific protocols (SMB) on Windows. Specific protocols for specific tasks may also be supported such as NFS for file access. Protocols like ESound, or esd can be easily extended over the network to provide sound from local applications, on a remote system's sound hardware.


A computer being secure depends on a number of technologies working properly. A modern operating system provides access to a number of resources, which are available to software running on the system, and to external devices like networks via the kernel.
The operating system must be capable of distinguishing between requests which should be allowed to be processed, and others which should not be processed. While some systems may simply distinguish between "privileged" and "non-privileged", systems commonly have a form of requester identity, such as a user name. To establish identity there may be a process of authentication. Often a username must be quoted, and each username may have a password. Other methods of authentication, such as magnetic cards or biometric data, might be used instead. In some cases, especially connections from the network, resources may be accessed with no authentication at all (such as reading files over a network share). Also covered by the concept of requester identity is authorization; the particular services and resources accessible by the requester once logged into a system are tied to either the requester's user account or to the variously configured groups of users to which the requester belongs.
In addition to the allow/disallow model of security, a system with a high level of security will also offer auditing options. These would allow tracking of requests for access to resources (such as, "who has been reading this file?"). Internal security, or security from an already running program is only possible if all possibly harmful requests must be carried out through interrupts to the operating system kernel. If programs can directly access hardware and resources, they cannot be secured.
External security involves a request from outside the computer, such as a login at a connected console or some kind of network connection. External requests are often passed through device drivers to the operating system's kernel, where they can be passed onto applications, or carried out directly. Security of operating systems has long been a concern because of highly sensitive data held on computers, both of a commercial and military nature. The United States Government Department of Defense (DoD) created the Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria (TCSEC) which is a standard that sets basic requirements for assessing the effectiveness of security. This became of vital importance to operating system makers, because the TCSEC was used to evaluate, classify and select computer systems being considered for the processing, storage and retrieval of sensitive or classified information.
Network services include offerings such as file sharing, print services, email, web sites, and file transfer protocols (FTP), most of which can have compromised security. At the front line of security are hardware devices known as firewalls or intrusion detection/prevention systems. At the operating system level, there are a number of software firewalls available, as well as intrusion detection/prevention systems. Most modern operating systems include a software firewall, which is enabled by default. A software firewall can be configured to allow or deny network traffic to or from a service or application running on the operating system. Therefore, one can install and be running an insecure service, such as Telnet or FTP, and not have to be threatened by a security breach because the firewall would deny all traffic trying to connect to the service on that port.
An alternative strategy, and the only sandbox strategy available in systems that do not meet the Popek and Goldberg virtualization requirements, is the operating system not running user programs as native code, but instead either emulates a processor or provides a host for a p-code based system such as Java.
Internal security is especially relevant for multi-user systems; it allows each user of the system to have private files that the other users cannot tamper with or read. Internal security is also vital if auditing is to be of any use, since a program can potentially bypass the operating system, inclusive of bypassing auditing.
In modern operating systems, there're many in-built security modules to prevent these malicious threats. As an example, with Microsoft Windows 7 OS, there is a program called Microsoft security essentials to prevent all these security holes.

Real-time operating systems

An early example of a large-scale real-time operating system was Transaction Processing Facility developed by American Airlines and IBM for the Sabre Airline Reservations System.
Embedded systems that have fixed deadlines use a real-time operating system such as VxWorks, PikeOS, eCos, QNX, MontaVista Linux and RTLinux. Windows CE is a real-time operating system that shares similar APIs to desktop Windows but shares none of desktop Windows' codebase. Symbian OS also has an RTOS kernel (EKA2) starting with version 8.0b.
Some embedded systems use operating systems such as Palm OS, BSD, and GNU/Linux, although such operating systems do not support real-time computing.

Hobby development

Operating system development is one of the more involved and technical options for the computing hobbyist. A hobby operating system is classified as one that has been written from scratch (not based on another system) and has few developers who work in their spare time. Development usually begins with an existing operating system. The hobbyist is their own developer, or they interact in a relatively small and unstructured group of individuals who are all similarly situated with the same code base. Examples of a hobby operating system include Syllable and ReactOS.

Diversity of operating systems and portability

Application software is generally written for use on a specific operating system, and sometimes even for specific hardware. When porting the application to run on another OS, the functionality required by that application may be implemented differently by that OS (the names of functions, meaning of arguments, etc.) requiring the application to be adapted, changed, or otherwise maintained.
This cost in supporting operating systems diversity can be avoided by instead writing applications against software platforms like Java, or Qt for web browsers. These abstractions have already borne the cost of adaptation to specific operating systems and their system libraries.
Another approach is for operating system vendors to adopt standards. For example, POSIX and OS abstraction layers provide commonalities that reduce porting costs.

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