What is the purpose of operating systems?

The purpose of operating systems is to manage computer memory, processes and the operation of all hardware and software. An operating system is the most important software on a computer as it enables the computer hardware to communicate effectively with all other computer software.

Operating System Examples

Linux is an open source operating system available to download via the internet. Because of it’s open source nature, Linux can be customised by anyone willing to take part in the open source project. Linux was originally created as a free operating system for PCs but today it’s the leading operating system on servers and also powers Google’s Android mobile operating system. Variations of Linux (known as ‘distros’) include Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Windows is probably the operating system most people will be familiar with as it’s what most people have grown up with on their PCs. Although Apple devices and Mac OS has found its way in to a lot of homes these days,  Windows is still the operating system of choice for budget-conscious users and users that don’t like change (or that have always used Windows). From DOS to Windows NT, Windows 95, 98, XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 and now Windows 10, a lot of people are just so comfortable using windows they won’t even try to use another operating system.

Windows is also the go-to operating system for businesses. Windows Server 2003, 2008, 2012 and 2016 are commonly found in business networks.

Mac OS, created by Apple, was introduced in 1984 and was the first operating system to push the GUI (graphical user interface). Up until then, all operating systems and PCs required a user to manually type code in a command line interface in order to get the computer to do anything. Apple are largely credited with making the personal computer more easy to use and requiring less technical knowledge to operate. Today, Mac OS is used by lots of creative industries and it’s considered more stable, secure and user friendly by developers, designs and other creative professionals.

Operating System Functions and Services

Machine and Peripheral Management

All hardware plugged in to a computer communicates with the operating system to prepare the hardware for use and control by the end user.  For example when plugging in a usb stick to a computer, the operating system will detect a device has been connected, check it has the correct software and drivers required to run and operate the device and prompt the end user to take various actions.


Operating systems allow users to open and close files which they’ve been given access to. If multiple users exist on the machine, the operating system knows not to enable file access for all users, unless they’ve been specifically assigned access. Modern operating systems such as Windows 10 and Mac OS also automatically update themselves with security updates in the background so that any loopholes or vulnerabilities are patch quickly, reducing the risk of security breaches by hackers.

File Management

Operating systems enable users to create, edit and remove files and folders easily. Files can also be copied and pasted or cut between folders, shared with other users etc. Solid State Drives (hard drives with no moving parts) also enable the operating system to rapidly search for and retrieve files stored on disk.

Ease of Management

Most modern GUI operating systems have control panels and settings panels which make enabling / disabling common features easy. For example windows displays open applications in the taskbar which enables users to rapidly switch between or close applications. The control panel also gives easy access to network settings, printer settings, display settings etc..

Ability to customize

The ability to customise and personalise an operating system is very important. Different users and workplaces have different ways of working and require different types of access and workflows. For home users it may be important to set background photos and screensaver photos of their family. Power saving settings may also be important so that the computer will turn itself off if it hasn’t been used in a while. In a workplace environment, they may want to restrict the ability to set backgrounds and screensavers if the computer or accounts will be used by multiple people.

Stability and Reliability

An operating system needs to be stable and reliable otherwise users cannot work properly. Operating systems will inevitably have bugs intermittent issues that may be difficult to pinpoint but a good operating system will aim to inform the user of what’s happening, why it’s happening and what the next course of action should be to solve a problem. Windows has been famous over the years for its ‘blue screen of death’ with isn’t very helpful to users as it prevents them from doing anything and is often the result of misconfigured drivers or failures memory. Windows 10 more recently had a well publicised ‘something happened’ message pop up onscreen during updates.