Computer software refers to programs that direct the functioning of a computer system. These programs are written by programmers who use certain programming languages to generate instructions that the computer understands through the use of language translators. Thus, computer software consists of the detailed preprogrammed instructions that control and coordinate the computer hardware components (Laudon). The term software includes: application software, firmware, middleware, system software, software testing, and testware. Application software , like presentation software perform productive functions for users; Firmware, is software that is coded and resides into memory devices on the motherboards; Middleware is a software that links the presentation components and the processing components of a distributed system; System software, which include the operating systems, provide an interface between the user and the computer hardware; System testing involves programs that ensures that software is tested inline with the programming rule; Testing, which is a term that encompasses all the various testing methods for software applications.
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Therefore, computer software can be broadly categorized into three major groups: system software, application software, and programming software. This paper focuses on the system software and the operating systems. The various operating systems and the functions of such systems are discussed in the following section.
System Software Overview
The software that falls under the category of system software enhances the functioning of computer hardware and the computer system. System software is independent of any general purpose software package or any specific application area. Software in this category controls or in other aspects supports the other software. They include: operating systems, utility programs, performance monitoring software, and communication software (Greasley et al). Operating system is a master program that controls the functioning of the computer hardware. It is an interface linking the user and the hardware. The main functions of an operating system include coordinating input and output devices, controlling the use of the backing storage, integrating the user and computer communication, allocation and de-allocation of computer memory to different processes, and controlling the utilization of the processor resources (Stallings, 5). Due to the advancement in technology and increasing user requirements, most modern operating systems use graphical user interfaces (GUIs) as opposed to command driven interfaces used by traditional operating systems.
This implies that a GUI can be able to meet the user’s requirements by easily managing multiple programs simultaneously. More so, the emergence of the Internet and computer networks has led to the development of Internet operating systems; these systems enable users to access information from the World Wide Web due to the integration of the Internet standards and the operating systems. Most operating systems work with the Internet Protocol, although there are some which are commonly used in the Internet. Thus, the common operating systems include Windows, Linux, and OS X. Utility programs as part of the system software are service routines that enhance users’ operations. They eliminate the need to write a program or spend a lot of time working through menus every time users need to perform certain functions. Utilities include disk defragmenters, disk checkers, backup, file managers, archive, and disk partitioners (Long). As one of the system software, performance monitoring software is used to monitor, analyze, and report on the performance of the overall computer system and the computer system devices. Performance monitors provide information such as processor utilization and memory usage. Lastly, communication software, which is mainly used in mainframe environment, is executed on the front-end processor, the down-line processor, and the host processor. This software controls the data traffic from remote locations. Functions performed by communications software include preparing data for transmission, polling remote terminals for input, establishing the connection between two terminals, and encoding and decoding data (Long).
As discussed in the previous section, an operating system is a program that controls the running of all the computer programs. It also acts as a connection between the user and the computer program. The main objectives of an operating system are: convenience, efficiency, and ability to evolve. An operating system makes a computer to be usable and thus convenient to operate. Also, an operating system allows the computer system or any computer resources, such as files, disks, processor, and memory to be used in a much more efficient way (O’Brien). With regards to the ability to evolve, an operating system tries to modify itself in order to fit the requirements of the changing world; this is through having different versions of the operating system.
There are various types of operating systems, categorized under: single or single tasking operating systems; multitasking operating systems; multi-user operating systems; and multiprogramming operating systems. A single tasking operating system supports only one task at a time and in this case, only one user is allowed to operate the computer at a specific time. A multitasking operating system allows one user to operate on more than one program or task at a time. This can be thought of as, a user being able to listen to music and on the other hand typing some text document, actually at the same time. A multi-user operating system supports many users at the same time. This is common in distributed operating systems, which are used in the internet to support various tasks that are implemented by different users from different geographical locations at the same time. Lastly, a multiprogramming operating system, allows one or more program in the main storage to be processed at the same time (Stallings).
Therefore, the most common examples of operating systems are Windows, Linux, and OS X. Others include the disc operating system (DOS) and Novell. These operating systems are also common in business operations and personal use, with Windows being the most dominant in the marketplace. The Windows operating system family is developed by Microsoft, OS X operating systems are developed by Apple, and Linux is an open source system which is developed by many programmers, corporations, and individuals who work together to build the system.
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DOS is essentially a command driven operating system under the Windows operating system family developed by Microsoft and Linux is an open source system developed by different people. The major similarity between windows, DOS, and Linux is the hierarchical directory structure. The operating systems manage files into well organized directories or folders. Within the folders or directories, there can be many other files and folders. Even though the commands of Windows and Linux vary, the directories can be created, renamed, moved, copied, and retrieved from the command prompt. More so, both operating systems require users to type the program’s name at the command line before starting the program. Again, windows can be manipulated in any way; this includes maximization, minimization, and closing using buttons or menus (Control-Escape, 1).
However Linux and Windows have many different features in regard to operations and functionality. These differences are also the advantages and disadvantages realized from using the software. To begin with, Linux is essentially a multi-user, multitask operating system and DOS is a single user operating system. But still, other versions of Windows, such as Windows XP and Windows Vista support multitasking for users. Second, Linux can be thought of as a very secure operating system as compared to Windows DOS. More so, Windows support a wide range of hardware as opposed to Linux which require the user to pick specific hardware for their computer systems (Stallings). Another difference is that Linux is case sensitive and thus requires users to be careful with the naming convention they use in organizing files. Fifth, DOS or Windows provide users with confirmation messages when they are performing tasks such as saving, deleting, or closing a document. Linux does not assure anything and thus users can accidentally tamper with their work. Another important aspect is the way slashes are used. The Linux system implements a forward slash (/) while the DOS operating system incorporates a backward slash (). Consequently, in Linux directories are searched in relation to the way they are listed in PATH, while DOS looks at the current directory before checking the PATH variable (Control-Escape, 1).
The Windows operating systems supports Internet applications through its extensive development environment and Internet Explorer browser. As compared to Linux, Windows applications are costly since they are not open source. Also, Windows programming codes are hidden and it makes it difficult for developers to change the applications to suit their requirements, but most of the Windows products are well acknowledged by users who are able to realize the value of their money in regard to Internet access. However, looking at how the operating systems are used over the Internet, their application support is essential to their capability. Linux mostly favors the usage on servers, unlike Windows which support most desktop applications.
Operating Systems Functions
Despite the various types of operating systems, their functions are common to all computing platforms. The functions of operating systems include the following:
Device management – an operating system coordinates the input and output devices, such as the keyboard, mouse, printers, monitors, and speakers. The program looks at the devices that are present or not present and therefore communicates to the user. More so, operating systems handle errors that are generated from such devices.
Storage management – the operating system controls the way the backing storage is used, the space allocation, and access of files in the backing storage. In storage media, such as disks, the operating system divides the storage into tracks and sectors for easier storage capabilities.
Memory management – an operating system allocates and deallocates the computer memory to different processes. This follows a certain scheduling criteria in which the running programs can be given a chance to use the computer memory.
Processor management – an operating system controls how the processor or the CPU is utilized by programs. In essence, an operating system ensures that the processor is not idle through proper scheduling of user programs.
Interface management – operating systems allow the users to communicate with the computer. The user normally presents instructions to the computer to begin a program or perform any computing operation by typing commands or selecting options that are known by the operating system (Stallings).
Most users prefer using software that is easier to operate and communicate with the computer. Therefore, the choice of such software requires the consent of users. This paper has discussed the system software, focusing on operating system. Since the operating system is the mother program in any computer platform, it serves as a device, processor, file, memory, and interface manager. Operating systems can be considered to be single tasking, multi-tasking, multi user, or multiprogramming. The major examples of operating systems include the Windows operating system, Linux, and the OS X.
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