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Operating System - Introduction and Overview. An Operating System (OS) is a software program that runs on a computer and enables the computer hardware to communicate and operate with the computer software. An Operating System is the first thing that is loaded onto a computer without which a computer would be useless. Operating Systems provide a software platform for the application programs to run. Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux are examples of popular modern operating systems being used in personal computers. The diagram below represents an operating system as the core of a computer's application and peripherals:
Classification of Operating Systems:
Multi-User: Multi-User operating systems allow two or more users to access the same operating system at different machines and run programs on his/her computer at the same time. Common examples of multi-user operating systems are VMS, UNIX, and mainframe operating systems which includes the MVS system.
Multi-Processor: Multi-Processor operating systems are capable of utilizing and supporting two or more central processing units (CPUs). Linux, UNIX and Windows are examples of Multi-Processor operating systems.
Multi-Task: Multi-Tasking operating systems allow multiple software processes to run at the same time. This is done by dividing system resources between the tasks or processes and switching between the tasks while executing. UNIX, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Mac OS X are a few examples of multi-tasking operating systems.
Multi-Thread: Multi-Thread operating systems allow different parts of the same software program to be run concurrently. This speeds up the execution process. Windows 2000, Linux and UNIX are typical examples of such systems.
Real-Time: Real-Time operating systems are designed to run applications with a specified time constraint and high degree of reliability to prevent failures. The most widely deployed real-time operating systems are Windows CE, IBM's OS/390, VxWorks, RTLinux, QNX.
From the beginning of computers, the operating system has been an integral part and has catered to the needs of users and system developers. The actual usage of each operating system is based highly on the task needed to accomplish. Some users prefer a certain system to the other, some enjoy security debates and some have legitimate claims while others do not.
The name "Linux" originated from the Linux Kernel coded in 1991 by Linus Torvalds (Linux stands for Linus's UNIX), with a goal to have a free system that was completely complaint with the original UNIX. The history of GNU and Linux dates back to 1983 when Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation and published the GNU manifesto. Richard Stallman is the author of the GNU General Public License and introduced the concept of copyleft.
Stallman modelled a "complete UNIX-compatible software system" composed entirely of free software based on main components from the GNU project that resulted in what is currently known as GNU/Linux. The GNU/Linux distributions under GNU GPL license aims at a software that must be free to copy, distribute and modify. The GPL - GNU General Public License made Linux most popular as the source code can be downloaded in its entirety from the Internet completely for free. This differentiated Linux from other popular contemporary operating systems as Linux kernel and other components from the GNU project were made to be freely available.
Linux, a modular UNIX-Like Operating system, has become the most well-known open source software prevalent today, obviating the need for programmers to keep reinventing the operations layer for each new project. Linux was the first UNIX implementation targeted for microcomputers. Linux has made a remarkable impact in the world of computers and is largely used for commercial purposes as well as in homes.
Linux based distributions are intended by developers for interoperability with other operating systems and established computing standards. Linux systems adhere to POSIX, SUS, ISO, and ANSI standards where possible, although to date only one Linux distribution named Linux-FT has been POSIX.1 certified.
By 1990, a great void seemed to have appeared in the area of operating systems. Students and computer savvy's were exposed to UNIX that had a strong position in the server market. But the astronomical prices made small PC users stay away from UNIX which became commercial and left PC users with no choice.
In 1987, a solution emerged in the form of MINIX, which was coded from scratch by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a US-born Dutch professor who wanted to impart knowledge to his students on operating systems. In 1991, while attending the University of Helsinki, Linus Torvalds, curious about the operating systems was frustrated by the licensing option of MINIX limiting it to educational use only and began to work on his own operating system which eventually became the Linux kernel.
Open Source Software
Open-source software (OSS) refers to a program whose source code is freely available without restricting users to any proprietary or copyright licenses and permits the end-users to use, modify or distribute the software.
An operating system software is always shipped with a license that makes it readily accessible for private or commercial use unlike standard commercial software which is distributed in a binary format (i.e. an .exe file), with very limited rights to use or distribute it. Open Source software offers the following benefits:
Security flaws and bugs are identified more easily
Increase in the number of users/developers in turn increases testing, identifying and fixing more bugs in the software
Software is easily adapted beyond the original authors conception
Businesses can achieve greater penetration in the market and gain competitive advantage
Reduced cost on marketing and logistical services
A developer or an author achieves recognition by making his/her code publicly available
The user has the right to inspect and even modify the underlying source code. This opens doors to software developers to come up with additional functionalities (add-ons) and new abilities that complement the core functionality of the existing software. The release of source code allows external observers to inspect the internal functions of the program, which means you can be confident that your private data is not being spied on or utilized by others.
A major problem with proprietary software is that it tends to use closed file formats to store data. Once the parent company stops supporting older versions of a proprietary program, users are forced to go for an upgrade to a newer version of that program, at significant expense, in order to retain access to existing data. This is not the case with an OSS, as third party vendors can easily write an import filter for the next generation of software, ensuring that your data will always be available.
The characteristics and release of open source software has resulted in more prominent organizations and developers heading towards the OSS development which includes some of the following open source initiatives such as:
Apache web server
OpenOffice.org and Java from Sun
Linux also ranks among the first or the second most popular operating system software for Internet servers, accounting for about 30% of all Web servers in the world today. Due to a fairly less awareness on its intended use and installation concepts, it is rarely used as a client operating system. Linux distributions are more secure than any other commercial operating system software available in the market today and it is designed to be compatible on a wide range of computer platforms. The cost associated with an open source software, like Linux, are also relatively less compared to other commercial operating system software.
From a historical perspective, it has been identified that open source and free software initiatives have together altered the operating system software markets fundamentally in the recent years. Open source is often defined as a development methodology whereas free software refers to giving full freedom to the user. Critics have commented that today the main operating system alternatives either fully or partly foster the concept of open source UNIXes or Microsoft.
It is indeed difficult to draw a comprehensive picture on how open source and free software actually works as competitive tools. Given below are some facts:
Open source code and free software are proved to be powerful ways to standardize and stabilize new operating system technology and compete against established market powers
Their impact on desktop markets has been limited mainly because of compatibility and usability issues
The server and enterprise application markets have seen more changing impacts based on their benefits of standardized independent technology and other technical features
Open source impacts are yet to reflect on both desktops (e.g. user interface) and servers (e.g. enterprise applications) from where proprietary vendors can generate revenue
Development of an operating system using an open-source platform
The evolution and success of GNU/Linux in the open source world has led to an innovative approach in developing open source software and has paved way for other new emerging open source initiatives such as Ubuntu, Fedora, Mac OS X, MINIX 3, GNOME, KDE, Apache, Mozilla Firefox, Dovecot, OpenOffice, Asterisk, etc.
In this report we consider the development of Fedora, a typical and successful open-source operating system under the family of Linux distributions and sponsored by Red Hat.
Fedora - An insight into Open-Source
Fedora is the acronym for "Flexible and Extensible Digital Object and Repository Architecture" which was released in 2003 is backed by a global community of developers under the Fedora project. It is the powerful and free open source operating system based on Linux Kernel. Fedora developers always follow a well-established practice in distributing all software under a free and open source license and by making upstream changes. The concept of upstream changes provides the possibility to make the changes available instantly to all Linux distributions without any delay.
SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux), HAL, FreeIPA, NetworkManager, PulseAudio, PolicyKit and D-bus are some of the successful open-source software releases by the Fedora project team. A major highlight of the Fedora operating system is that it can be installed and tested on top Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X operating systems currently running in the machine
The Fedora community functions with the vision to be on the leading edge of the technological space and to make Fedora the best operating system based on open-source. This makes Fedora developers to implement a variety of security policies and concentrate more on security enhancements like access controls. (SELinux), is the major feature in Fedora that comes with several customized security enhancements that was not found in any other Linux distribution.
Releases and Distributions
Fedora releases began as Fedora Core and comprise of versions 1 to the recently released Fedora 13. Like other operating system releases the Fedora project team releases a new version of Fedora for every six months and provides the necessary updated support packages.
Fedora Core 1-4 are the first set of Fedora releases, which were launched within the period 2003-2005, followed by Fedora Core 5-6 in 2006 and Fedora 7 in 2007. Its should be noted that these versions were not supported by the Fedora project. The other versions of Fedora which were released after 2007 were officially supported by the Fedora project.
The below chart provides a clear understanding on the various release dates starting from Fedora Core 1 to the latest Fedora 13:
Fedora is distributed by the Fedora project in the following ways:
A DVD/CD set comprising of all Fedora features
DVD/CD sized live images for optional installation to a hard disk using USB devices
A minimal CD for HTTP, NFS or FTP installations
Fedora spins which are specialized software packages with a combination of customized software to meet the requirements of the user
An add-on package known as Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux (EPEL) that enables users to create a high-quality repository
Comparison of Windows and Linux Operating System
Windows operating system is usually pre-installed on all new desktop PCs at the time of purchase and configuration.
Linux is pre-installed on very few new desktop PCs at the time of purchase.
Microsoft Windows makes it possibly hard to backup user information and switch between new systems as users have options to store programs and data at any desired location
Linux on the other hand, stores all user data in the home directory making it much easier to migrate from an old computer to a new one. Upgrade from one version of Linux to another is also possible without having to migrate user data and settings
Windows has been tested by a single team of developers and continues to be vulnerable to viruses and other attacks
Linux is open source, and hence been tested by developers all around the world for more than a decade
Ease of Installation
To run Windows, it has to first be installed to your hard disk and the installation is divided into different phases
Linux can be directly installed from a "Live" CD without having to be installed to a hard disk
The customization options in Windows can be used to change the color and size of the graphical user elements, but changes cannot be made to how the interface reacts to user input
Linux provides customization options that enable users to change colors, size, alter actions, and display. For example, NASlite is a version of Linux that runs on a single floppy disk and is capable of networking, file sharing and acting as a web server.
In Windows, the system usually requires a reboot after system and driver updates. Microsoft's hot-patching technology is designed to manage these situations and reduce downtimes
Linux requires the system to be rebooted only after kernel updates. A special utility in Linux allows us to load the new kernel leaving it for years without a single hardware reboot, thus eliminating downtimes
Microsoft windows offer enormous resources and support for Tech savvy's, IT Professionals, and end-users at relatively no charge. Additional support is also available by third party services.
Linux provides online support and free tutorials by advanced users and developers of Linux through forums and other community registrations. Optional professional support is also available to interested large-scale businesses, and development organizations
Evolution of the Windows Operating System from Windows 3.1 to the recently released Windows 7
Since its inception in 1980, Windows has been the de-facto medium to business communities and homes for nearly 30 years. The impact of Windows was felt on almost all tasks performed by users in commercial space or a user with a PC at home. Microsoft Windows became the most popular PC operating system and started to govern the world market of personal computers, going far ahead of Mac OS, which was predominating before its era.
Windows: Early Years
The development of Microsoft Windows operating system began in 1981 as a collection of several operating systems. Microsoft, was founded by Bill Gates together with Paul Allen who began to work on the Windows operating system and announced its release in 1983. Microsoft Windows has grown from its inception as a relatively marketable resource and was only considered as a then-new graphical user interface (GUI) component running on top of MS-DOS.
The perception of looking at Windows as just a GUI element changed after the work conducted at Xerox PARC labs. Windows was then considered as a modern operating system and was adapted for Apple Lisa and Macintosh computers.
It is now 30 years since Microsoft released the first version of Windows, and more than 20 years since Windows began to dominate the personal computer desktop. Of course, given all the technological changes that have occurred in the past years, today's version of Windows bears only a passing resemblance to Windows 1.0.
This descriptive study identifies the revolutionary trends in the history and evolution of Microsoft Windows. The study also brings to light the possible reasons for upgradation, innovation, improvement and development of each version based on its predecessor. The table below lists the various versions of Windows that you may encounter and explains the historical evolution of Microsoft Windows Operating System starting from Windows 1.0 to the latest Win7.
Historical evolution of Microsoft Windows
Date of Release
Type of Microsoft Window System
First announcement of Microsoft Windows (M. Windows)
Circulation of Microsoft Windows 1.0
Release of Microsoft Windows 2.0
Introduction of Microsoft Windows/286 or Windows 286
Introduction of Microsoft Windows/386 or Windows 386
Circulation of M.W. 3.0 full version (Highly successful and
Microsoft Windows 3.0 or Windows 3.0a (with multimedia).
Microsoft Windows 3.1 (one million copies sold the first 2
Microsoft Windows for Workgroups 3.1
Microsoft Windows NT 3.1 (A revolutionary product for Microsoft)
Microsoft Windows for Workgroups 3.11
Microsoft Windows NT 3.5 (Two models: NT Server and NT Workstation)
Microsoft Windows NT 3.51
Microsoft Windows 95 released (one million copies sold in 4 days)
Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 (rather difficult to master and administer)
Microsoft Windows CE 1.0 and M.W CE. 2.0
Microsoft Windows 98 (makes internet connection easier).
Microsoft Windows 98 SE (second edition)
Microsoft Windows CE 3.0
Microsoft Windows 2000 (a multitasking system)
Microsoft Windows ME (Millennium)
Microsoft Windows XP (provides innovative experiences to
Microsoft Windows Server 2003 (released in 4 editions. Integrates fully dot Net)
Microsoft released Windows Server 2003 R2
Microsoft released Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs (WinFLP)
Windows Vista was released to business customers
Microsoft released Windows Server 2008
Microsoft released Windows 7
At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced that it would be including support for system-on-a-chip (SoC) and mobile ARM processors in its next version of the Windows operating system, which is expected to be called Windows 8. It is anticipated that Windows 8 will be released in 2012 or later
This below study covers the evolution of Microsoft Windows Operating System and the strengths and weaknesses of each developmental model in detail.
DOS is an acronym for "Disk Operating System", which was released by Microsoft in 1981 and dominated the IBM PC compatible market. Windows evolved from Microsoft's DOS operating system through which first-generation PC users operated their systems.
Strength: The only major advantage of MS-DOS seemed to be its speed
Single-user, single-task operating system which allowed only one program to be run at a time.
Minimal operating system which was not user-friendly and required users to memorize a series of text commands to perform input/output and other simple operations
MS-DOS is currently not under development, but the files and text commands (eg. cmd.exe) are still being used in today's modern Windows operating systems.
Windows 1.0 is the first version of Microsoft Windows, released on November 20, 1985. It contained several updates to MS-DOS and was initially sold on floppy disks. The only drawback that made Windows 1.0 unsuccessful was the requirement to have MS-DOS installed before running it.
Windows 1.0 was generally considered as just an expansion of the original MS-DOS system and not as a complete operating system. Calendar, Paint, Notepad, Clock, Control Panel, Cardfiler, Clipboard and Write were the minor applications added in the Windows 1.0 version.
Contained drop-down menus, dialog boxes, scroll bars and icons
Users can switch between programs without having to restart everytime
Exclude the need to type MS-DOS commands
Cannot be run without the DOS operating system
Windows were tiled and there were no options for window overlapping
Initially there wasn't much demand for a GUI and not surprisingly, Windows 1.0 was not widely successful. Windows 1.0 presents incomplete multitasking of the MS-DOS programs and focuses on generating an interfacial pattern, an effecting replica and a steady API for indigenous programs for the next generation.
The second version of Windows was released in December 09, 1987, and proved to be slightly popular compared to its predecessor, Windows 1.0. This new version added overlapping windows and allowed minimized windows to be moved around the desktop with a mouse
The big claim for Windows 2.0, was the inclusion of Microsoft's new graphical application such as Word and Excel. Unlike Windows 1.0 which had the capability to just exhibit tiled windows, Windows 2.0 permitted application windows to overlap. A variety of keyboard shortcuts were also added to increase speed
Replaced "Zoom" and "Iconize" in Windows 1.0 with "Maximize", and "Minimize" options
Inclusion of Word and Excel applications
Inability to use address large memory space (maximum of 1 megabyte of memory)
Although Windows 2.0 was slightly successful compared to its predecessor, the subsequent Windows releases continued to improve the speed, reliability, and usability of the PC.
Windows 3.0 was the 3rd most important production of Microsoft Windows which was released on May 22, 1990. It turned out to be the first broadly used version of Windows and achieved wide commercial success, selling around 2 million copies in the first six months.
Windows 3.0 gained popularity with the release of the then-new software development kit (SDK) which enabled software developers to focus more on writing applications rather than concentrating on device drivers. It offered advanced graphics with 256 colors and featured improvements to the user interface and incorporated true multitasking capabilities. A variety of new functionalities were also added including a completely rewritten application development environment with improved set of icons.
Acted as an alternative to the dominant DOS operating system of the time
Capable to address memory beyond 640K
Powerful user interface with options like changing color of the underlying desktop and 3D buttons
Inability to address high memory (> 16 MB)
Windows 3.0 was also shipped with a Protected/Enhanced mode that enabled native Windows applications to make use of more memory than their DOS counterparts.