The Elements of an Operating System

Nancy B. Alston

This article is aimed at giving you an overview of the various elements which make up an operating system. Now as you are probably aware, an Operating System, whether it be Windows, Linux Or Mac, serves the purpose of giving us, the human user, a means to interact with the computer in a meaningful way.

Imagine, if you can, that an operating system is broken down into five layers. in the following list I’ll start at the bottom most layer and work my way up to the very top.

Layer 1: The Kernel.

The kernel is the heart of the operating system. Amongst it’s responsibilities are ensuring that each running process is given a fair amount of time to execute while a controlling the amount of resources each process can use.

Layer 2: Memory Management.

The name of this layer gives you a good idea what it is all about. It is the responsibility of this layer to share your computers physical memory among the processes which want to use it. It also has to manage such situations where there may not be enough physical memory to share out.

Layer 3: Input/Output.

On this layer all the physical communication between your computers hardware, such as disk drives, keyboards, mouses, screens and so on, takes place.

Layer 4: File Management.

Again the name of this layer may give you a clue as to what it does. It is the job of this layer to control how the files on your computers hard drive are stored and accessed by any application seeking to use them.

Layer 5: The User Interface.

The last element, or layer as we have been calling them, of an operating system is the User Interface. This layer is probably the easiest of all to understand since it is the first thing you see when your operating system has logged you in. It is the job of this layer to provide a means for the user to actually interact with the rest of the layers and as such the system as a whole.

Keep in mind there are two different types of User interfaces. The first one is probably the one you are most familiar with, the graphical user interface, which is where you see windows and icons for each of your files and so on.

The second is a command line interface, or text based interface where a user would interact with the system using text based commands.

Well that is it for this article, if your an experienced IT pro or tech guru, before you go placing comments that I’ve skimmed on certain details please keep in mind that i have deliberately kept this article simple so the people new to computing in general fin dit easier to understand. With that said I hope you enjoyed this article.

– David

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