What is an operating system (OS)?

An operating system (OS) is a type of software that controls and manages all the hardware and software on a device.

An operating system (OS) is a type of software that controls and manages all the hardware and software on a device. It allows you to perform complex tasks like updating drives, downloading applications, starting programs, or troubleshooting errors without learning a programming language. Operating systems come in different flavors and can be large, powerful, and sophisticated, or relatively barebones, depending on the nature of the device. For instance, the type of OS that runs your computer is significantly more complicated than the OS that manages a traffic light.

Where is the operating system stored?

You can usually find your OS on the primary partition of your hard drive. But operating systems can also run from CDs, DVDs, USB drives, and external hard drives, albeit less quickly than from internal drives. One of the fastest ways to run an operating system from a computer is through a solid-state drive (SSDs). The many advantages of SSDs over HDDs make them the storage drive of choice nowadays.  

Common Operating Systems

Windows

Microsoft’s Windows started gaining traction in the mid-1980s for having the first graphical user interface (GUI) for IBM-compatible computers. Today, it’s the most popular operating system for laptops and desktops globally. Windows comes pre-installed on most branded PCs but can also be installed manually on custom-built computers. Microsoft Windows 11 is the latest version of the operating system from the Redmond-based software giant.

macOS

You can't talk about different types of operating systems without mentioning macOS. This software from Apple is the primary OS for iMacs and MacBooks. While it’s a bit more restrictive than Windows, it’s also traditionally been perceived as a little more stable and secure. Mac users who want the best of both worlds can boot both Windows and macOS with Apple’s dual boot utility, Boot Camp Assistant.

Linux

Linux and its variants like Ubuntu and Red Hat are popular with computer users that prefer open-source, secure, and customizable operating systems. Linux is also easy to install, flexible, and runs on low resources. However, its steeper learning curve, compatibility issues, and lack of support for some popular software like computer games hold it back from widespread adoption.

Chrome OS

Google’s Chrome OS is an operating system for Chromebooks with a fast and lightweight design that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. While Chrome OS is excellent for low-intensity tasks, it’s not ideal for advanced applications like video editing, graphics design, or gaming. And although it offers excellent security, yes, Chromebooks can and do get infected with malware.

Android

Android is an operating system by Google for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets based on open-source software like Linux. Android has the largest market share worldwide for mobile operating systems because it works on various hardware configurations and is user-friendly. Like any operating system, Android is vulnerable to malware like adware. Fortunately, there are ways to remove adware on an Android phone completely.

iOS

iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system for devices like the iPhone and the iPad. Unlike Android, iOS is closed source software, making it more challenging for hackers to breach. However, iPhones still face their share of malware attacks.

Operating system maintenance tips

Clean your startup

You can help your machine boot and run faster by only loading programs you need at startup. You don’t have to uninstall the programs you use less frequently, but they don’t have to run in the background constantly either. You're better off leaving your essential software like your antivirus constantly running, though.

Restart your computer

Try restarting your computer if your OS is feeling sluggish. A restart can clear errant processes in the memory and be a breath of fresh air for your machine. A restart can also initiate software updates.

Update regularly

You should regularly check for Windows updates and install them to maintain your OS. Updates can improve performance, address compatibility issues, and unlock new features. Patches can also have critical security fixes for vulnerabilities that malware like ransomware can exploit.

Scan for malware

Regularly run your OS’s antivirus software to stop malicious software from breaching your security and privacy or hindering your machine’s performance. For example, a PC virus can corrupt essential files and slow your OS down. Give your computer’s baked-in security tools a helping hand by downloading anti-malware software that stops these pesky threats.

Remove PUPs

Remove bloatware, crapware, and other potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) from your system to optimize your OS. You can also try a security extension like Browser Guard to shield your computer from web-borne malware that can threaten your computer’s stability. Please also be careful about the apps you download and the links you click, as they may result in malware infections. 

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