operating system (OS)

Software that controls the operation of a computer, directs the input and output of data, keeps track of files, and controls the processing of computer programs. Its roles include managing the functioning of the computer hardware, running the applications programs, serving as an interface between the computer and the user, and allocating computer resources to various functions. When several jobs reside in the computer simultaneously and share resources (multitasking), the OS allocates fixed amounts of CPU time and memory in turn or allows one job to read data while another writes to a printer and still another performs computations. Through a process called time-sharing, a large computer can handle interaction with hundreds of users simultaneously, giving each the perception of being the sole user. Modern computer operating systems are becoming increasingly machine-independent, capable of running on any hardware platform; a widely used platform-independent operating system in use today on mainframe computers is UNIX. Most personal computers run on Microsoft's Windows operating system, which grew out of and eventually replaced MS-DOS. Seealso Linux.

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