The Operating System

You already know a computer is a machine aimed at helping people with their management of information. You also know a computer uses its processor and memory to carry out the instructions stored as programs in disks; and that the user interacts with the computer through peripherals.

What you need to learn now is that the computer needs, first and above all, to prepare itself to interact with you. The set of programs that prepare the computer to do this is called the operating system.

The operating system, among others, recognises all the things you have installed in your system to make them work, and provides an environment where to use the applications you will be installing. The operating system is the one that allows you to turn your keystrokes, mouse clicks and other things you do into commands the computer can understand and execute.

The most popular these days are Windows, Linux and OSX. Windows and OSX have been for years the operating system par excellence of both IBM-compatible and Apple/Mac computers, respectively. Linux, the "new player", is an alternative operating system created, from a variant of Unix called Minix, by a Finnish man called Linus Torvalds. Linux is becoming a good contender to both well-established brands.

Which to choose? It depends on you. Windows is the most popular around the world and works exclusively with PCs. OS/X works with Apple Mac computers and Linux works on both, although people need to get used to it.

What is important for you to know is that operating systems work using a large set of files. The main ones, core or kernel, are the base of the system. In addition, several drivers will control the different pieces of hardware you will use.

Installing an operating system

Nowadays, installing an operating system has become pretty straightforward. They come with an installer routine that will guide the user through the process.

First thing to do is to insert the installing media, usually a CD or DVD, in the computer and booting from that device. To boot means to ask the computer to start the operating system on that unit. Some people will need to change the boot order to achieve this. They will find the option to change the boot media on the POST screen.

Next, the media will load a few basic routines and give you the first decisions to make. They are usually language, location and keyboard layout. Choose yours and continue.

The next step is the important one: Partition your hard disks.

Hard disk partitions

Hard disk partitions are like drawers in a closet: just like you have one closet but you divide it in sections to store things more easily; you can divide a hard disk into partitions to store things more easily.

Typically, people will choose to keep the original configuration and install the operating system in one single partition. Those who know, instead create two: one for the software and one for their information. Linux users are recommended to create up to four partitions for their systems, but everybody can live with two.

What's the idea? The idea is to use one small partition (in my opinion, 50 gigabytes should do) to install the operating system and all its applications; and the other to store your files. This way, if something happens to your computer application's disk (a virus sneaks in and attacks; for example), your files will be safe.

The next step is to wait

Once you have created your partitions and selected which is the one your operating system will be installed, the installation routine will initialise the disks (format them), and install the system. I can safely say all you do is wait here on. The installation should complete by itself, and next reboot will show you your brand new system... a system which will now need some software to work.

Continue with... Acquiring software

Knowledge + Computers