Before we look at what an operating system is, we will have a look at what software is. The word ‘software’ refers to programs that run on your computer and perform actions with the computer parts to enable you to use the computer for work, playing games, sending e-mail, or ‘surfing’ the internet. Software comes in many different types.
Software programs are usually kept on your hard disk (the permanent disk that is part of your computer), and copied into memory called RAM (the storage area where programs and files are kept while you’re using them).
Think of your disk and memory as being like a filing cabinet next to your desk. Your programs are kept in the filing cabinet (disk) until you need them, when they are placed on your desk (memory) so you can work with them. When you have finished working with them, they are returned to your filing cabinet.
Operating system software is special software that is used to start up the computer, load all the various drivers (programs needed to make the input and output devices work) and ensure you can navigate around the computer easily.
The way programs appear on your computer is referred to as the Graphical User Interface (GUI, pronounced goo-ey). GUI is the common name given to the system which uses Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing devices (WIMP). The screen that is presented to you once the operating system software is loaded is called the desktop.
Next: Programs and Data