A History of Operating Systems To understand and to be prepared for the future of computer support it helps to know the history of operating systems. The operating system is the software that links the user to the computer’s hardware. Early mainframes (the predecessor of the personal computer) did not use an operating system. Programs were loaded onto the mainframe by paper punch cards, magnetic or paper tape. The user would start the program and wait for the program to complete, or crash. Debugging of the program was often done by adjusting banks of switches.
With every new mainframe shipped, the operation and usability would change. There were no standards. As early operating systems were developed they were generally only designed to operate on that customer’s specific unit. With the development of mass produced microprocessors, computers become more common and more affordable. With the number of computers sold each year increasing there became a need for a standardized operating system. In the beginning there were many companies fighting to produce a viable operating system for the masses.
The two most prominent were Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft’s first entry in the operating system foray was MS-Dos or Windows 1. 0 in 1985, a command line operating system that was not the simplest to use but for its time was pretty user friendly. Of course as computing power advanced so did Microsoft’s operating systems. In 1987 Windows 2. 0, then in 1990 there was Windows 3. 0, the first OS that had a desktop and icons to start programs. At this point Microsoft began to separate their operating systems into home user oriented and business oriented.
In 1993 Microsoft released Windows NT 3. 1, the first fully 32 bit operating system, it featured better networking support and the NTFS file system. NT progressed through 4. 1 then to Windows 2000. These operating systems were geared toward corporate users and were slightly more robust. On the home front in 1995 Windows 95 was introduced and it was the first version to have the taskbar and the start button. The next version of the home OS was Windows 98, then 98SE followed by Windows ME. The next iteration of Windows was XP; this version of Windows was unique in a couple of ways.
XP was the first OS to include activation, which linked the hardware in the pc where it was installed to a unique ID number. The other thing that made XP unique from previous versions of windows was that it came in several versions from home use to corporate use. Windows Vista followed Windows XP but was met with much scrutiny because of its lack of support for legacy devices and software and it’s lackluster performance. Windows 7 followed quickly behind and addressed most of these shortcomings.
There are several other choices for operating systems, although none have been able to maintain a sizeable amount of the market share due to the compatibility and popularity of the operating systems offered by Microsoft. Some of the other offerings are Mac OS from Apple, UNIX, Linux (an open source OS based on Linux), Android and IOS just to name a few. While most of these do not offer the support and compatibility that you would find in operating systems from Microsoft, they are quickly gaining ground and acceptance in use from desktop pc’s to handheld devices.