Operating system, its Functions and Characteristics

Operating System

Operating System (OS) is one of the core software programs that runs on the hardware and makes it usable for the user to interact with the hardware so that they can send commands (input) and receive results (output). It provides a consistent environment for other software to execute commands. So we can say that the OS acts at the center through which the system hardware, other softwares, and the user communicate. The following figure shows the basic working of the operating system and how it utilizes different hardware or resources.

Figure: Operating system working as a core part

Operating system serves many functions but I will discuss about the major functions which all operating systems have.

Basic Functions of the Operating system

The key five basic functions of any operating system are as following

  1. Interface between the user and the hardware : An OS provides an interface between user and machine. This interface can be a graphical user interface (GUI) in which users click onscreen elements to interact with the OS or a command-line interface (CLI) in which users type commands at the command-line interface (CLI) to tell the OS to do things.
Figure: GUI vs CLI

2. Coordinate hardware components :An OS enables coordination of hardware components. Each hardware device speaks a different language, but the operating system can talk to them through the specific translational softwares called device drivers. Every hardware component has different drivers for Operating systems. These drivers make the communication successful between the other softwares and the hardware.

Figure: Device Drivers in between OS and Hardware devices

3. Provide environment for software to function: An OS provides an environment for software applications to function. An application software is a specific software which is used to perform specific task. In GUI operating systems such as Windows and macOS, applications run within a consistent, graphical desktop environment.

4. Provide structure for data management : An OS displays structure/directories for data management. We can view file and folder listings and manipulate on those files and folders like (move, copy, rename, delete, and many others).

5. Monitor system health and functionality: OS monitors the health of our system’s hardware, giving us an idea of how well (or not) it’s performing. We can see how busy our CPU is, or how quickly our hard drives retrieve data, or how much data our network card is sending etc. and it also monitors system activity for malware.

Figure: Performance Monitor in windows

Operating System Characteristics

The Operating systems are different according to the three primary characteristics which are licensing, software compatibility, and complexity.


There are basically three kinds of Operating systems. One is Open Source OS, another is Free OS and the third is Commercial OS.

Linux is an open source operating system which means that anyone can download and modify it for example Ubuntu etc.

A free OS doesn’t have to be open source. They are free to download and use but cannot modify them. For example, Google owns Chrome OS and makes it free to use.

Commercial operating systems are privately owned by companies that charge money for them. Examples include Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS. These require to pay for the right (or license) to use their Operating systems.

Software Compatibility

The developers make the softwares which may be compatible or incompatible in different versions within the same operating system’s type but they can’t be compatible with the other OS types. Every OS type have their own software compatibility.


Operating systems come in basically two editions one is 32-bit and other is 64-bit editions. The 64-bit edition of an operating system best utilizes random access memory (RAM). A computer with a 64-bit CPU can run either a 32-bit or a 64-bit OS, but a computer with a 32-bit CPU can run only a 32-bit OS.

Figure: 32-bit vs 64-bit Windows OS
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