Paul is a GIS professor at Vancouver Island U, has a PhD from U of British Columbia, and has taught stats and programming for 15 years.
While every computer needs an operating system, different devices and different users need different functionalities. Learn about the different types of operating systems.
Types of Operating Systems
Every computing device needs an operating system, or OS, to function. There are many different operating systems. Some are specifically designed for a particular type of device, but many operating systems can run on different devices. There are three broad categories of operating systems: personal, workgroup and enterprise. Each has their own unique characteristics.
Personal Operating Systems
A personal operating system is used on an individual computing device that can run without being part of a network. While these devices may be connected, they don't have to be in order to run. Examples of these would be regular desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. There are a number of different personal operating systems. The most widely used ones are Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
The Windows OS was created by the Microsoft Corporation in 1985. It is the most widely used OS for personal computers, or PCs. If you have been a PC user for some time now, you may recall some of the different versions of Windows, such as Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8. New versions are released to keep up with the changes in hardware and software and with general trends in the computer industry. For example, the 2013 version (Windows 8) has been designed with touch screen technology in mind.
These are the major players in the personal operating system arena.
The Mac OS is the general name for the operating system developed by Apple Inc. in 1984. This operating system is unique in the sense that both the operating system and the hardware are made by the same company. Similar to Windows, there have been a series of different versions over the years.
The Linux OS is a free and open-source operating system developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. It is based on the original UNIX OS developed by AT&T in 1969. The underlying source code for the operating system can be freely used, distributed and modified. Partly because it is free and open-source, it has been adapted to run on many different types of devices, from desktop PCs, to supercomputers and mobile phones. A number of commercial versions of Linux are also available, providing additional functionality on top of the regular Linux version.
Most desktop PCs and laptops use Windows or Linux, while Apple computers use Mac OS. So, what do other computing devices use? That depends. Some are designed to use an OS designed for traditional computers. For example, some tablets run on Windows 8. However, mobile devices are used quite differently compared to traditional computers. This has led to the emergence of new operating systems. These include iOS for phones and tablets made by Apple and Android and Windows phone for devices from other manufacturers.
All these different operating systems can get confusing - and they keep changing! Keep in mind that many of them use very similar features. For example, clicking on an icon (with a mouse or a finger) opens an application or file. Clicking and dragging moves something. There are of course numerous small differences, and many enthusiastic users will swear by one particular OS. You may have your own preference. Just don't get too used to it because before you know it, there's another version!
Workgroup Operating Systems
A workgroup is a collection of individuals working together on a task. This could be a formal unit in an organization, such as a department or a temporary group, working together on a specific project.
When these individuals connect their computers together in a network, this is called 'workgroup computing.' This makes it possible for the users to send e-mail to one another, share data files, schedule meetings and connect to the same printer. Specialized workgroup systems make it possible for users to define workflows where files are automatically forwarded to the right people at each stage of a process.
Workgroup computing typically uses a Local Area Network, or LAN, a collection of computers that share common resources and responsibilities. LANs are typically small with no more than 10 or 20 computers. This could be a home, a small business or a school.
A diagram of a Local Area Network
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An enterprise is an organization with a large number of employees, typically distributed over a number of offices that are geographically separate. In an enterprise environment, individual computers are connected to each other and can share resources, similar to a workgroup. However, an enterprise network is typically much larger and may have hundreds of users, often in geographically separate locations. In addition, the network itself provides services not found on individual computers.
The operating system for this type of network typically resides on a computer server. A server is a computer system that provides services over a network. These services can include things like data storage, file sharing, e-mail management, hosting websites and the like. The network operating system has many of the functions of a personal OS, but also needs to provide functions for security and administration. Multiple users need to access the network at the same time, and this needs to be managed carefully.
A number of different operating systems can be used to manage an enterprise. This includes Windows Server, Linux and Novell. Given the complexity of running a network for an enterprise with many users, these tasks are often performed by a specialized system administrator. A system administrator is responsible for the operation and configuration of multi-use computers, such as computer servers. Depending on the size and complexity of the system, additional personnel can take on roles, such as database administrator and network administrator. In smaller organizations, a single system administrator may take on all these roles.
Complicated networks are designed and maintained by system administrators.
One of the challenges for an enterprise operating system is that today's computing networks include devices with many different personal operating systems. Have you ever worked in an office where most employees were expected to use a Windows-based desktop PC, but a number of employees insisted on using Macs and that drove the IT department crazy? Or, perhaps you have argued with one of your friends over the merits of Windows vs. Mac?
Managing multiple platforms in a single network used to be very complicated, but in today's business world, multi-platform is the norm. There will be a few different versions of Windows-based PCs, a few Macs, some tablets and smartphones running iOS and Android - and they all have to work together seamlessly. Fortunately, today's enterprise OS is designed exactly for this. Just because the computer server is running on a Windows Server does not mean you can only use Windows personal OS on the networked devices. And, most users would agree that's a good thing.
There are three broad categories of operating systems: personal, workgroup and enterprise OS. A personal OS is used on individual devices, which may or may not be part of a network. A workgroup OS is used by a small group of individuals sharing resources on a local network. An enterprise OS is used by large organizations with many users on the same network sharing access to network services.
After you've completed this lesson, you could be able to:
Discuss aspects of personal, workgroup and enterprise operating systems
Identify the three main personal operating systems
Note the contrasts between a local area network and a larger enterprise network
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