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History of Operating Systems: Timeline & Evolution

Instructor: Edward Lavieri

Ed has created and taught college courses since 2002 and has a Doctorate of Computer Science and three MS degrees. He has authored several tech books.

Have you ever been amazed at the magic taking place inside your computer or smartphone? Your device's operating system does a lot behind the scenes to display images and text, play audio, print, and do so much more.

What is an Operating System?

Operating systems are a collection of software that interfaces between you and your hardware, whether it is your smartphone or a computer. Most users do not directly interact with their device's operating system. They use other software, which we call apps, instead to coordinate with the operating system. This interaction leads to hardware operations. Let's consider the example of you typing a letter and printing it. Your word processor is an app that will tell the operating system when to send a file to the printer. While you are initiating the action yourself, you are telling the word processor app to, in turn, communicate with the operating system, which then communicates with the printer. This all happens at blazing fast speeds.

Operating System Layers

Categories of Operating Systems

There are a lot of different operating systems available because there are so many different types of hardware available. The first operating systems were created in the 1950s for mainframe and specialized computers. We will focus on the most common operating systems based on the hardware categories of personal computers and smartphones. Personal computers can be run with a host of different operating systems, and the most common are Windows or the Macintosh Operating System.

Personal Computers

When personal computers (PC) were first introduced, in the mid-1970s, the operating system was known as CP/M (Control Program/Monitor). CP/M had a text-based interface. In 1981, MS-DOS (Microsoft - Disk Operating System) became the standard operating system for personal computers. MS-DOS was continually updated over the news several years. In 1985, Microsoft introduced the first operating system with a graphic-user-interface for the personal computer giving users the ability to have graphic-based menus and icons to click on. Both MS-DOS and Windows were improved in parallel until the 1995 release of Windows 95 which was a combination of Windows and MS-DOS.

Operating System Timeline

Apple Computers

Apple computers, now called Macs, short for Macintosh, have a similar history in that they came into mainstream use in 1984 with a graphic-based operating system. Both Windows and Mac OS continue to improve with new versions being released throughout the years.

Mobile Operating Systems

Most phones today are smartphones, which indicates their functionality extends beyond just being able to make phone calls. These smartphones have operating systems referred to as Mobile Operating Systems. The leading operating systems for smartphones are Android and iOS. Android, owned by Google, was first released in 2008 with releases each year thereafter. iOS, owned by Apple, was first released in 2007 and has been continually updated with new features since then.

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