How Operating Systems Manage Multi-users

Instructor: Toya Stiger

Toya has a masters of computer science in computer science and has taught college students as an adjunct instructor.

In this lesson we will define what a multi-user operating system is and how it is used. We will discuss some security features that should be implemented, and how they should be used. We will also discuss assigning roles to users and groups.

What is a Multi-User Operating System?

A multi-user operating system (OS) is a computer system that allows multiple users that are on different computers to access a single system's OS resources simultaneously, as shown in Figure 1. Users on the system are connected through a network. The OS shares resources between users, depending on what type of resources the users need. The OS must ensure that the system stays well-balanced in resources to meet each user's needs and not affect other users who are connected. Some examples of a multi-user OS are Unix, Virtual Memory System (VMS) and mainframe OS.

Figure 1 - Multi-user OS Handling Three Different Computers on the Network
Multi-User OS

Multi-user operating systems were originally used for time-sharing and batch processing on mainframe computers. These types of systems are still in use today by large companies, universities, and government agencies, and are usually used in servers, such as the Ubuntu Server edition (18.04.1 LTS) or Windows Server 2016. The server allows multiple users to access the same OS and share the hardware and the kernel, performing tasks for each user concurrently.

Multi-User Operating System Security

Since multi-user OS have several users accessing the system resources simultaneously, it is very important for the system administrators to implement security features within the system. These features could include account separation, user groups, roles and permissions.

Account separation is one of the most important security features that needs to be implemented. This is vital in order to maintain file and content protection, integrity and privacy. Each user must have their own separate account, giving them private work and storage space within the system. Also, user groups, roles and permissions should be created and assigned to each user to ensure others do not interfere with or delete other users' work, purposefully or accidentally. A user group is a group of users or people that have similar interests or jobs with access to specific information they might need. A role is defined as an assignment of rights and rules that a user is assigned by the administrator or superuser. Permissions is the authorization of a user to access specific resources or files on a particular computer system or network.

Setting permissions on files and folders is another good security feature. Permission settings determine who can view, edit, create or delete files and folders in certain areas. Users who have access to a particular file or folder can share or hide files from other users or can grant the ability to make changes to other users. In the Windows OS, the user who can set and control these types of permissions is known as the 'Administrator.' This user has access to all content on the system and can read and change anything. In a Unix/Linux OS this user is call the 'root' or superuser account. This account is the owner or system administrator of the machine.

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