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OS Functions: Security, System Management, Communication and Hardware & Software Services

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  • 0:29 System Management
  • 2:04 Communication Services
  • 2:43 Security
  • 4:04 Hardware Services
  • 5:21 Software Services
  • 7:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

The operating system, or OS, of a computer makes everything else work. Learn about the five key OS functions: system management, communication services, security, hardware services, and software services in this video lesson.

OS Functions

The operating system, or OS, of a computer is the first software that gets installed on the hard disk, and it remains there even when the computer is turned off. The OS is also the first software that gets loaded into the computer's memory when it is turned on. Once the OS is up and running, it performs five critical tasks.

System Management

Without an OS, your computer would not even start up. The first task of the OS is to manage the starting up of your computer, also known as booting up. When this happens, the OS makes sure all the various elements of your computer are working properly.

Once the OS is up and running, you're ready to start using your computer. Perhaps you're writing an essay for school, so you open up a word processing application. You do some research online, so you open up a web browser. And, while you are working, you want to listen to some music, so you launch your music player.

So, you're running multiple applications at the same time; this is known as multi-tasking. We take this for granted on today's computers, but in the early days of computing, a computer system only carried out a single task at a time.

While the OS is multi-tasking, it is constantly managing system resources. For example, applications require memory to run, and there's only so much memory installed on a computer system.

So, let's say you want to include an image into your essay, and you start using photo editing software to work on a high-quality photograph. This may take a fair bit of memory. You don't want the photo editing to be terribly slow, but you also don't want your music to stop playing.

So, the OS tries to balance the memory needs of all the applications that are running. System management also includes routine maintenance tasks, such as file management, defragmenting disks to optimize hard drive storage, and keeping track of power supply.

Communication Services

The OS establishes an Internet connection so you can surf the Web or send e-mails. We take being online almost for granted, but there are a lot of protocols at work behind the scenes to make sure you stay connected. The OS makes sure you don't have to worry about managing these protocols by yourself.

Every time you visit a website, download a song, or send an e-mail, your computer interacts with a computer network that stretches across the globe. Your OS manages your connections, such as Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections, and ensures all communications with the network occur seamlessly.

Security

There are numerous security threats to your computer, in particular various types of malware, which is short for malicious software. This includes computer viruses, which can interfere with the normal operations of your computer. Viruses can be very harmful and result in loss of data or system crashes.

The OS of a computer has a number of built-in tools to protect against security threats, including the use of virus scanning utilities and setting up a firewall to block suspicious network activity. One of the most common ways to get a computer virus is by e-mail. If you have received an e-mail message from someone you don't know with an unknown file attachment, be careful about opening up that file since it may just contain a virus or other malicious software.

While the OS has a number of built-in security tools, you may need additional software to set up the best protection, in particular virus scanning software. These types of utilities expand the functionality of the OS.

Another basic security feature is to control access to your computer by setting up a password. Without the password, someone else will not be able to get access to the software applications and files on your computer.

Hardware Services

The OS manages all the hardware and peripheral devices of your computer. For example, when you put in a DVD to play a movie, the OS will start reading the data from the optical drive and launch a movie player. Or, when you are saving a file to a USB flash drive, the OS checks to make sure there is enough space on the drive to store your file.

In order to communicate with the hardware devices, the OS uses drivers. Device drivers are program files that enable the OS to recognize the hardware device and its properties. Many of these drivers are built into the OS, but there are so many devices that not all of them may be available. Have you bought a printer and it came with an installation CD? Most likely, that included the specific driver for the printer.

A typical OS uses plug-and-play to install a new hardware device. This means that you plug in the device using a cable, such as a USB cable, and the OS will automatically install the right driver and make sure that the device is ready to use. Sometimes, however, you may need to use the installation disk that came with the device or get a more up-to-date driver online.

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