An Operating System (OS) is software that manages computer hardware and software resources. All Computers require an Operating System to perform important basic tasks such as handling a users input from the mouse and keyboard or sending the output to the screen as well as organising data on a Hard Disk Drive for example. Computer programs will only work if the computer has an Operating System.
There are many different Operating Systems available today for a Desktop Computer including Microsoft Windows, OS X (formerly Mac OS X) which is used on Apple Computers, and UNIX or Linux which are free open-source Operating Systems. Smaller devices such as Tablets and Smartphones also use Operating Systems such as Android (based on Linux), iOS which is used on the Apple's iPhone and iPad, Windows, and Blackberry etc.
Windows Operating System
In this article we will focus on the Microsoft Windows Operating System as it is widely available and usually comes included if you buy a Desktop or Laptop computer. Windows is a Graphical User Interface (GUI) meaning you use icons, a pointer, and windows rather than a Command Line Interface (CLI) to manipulate the Operating System.
Windows 7 Home Edition
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium, Full Version, 1 user.
This version of Microsoft Windows 7 Home edition is the full version (not the upgrade version) which includes Windows 7 32-bit and Windows 7 64-bit Operating Systems each contained on a separate disk.
It has a single license so can only be used on one computer at a time.
Microsoft Windows Operation Systems include Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10. Note that Windows XP is no longer supported. Windows Vista had improved security features over XP but was criticised for poor performance, poor compatibility with previous Windows versions, and the number of authorization prompts for User Account Control. Windows 7 improved on Vista significantly and is very popular. Windows 8 introduced major changes to improve its user experience on Tablet computers and touchscreen devices but the new user interface became confusing and difficult to learn, however in October 2013 they released Windows 8.1 to address some of these issues. Windows 10 is much improved over Windows 8 and for a limited time can be downloaded for free if you have Windows 7 or Windows 8.
Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 are available in various editions:
Starter - Significant limitations for developing countries only.
Home basic - Basic edition.
Home premium - Additional feature for Home users.
Business - Business market.
Enterprise - Additional feature to Business edition.
Ultimate - Same features as Home Premium and Enterprise editions + extras.
Starter - Has fewest features, 32-bit only, pre-installed on some Netbooks.
Home Basic - Sold in emerging markets only.
Home Premium - Home Users.
Professional - For enthusiasts and small-business users.
Enterprise - Additional feature to Professional.
Ultimate - Similar to Windows 7 Enterprise but available to Home users.
Windows 8 - Basic edition.
Windows 8 Pro - For enthusiasts and business users.
Windows 8 Enterprise - Additional feature to Pro.
Windows RT - Preinstalled on tablets
Windows 10 - Basic edition.
Windows 10 Pro - For enthusiasts and business users.
Windows 10 Enterprise - Additional feature to Pro.
Minimum System Requirements
Before installing a Windows Operating System on your computer you should check the Minimum System Requirements on the Microsoft website. It will let you know the minimum specification of CPU, RAM, Hard Drive space, and Graphics (Direct X version) as well as additional requirements needed to run the software.
32-bit or 64-bit?
These Windows Operating Systems are available in 32-bit or 64-bit versions. A 32-bit Operating System can only handle up to 4GB of System Memory (RAM) while a 64-bit Operating System can handle significantly more memory. Therefore if you have more than 4GB of System Memory (RAM) in your computer then you should be using a 64-bit Operating System.
OEM or Retail version?
You can buy a retail version of an Operating System and it will come in a box which also provides technical support from Microsoft. An OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) Operating System is usually pre-installed on a new computer bought from a store and will only work on that computer. An OEM Operating System can also be bought through on-line retailers and is designed for system builders (people who build computers to sell). The OEM disk contains the same software as the retail version but does not provide any technical support from Microsoft instead the system builder is responsible for installing the software, and providing technical support. Many people who build their own computer will use an OEM Operating System.
Upgrade or Full version?
The retail version can be bought as a cheaper upgrade version or a full version of Windows. An upgrade version will allow you to upgrade from a previous Operating System (Windows 7 to Windows 8 for example) but will not let you install a fresh version of Windows on a formatted disk. The full version lets you install a fresh version of the Operating System or you can also upgrade from a previous Operating System.
Single license or Family Pack?
When you buy an Operating System it usually has a single license meaning that it can only be used on one computer at a time. You can also buy the same Operating System called a 'Family Pack' which allows you to install the software on three computers at a time.
Product Key and Activation
When you install the Operating System on your computer it will ask you to enter a 'Product Key' which is printed on a sticker inside the box of your retail version of the Operating System or on a label stuck to the side of your computer case. At the end of the installation it will ask you to 'Activate' the software and you are given 30 days to do this. If it is not activated within this period then you will end up with reduced functionality. To activate the software you can either do it via the internet or by phone.
A Service Pack is a collection of updates, fixes, or enhancements to an Operating System delivered in the form of a single installable package. When available they are usually numbered SP1, SP2, SP3 etc. They are free to download for your Windows Operating System from the Microsoft website.