Operating Systems and Computer Networks

Modern operating systems have built-in networking capabilities

Microsoft Windows 8
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All computers ship with software called an operating system (O/S) to manage all the software and hardware on the computer and to provide an interface that humans can use to interact with the machines. Operating system software runs not just on laptop computers but also on smartphones, tablets, network routers and other smart devices.

Types of Operating Systems

Corporations, universities, and enterprising individuals developed hundreds of computer operating systems over the years. The best-known operating systems are those found on personal computers:

Some operating systems are designed for certain types of equipment, such as:

  • Apple iOS and Google Android for smartphones and tablets
  • Solaris, HP-UX, DG-UX, and other variants of Unix for server computers
  • DEC VMS (Virtual Memory System) - for mainframe computers
  • Apple's tvOS for Apple TV digital media players
  • Wear OS for Google smartwatches

Other operating systems enjoyed a period of notoriety but are of only historical interest now:

  • Novell Netware was a popular O/S for PCs in the 1990s.
  • IBM OS/2 was an early PC O/S that competed with Microsoft Windows for a time but had limited success in the consumer market.
  • Multics was an especially innovative operating system created for mainframes in the 1960s that influenced the later development of Unix.

Network Operating Systems

A modern O/S contains much built-in software designed to simplify the networking of a computer. Typical O/S software includes an implementation of TCP/IP protocol stack and related utility programs like ping and traceroute, along with the necessary device drivers and other software to automatically enable a device's Ethernet or wireless interface. The operating systems of mobile devices normally provide the programs needed to enable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other wireless connectivity.

Early versions of Microsoft Windows did not provide any support for computer networking. Microsoft added basic networking capability to its operating system starting with Windows 95 and Windows for Workgroups. Microsoft also introduced its Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) feature in Windows 98 Second Edition (Win98 SE) and Windows HomeGroup for home networking in Windows 7. Contrast that with Unix, which was designed from the beginning with networking in view. Most modern operating systems qualify as network operating systems due to the popularity of the internet and home networking.

Embedded Operating Systems

A so-called embedded system supports no or limited configuration of its software. Embedded systems like routers, for example, typically include a preconfigured web server, DHCP server, and some utilities, but they do not allow the installation of new programs. Examples of embedded operating systems for routers include:

  • Cisco IOS (Internetwork Operating System)
  • DD-WRT
  • Juniper Junos