Operating Systems and Computer Networks

Modern operating systems have built-in networking capabilities

Microsoft Windows 8

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Every computer ships with an operating system (OS) and networking capabilities are built into all modern operating systems. The OS consists of software that manages the apps, functions, and hardware on the computer and provides an interface that humans use to interact with it. Operating system software runs on laptop and desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, network routers, and other smart devices.

Types of Operating Systems

Corporations, universities, and enterprising individuals have developed hundreds of computer operating systems over the years. The best-known and commonly used 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 tvOS for Apple TV digital media players.
  • Wear OS for Google smartwatches.

Other operating systems that are of historical interest:

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

Network Operating Systems

A modern OS contains built-in software designed to simplify networking. Typical OS software includes an implementation of TCP/IP and related utility programs such as ping and traceroute, along with device drivers and other software to automatically enable the Ethernet or wireless interface for a device. The operating systems of mobile devices normally provide programs to enable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other wireless connectivity.

Command Prompt - Ping - Web Site

Early versions of Microsoft Windows did not provide support for computer networking. Microsoft added basic networking capability starting with Windows 95 and Windows for Workgroups.

Microsoft introduced the 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 for networking.

Windows 10 Network and Sharing Center screenshot

Today, networking support is the norm rather than the exception. Most modern operating systems qualify as network operating systems because these systems enable internet access and support home networking.

Embedded Operating Systems

An embedded OS supports no or limited configuration of its software. Embedded OSs such as those in routers, for example, include a pre-configured web server, DHCP server, and some utilities, but 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
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