1. What software is included in system software? System software is the set of software programs that helps run the computer and coordinates instructions between application software and hardware devices. It consists of the operating system (OS) and utility programs. The operating system controls how your computer system functions. Utility programs are programs that perform general housekeeping tasks for the computer, such as system maintenance and file compression.

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2. What are the different kinds of operating systems? Operating systems can be classified into four categories. Real-Time OSs (RTOSs) require no user intervention and are designed for systems with a specific purpose and response time (such as robotic machinery). Single-user, single-task OSs are designed for computers on which one user is performing one task at a time (such as PDAs). Single-user, multitask OSs are designed for computers on which one user is performing more than one task at a time (such as desktop computers). Multiuser OSs are designed for systems in which multiple users are working on more than one task at a time (such as networks).

3. What are the most common desktop operating systems? Microsoft Windows is the most popular OS. It has evolved from being a single-user, single-task OS into a powerful multiuser operating system. The most recent release is Windows Vista. Another popular OS is the Mac OS, which is designed to work on Apple computers. Its most recent release, Mac OS X Leopard, is based on the UNIX operating system. You’ll find various versions of UNIX on the market, although it is most often used on networks. Linux is an open-source OS based on UNIX and designed primarily for use on personal computers, although it is often found as the operating system on many other devices.

4. How does the operating system provide a means for users to interact with the computer? The operating system provides a user interface that enables you to interact with the computer. Most OSs today use a graphical user interface (GUI). Unlike the command- and menu-driven interfaces used earlier, GUIs display graphics and use the point-and-click technology of the mouse and cursor, making the OS more user-friendly. Common features of GUIs include windows, menus, and icons.

5. How does the operating system help manage the processor? When you use your computer, you are usually asking it to perform several tasks at the same time. When the OS allows you to perform more than one task at a time, it is multitasking. To provide for seamless multitasking, the OS controls the timing of events the processor works on.

6. How does the operating system manage memory and storage? As the OS coordinates the activities of the processor, it uses RAM as a temporary storage area for instructions and data the processor needs. The OS is therefore responsible for coordinating the space allocations in RAM to ensure that there is enough space for the waiting instructions and data. If there isn’t sufficient space in RAM for all the data and instructions, the OS allocates the least necessary files to temporary storage on the hard drive, called virtual memory. The OS manages storage by providing a file management system that keeps track of the names and locations of files and programs.

7. How does the operating system manage hardware and peripheral devices? Programs called device drivers facilitate the communication between devices attached to the computer and the OS. Device drivers translate the specialized commands of devices to commands that the OS can understand, and vice versa, enabling the OS to communicate with every device in the computer system. Device drivers for common devices are included in the OS software, whereas other devices come with a device driver you have to install or download off the Web.

8. How does the operating system interact with application software? All software applications need to interact with the CPU. For programs to work with the CPU, they must contain code the CPU recognizes. Rather than having the same blocks of code appear in each software application, the OS includes the blocks of code to which software applications refer. These blocks of code are called application programming interfaces (APIs).

9. How does the operating system help the computer start up? When you start your computer, it runs through a special process, called the boot process. The boot process consists of four basic steps: (1) the basic input/output system (BIOS) is activated by powering on the CPU; (2) in the POST test, the BIOS checks that all attached devices are in place; (3) the operating system is loaded into RAM; and (4) configuration and customization settings are checked.

10. What are the main desktop and windows features? The desktop is the first interaction you have with the OS and the first image you see on your monitor once the system has booted up. It provides you with access to your computer’s files, folders, and commonly used tools and applications. Windows are the rectangular panes on your screen that display applications running on your system. Common features of windows include toolbars (or ribbons) and scrollbars, and minimize, maximize, and restore buttons.

11. How does the operating system help me keep my computer organized? The OS allows you to organize the contents of your computer in a hierarchical structure of directories that includes files, folders, and drives. Windows Explorer helps you manage your files and folders by showing the location and contents of every drive, folder, and file on your computer. Creating folders is the key to organizing files, because folders keep related documents together. Following naming conventions and using proper file extensions are also important aspects of file management.

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12. What utility programs are included in system software, and what do they do? Some utility programs are incorporated into the OS; others are sold as stand-alone off-the-shelf programs. Common Windows utilities include those that enable you to adjust your display, add or remove programs, compress files, defrag your hard drive, clean unnecessary files off your system, check for lost files and errors, restore your system to an earlier setting, back up your files, schedule automatic tasks, and check on programs that have quit running.