Popular Computer Questions Answered:
[What is Operating System?]   [What is a Driver?]   [What is RAM?]
[What is Wifi?]


What is An Operating System or "OS" - A plain English explanation

What is an operating system? In this article I'm going to help you finally make sense of what for most people is one of the most confusing and least understood computer terms around: "operating system", or "OS".

This is actually a pretty easy idea to get when it's explained right.

Now what is an operating system, or OS? First off, it's is a type of software. I explained what software was in my last newsletter article (where I answered the question "what is driver") but here is a recap:

"Software" is all of the parts of the computer that you can't really see or touch. Software would include things like Microsoft Word, your email program, Windows or the Mac OS, plus all of your personal files like letters, photos, music, and more.

One way to think about it is like this: hardware is like your brain, the physical part of your body, while software is like your mind or your thoughts -- the non-physical part of yourself.

Software runs on hardware, just like your thoughts "run on" your brain.

Make sense? So let's get to the OS specifically.

First off, let me give a couple of examples: the two best known operating systems right now are Windows, and Mac OS X (pronounced "Oh Ess Ten" -- as in the Roman numeral ten).

Windows XP and Windows Vista are a couple different versions of the Windows operating system. While Mac OS 10.4 (also called "Tiger") and the newest Mac OS 10.5 (or "Leopard") are two different versions of Mac OS X.

So what *is* an OS?

Think of it this way: when a baby is born, they have the instinct to eat, breathe, and so on, and also the instinct to watch, listen, and absorb what's going on around them.

In time, a young child learns to talk and walk by learning from others, and as they get older, they also learn more fundamental skills like reading and writing, hand-eye coordination, and so on.

So in other words, they go from being able to do not a lot except eat, sleep, and fill diapers, to physical and mental maturity where they have all the general skills they need to learn more specific skills like driving a car, playing a sport like football, writing a paper for school, working a job, etc.

In many ways, when you turn a computer on, it's just like a newborn baby. It has the ability to turn on, and show an image on the screen, but that's about it.

The only other thing it can do is look at the hard drive, and if there is an operating system installed on it, the computer knows to start running the OS.

That process is called "booting", which is what happens between when you turn the computer on, and when you can actually start using it.

And the best way to think about it is that it's just like a child being born and growing up: the operating system contains the "life experiences" and lessons that give a child all the basic skills like walking, talking, reading, writing, and so on, that make everything else possible.

So in a sense, it's like your computer is born and "grows up" in the space of 30 seconds to a minute or so (or longer for some computers) that it takes to "boot" the operating system.

So in other words, the operating system is like those basic skills we all have and learned as children. More specifically, it's the software on the computer that creates the desktop, the icons on it, moves the little mouse pointer around on the screen when you move your mouse around, lets you view files and open, lets you type, and so on.

Without it, you couldn't do anything with the computer but turn it on and see an error message like "non system disk or disk error" on a Windows PC, or a flashing question mark on a Mac.

So even though a lot of people don't really understand what an OS is, or what it does, you couldn't use your computer without it.

Hope that makes sense.

Until next time, enjoy,

Worth Godwin

Labels: , , , , , , ,


How To Get Free Computer Lessons

Use the simple form below to get immediate access to Plain English computer lessons that will help you...

  • Eliminate common & costly computer mistakes

  • Forget past frustration and confusion

  • Discover new confidence and skill with your computer

Just type your first name and primary email address in to the simple form below to join the 100% free membership and claim your computer lessons right away.
You will be emailed a link to the free member site immediately after you click the Claim Free Lessons button below:

Name
Email

 

10 Good Tips About How To Use The Internet Safely part 2

10 Good Tips About How To Use The Internet Safely part 2

This article continues my list of 10 good tips about how to use the Internet safely.

In part one of 10 Good Tips About How To Use The Internet Safely, I talked about the importance of using the right web browser, and how important it is to have the latest security updates or "patches". Let's go on to the next item in our list:

Tip #3) Have a good firewall program & make sure it's on

A firewall program (not to be confused with firewire) is a protective program that guards your computer from threats either on the Internet, or from other computers on the same network (including a wired or wireless home network, one at work, or a public wireless network like you might find at an airport or a cafe).

While this has improved some with Windows Vista, Windows XP does not have a very good built-in firewall, so it's important to use a good one that not only protects from threats outside of your computer, but also from rogue programs like aware, spyware, and viruses that may already be on your computer.

Norton Internet Security, McAfee Internet Security, and Kaspersky Internet Security all have the "active" type of firewall that protects you both ways. A free alternative that does a good job is ZoneAlarm.

Personally, because of the limitations of McAfee and Norton, I don't really recommend using them (more on that in a minute) -- Kaspersky is one of the best choices out there for protecting your computer on the Internet.

Any of these firewall programs should alert you if they're not turned on correctly, and you can check to make sure it says it's protecting you by double-clicking the icon on the system tray to the left on the clock.

Apple Mac users have (currently) a lot less to worry about from Internet threats, due to their excellent built-in security, but they should still be using a firewall program.
The firewall program built into Mac OS X works well to protect you, but needs to be turned on.

If you have OS 10.4 (Tiger) or earlier, you can check to see if your firewall is on by going into your System Preferences (always available in the Apple Menu, and often available on the Dock). Then click on Sharing, then click Firewall.

If you have OS 10.5 (Leopard) you'll find the firewall has moved to Security in System Preferences.

It should tell you if the firewall is on if you look at this window; if not, click the button labeled Start, and you're protected.


Tip #4) Have the right antivirus program & Make sure your AV program is active & up-to-date

Here's a big one for Windows users that isn't currently as important for Apple Mac users.

There are known to be over *100,000* viruses & worms for Windows PCs, and only 1 known virus for Macs (and the Mac virus is more of a "test" and turned out not to spread).

Most of the 100,000-plus viruses and worms for Windows are not currently "in the wild", but it still gives you an idea of how much more at risk Windows users are for these things, so it's absolutely critical to have an effective antivirus program protecting your computer.

Note I said *effective* antivirus program -- I chose my words carefully there, since studies have shown the top 3 *most-used* (again, note my choice of words there) antivirus programs actually have an up to 80% *failure* rate at detecting and removing the latest threats!

I personally recommend using Kaspersky Antivirus (or better yet, Kaspersky Internet Security, which has a good firewall program in it too). Kaspersky has been shown to have an over 96% success rate at finding and removing viruses.

There is no 100% guarantee, but it's pretty darn close.

I'll continue with more of the 10 tips about how to use the Internet safely in a separate article.

If you'd like to *see* step-by-step how to protect yourself by doing the things I talk about in this article, plus get dozens and dozens of more quick, easy lessons that make your computer safer and easier to use, then you might want to click one of the links below to find out more...

All you have to do is click one of the following links, depending on whether you use a Apple Mac or a Windows PC.

Windows PC users (Dell, HP, Sony, etc.) click this link to get easy Windows computer lessons

and Apple Mac users (owners of an iMac, iBook, MacBook, etc.) click this link to get easy Apple Mac computer lessons

until next time, enjoy,

Worth Godwin

P.S. Those links again are:

Windows PC users (Dell, HP, Sony, etc.) click this link to get easy Windows computer lessons

and Apple Mac users (owners of an iMac, iBook, MacBook, etc.) click this link to get easy Apple Mac computer lessons

Labels: , , ,


How To Get Free Computer Lessons

Use the simple form below to get immediate access to Plain English computer lessons that will help you...

  • Eliminate common & costly computer mistakes

  • Forget past frustration and confusion

  • Discover new confidence and skill with your computer

Just type your first name and primary email address in to the simple form below to join the 100% free membership and claim your computer lessons right away.
You will be emailed a link to the free member site immediately after you click the Claim Free Lessons button below:

Name
Email