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Techno-Babble made Simple
By Stan Gelber

Those of us that work in the information services arena often take for granted that everyone we talk to understands us when we techno-babble about the tools of our craft. I am also often reminded that most healthlinks visitors are really not interested in becoming computer savvy but do have a need to understand basic concepts, so I thought I would attempt to simplify some computer terms and concepts that are frequently used.

Software

Many different types of programs are necessary to assist the user and the computer in accomplishing tasks. Foremost among them is the operating system. The computer requires an operating system in order to provide an interface to the user, as well as control the application programs running in memory. 

Several different categories of software exist and include: operating systems software, communications systems software, database management systems software, systems utilization software, applications software and systems implementation software. For this article we will concentrate on the Operating System.

Operating Systems

Before we explore different types of operating systems, we need to ask why an operating system is needed? The answer is that all computers operate in a binary fashion (ones and zeros/on - off) and without the necessary tools to assist in programming and operation, we would have a difficult time using our computer. Operating systems are necessary for three main reasons:

(1) The operating system provides an interface between you and the hardware (disk drives, keyboard, mouse, etc), as well as the other software programs that reside on your computer. The operating system is needed so you will have a method of controlling the computer. Look at the operating system as the "boss" or supervisor of all activities taking place on your computer.

(2) Operating systems enable users to run application programs and acts as a task manager for controlling the application program. This is very important when you want to run more than one program at the same time such as downloading a file from the Internet and writing an email.

(3) Finally, operating systems make available a series of utility programs to aid the user in maintaining an efficient operating environment. These include file managers, disk defraggers and screen savers.

The operating system additionally provides assistance in file backup activity to prevent loss of data, provides status information on hardware, data files, and programs, and manages additional internal functions.

At the present time, six operating systems represent the majority of the systems currently in use on Intel based computers. They are UNIX, DOS/Windows 3.1, OS/2, Windows 95/98, Windows NT and Linux. Apple also provides several operating systems with equal functionality to those that run on Intel based hardware. Future articles will discuss each of the operating systems mentioned above as well as major application software products.


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