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You've probably heard the term 'operating system' before, but you might not be exactly sure what it means. Essentially, your computer's operating system is the software that manages how you interact with the computer, how the programs on the computer use and access the computer's hardware, and it's a big part of how your computer behaves and performs. You can think of the operating system as the master program that runs and manages all the other programs on your computer. It's the backbone of your computer, and it's the most important program because it controls everything that goes in and out of your computer, from allocating memory to programs, to copying files from one drive to another, to receiving commands from your keyboard and mouse, to telling you the time of day.
You can't have a computer without an operating system. Usually, the operating system comes pre-installed in your computer, but if you've had your computer for a few years, you may want or need to upgrade your operating system to the most current version the operating system's manufacturer has released. Now, that said, there are many different operating systems out there. On PCs, the most popular operating system is Windows, and as I record this movie, the current version of the Windows operating system is Windows 7. On a Mac, the operating system is called Mac OS X, with the current version being OS 10.6, Snow Leopard.
These are probably the two most well-known operating systems. You've probably also heard of Linux, another popular computer operating system, but generally, any computer or device that runs programs, especially multiple programs, has an operating system. Game consoles, like the Wii, PS3, and Xbox, all have operating systems. Your mobile phone has an operating system. Now, in addition to the essential purpose of managing your computer and the programs you use, most operating systems, like Windows and Mac OS X, also come with built-in programs also called applications. So applications are also called apps, programs, or software.
Now, these can be simple word processing applications, applications for managing your photos, applications for sending and receiving e-mail, and so on. In some cases, you can get by with the applications included with your operating system - for example, both Windows and Mac OS X come with built-in web browsing application for surfing the web - but you are also free to install and use applications made by other companies. Some applications can be downloaded for free from the companies that make them; others have to be purchased. It really depends on what application you are talking about. It's also very important to note that you usually have to make sure you are downloading or purchasing the version of software that's made for your operating system.
For example, if you are using Windows, you need to run Windows applications; if you are on a Mac, you need to run Mac applications. In many cases, software developers release both versions of their software, but there are many applications that only work with one or the other. Whether you are downloading software or purchasing at a store, you should always be able to find a section called system requirements that will let you know what operating system you need to run the software, as well the minimum amount of RAM, hard drive space, and any other requirements you might need to run the software. You are going to find that some people are very particular and passionate about their choice of operating system.
The goal of this course is not to extol the virtues of one or the other, though. If you want to know more about the specifics of a Windows or Mac operating system, you can check out the courses covering those operating systems on the lynda.com Online Training Library. What I want to do here is to make sure you understand what an operating system is, what it does, and why it's important to know which operating system you are using.
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