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Brief history of operating systems

October 23, 2018

Brief history of operating systems

This post is also available in: Spanish

Operating System History: From Resident Monitor to Windows

We couldn’t live without them today. Operating systems are essential for the functioning of our computers, mobile phones and, in short, the devices and computer infrastructures that we use in our daily lives and allow modern societies to run smoothly.

Operating systems are basic to the operation of both the hardware and software on our devices.

However, just like everything else, they haven’t always been there. The operating systems had an origin and have had a history that is closely linked to the development of information technology itself.

In this post we are going to see, very briefly, how the first operating systems were and how they have been developed over time.

A brief operating system history

In order to find the first operative systems we must travel to the decade of the 50’s of the 20th Century.

Previously, during the 1940s, programs were introduced directly onto the machine hardware through a series of micro switches. In the 1950s some technologies emerged that allowed a more “simple” interaction between the user and the computer.

Resident monitor: this is a system that loads the program into the computer, reading it from a tape or punched cards. This technology gave rise to the first operating system in history, created in 1956 for an IBM 704 computer, which was responsible for loading programs successively (starting with the next one when the previous one had finished loading), reducing the work time required.

Temporary storage: this is a system that also tried to increase speed by simultaneously loading programs and executing tasks.

In the 1960s, the rise of the integrated circuit launched the power of computers, and operating systems responded by becoming increasingly complex and offering new techniques.

Multiprogramming: In this technique, the main memory already holds more than one program, and the operating system is responsible for allocating the machine’s resources to execute tasks based on existing needs.

Timeshare: This is a system that assigns the execution of applications within a group of users working online.

Real time: it is used specially in the area of telecommunications, it is responsible for processing events external to the computer, so that, once a certain time has passed without success, it considers them as failed.

Multiprocessor: these are systems that try to manage the readings and writings made in memory by two programs that are running simultaneously, in order to avoid errors. As their name suggests, they are designed for use in computers that use more than one processor.

In the 1970s, IT continued to become increasingly complex, resulting in the first versions of some of the operating systems that have served as the basis for many of the ones we use today, such as UNIX.

The operating systems of this decade are still available only to highly qualified users, and their complexity means that they consume a large amount of resources. Among the most outstanding, in addition to UNIX, we find MULTICS, BDOS and CP/M, widely used in computers with Intel microprocessor.

The 1980s gave rise to the boom in commercial computing. The arrival of computers in thousands of offices and homes changes the focus of operating systems, forcing the development of more user-friendly systems that introduced graphic elements such as menus.

In this decade the development is such that it gives rise to some operating systems already legendary, and that contribute to the rise of computing in later decades, such as C++, SunOS (developed by Sun Microsystems and derived from UNIX), AmigaOS (developed for the Commodore Amiga) and some classics such as these:

MS-DOS: developed by Microsoft for IBM PCs, which contributed enormously to the popularization of computing and gave rise to Windows systems.

Mac OS: a system of Macintosh computers developed by Apple Inc, launched in 1984, and which included a novel graphic interface and the use of the mouse (a rarity at that time for users that were used to typing commands).
The decade of the 90’s continues with the explosive line marked in the 80’s, giving rise to many of the operating systems that, in more modern versions, we use today:

GNU/Linux: it was developed based on UNIX, and which is one of the greatest exponents of free software. Today, GNU/Linux is widely used all over the world, having a pre-eminence close to 100% in fields as striking as supercomputers.

Solaris: also developed on UNIX basis by Sun Microsystems for servers and workstations.

Microsoft Windows: which has resulted in a popular family of commercially successful operating systems used by millions of users around the world.

In the first decade of the present century, new operating systems continue to succeed each other, perhaps with less impact than those that emerged in the previous decade, but have their own place. Highlights include SymbOS, MorphOS, Darwin, Mac OS, Haiku and OpenSolaris.

So now we see the current decade, in which the rise of phones gives rise to some popular operating systems, including Android, developed by Google or iOS, created by Apple.

The operating system history is relatively short, but it has been very intense.

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