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IT Skills 101: Brief History on Operating Systems

Operating systems are the backbone of many of our devices today. We use them on PCs, video game consoles, and mobile phones. Even movie rental kiosks and self-checkout machines use them! 

Essentially, operating systems give us an easy way to navigate through applications and programs. Additionally, they help us organize our documents. 

When you understand operating systems and their history, you can better understand how they work today – especially when it comes to IT support. 

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The History Of Operating Systems


The history of operating programs is somewhat new. However, in what might seem like a long time, they’ve vastly changed. 

And many of these changes allow us to lead more productive lives. 

The Mainframe Era: Where Our Story Begins 


The first operating system was called GM-NAA I/O

As you can imagine, it was basic. However, it allowed for batch processing – meaning a program could run without a user controlling a computer. 

The GM-NAA I/O was used in the IBM 704 – one of the earliest mainframe computers. 

With its creation in 1956 came a large number of additional operating software and programs. Mostly on IBM mainframe computers, these early systems were diverse. Oftentimes, even the same machines could be running different operating systems. Because of this, each one uses its own commands. 

Additionally, machines had their quirks and differences. You had to learn how to control each machine individually. There was no singular operating system like Windows or Mac OS.

Furthermore, these first operating systems could only run one program at a time. This made multitasking almost impossible. 

So as you can imagine, using these machines was a little clunky. However, for the time, they were revolutionary. And we wouldn’t have the seamless technology we have today without them. 

Minicomputers And Operating Systems


With the late 1960s came one of the earliest inspirations for Mac OS and Linux, called Unix. The system was engineered by AT&T Bell Laboratories. In addition, it was free, easily obtainable, and customizable. It quickly became the operating system for minicomputers. 

Released in 1973 to companies outside of Bell Labs, Unix was a group of multitasking, multi-user computer operating systems. 

Although originally intended for programmers developing software for the OS, Unix quickly spread. The use of Unix grew in universities, primarily because users could add in their own tools. 

Unix is different from prior operating systems because it used plain text for storing data. In addition, Unix could create a hierarchical file system and string small programs together through a “command-line interpreter.”  

Essentially, this meant that software tools and programs could interact more seamlessly with one another. 

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Microcomputers And Operating Systems


The microcomputer period leads the way for the operating systems and devices we use today. American families and schools began to have widespread access to computers. 

Home Computers 

Starting in the 1980s, we began to see familiar faces in computer models. Here, the Commodore 64, Apple II, and Atari 8-bit make their way to consumers. 

However, during this period, operating systems were rarely used on home computers and were usually not needed. 

Home computers offered little memory space and small processors. Therefore, operating systems would overwhelm a machine and cause poor performance.  

On the other hand, these machines did have the ability to load third-party operating systems stored on floppy disks. These floppy disks, however, were quite expensive at the time, so most home computers did not use these disk-based operating systems. 

Video games, spreadsheets, and word processor programs were self-contained and would take over the full use of a computer. 

Running multiple programs at once was unimaginable. 

Video Game Consoles 

Let’s start with ar

cade machines! Some video game consoles used a BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) to play games. For example, while the very first Sony PlayStation had a very basic BIOS it was capable of loading Windows CE. 

In the latter half of the 90s, Sega’s Dreamcast system could run Windows and Linux. 

Additionally, with the release of Microsoft’s Xbox, the console was essentially an Intel-based PC that ran by using Microsoft Windows. 

Today, video game consoles have simple operating systems that allow users to run applications and boot up games smoothly.

Personal Computers 

In the early 1980s, modern-day ideas of operating systems began. Because although we associate Windows, macOS, and mobile operating systems like Android with operating systems, we use GUIs. 

GUI, which stands for Graphical User Interface, is how we navigate our computers and phones without typing in command prompts into a system. 

File icons and program icons – every clickable thing on your desktop – are only clickable because of GUIs. They’re like a visual model of an operating system. 

Essentially, GUIs make a computer user-friendly and easy to use. You can still use commands through an application like Command Prompt on a Windows device; however, most choose to click on an icon rather than type in a command. 

Mobile Operating Systems 

Whether you have a Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone, you use a GUI operating system to control your device. 

While you may be familiar with these systems, you might not know that mobile operating systems began developing in the early 1990s. Symbian was an operating system for Nokia, Motorola, and early Samsung phones. It was the most widely used operating system until 2010. Furthermore, PalmPilots used a system called Palm OS. 

In 2007, Apple’s iPhone released its operating system that was similar to the one used on its desktops. Both the iPhone OS and today’s Mac OS X are based on the Unix operating system. 

And in 2008, Android’s operating system followed – inspired by the Linux kernel.

Waterdog Computer Works: IT Support With Years Of History 


When you partner with an IT company, their experts should have industry experience. Waterdog Computer Works works with business owners in a wide range of fields to solve their IT challenges. 

Today, ransomware and data loss are modern issues that need innovative solutions. If you need help setting up or choosing the right operating system for your company, Waterdog’s IT experts can help you through the process. Connect with us today.