Operating Systems

Software: the programs and data associated with them that enable your computer to work.

Computer program: a set of instructions which tell a computer what to do.

Three Types of Software

Computer programs can be divided up into three different groups:

Applications software: general purpose programs, that allow you to do a range of tasks more efficiently than if you were to use conventional methods. Word-processing software, graphics programs and accounts packages would be examples of applications software.

System software: looks after the way the hardware of the computer communicates with the user. It controls input, output and storage devices, manages files and security. Microsoft Windows is an example of an operating system.

Utility programs: are small programs that just do one specific job. A clock, calculator or desktop game would be examples of utility programs.

Which Operating System?

Most personal computers will have a version of Microsoft’s Windows software running as the operating system. However, this is not the only operating system you may come across. Its Graphical User Interface (GUI) has its advantages though. It is far easier for people to learn how to use it to carry out a range of tasks, just by moving a mouse pointer around on a screen and clicking on different windows, menus and icons, than it is to learn a set of commands to type.

Computers used for different purposes may use a variety of operating systems. Many graphic designers will use an Apple computer with System X, and many web servers will use Linux as an operating system.


  1. Describe three different ways a word-processor can be used to help a teacher with their work.
  2. List five different examples of applications software and give one use for each program.
  3. Describe two different utility programs you might find on your computer.
  4. A friend of yours is thinking of buying a PC, and wonders what Microsoft Windows is used for. Write a letter to your friend describing the different features of Windows and telling them why they need an operating system for their computer.
  5. Describe two other operating systems you might find on a computer, and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.
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