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What are Operating Systems?

What are Operating Systems? article header image

Also known as an OS, an operating system is the program your phone or tablet uses to run. It might sound technological but it’s pretty simple to understand.

In fact, if you’ve used a computer, you’ve used an operating system. Remember the good old days of MS-DOS? That stood for Microsoft Disk Operating System. And if you’re too young to recall the simple delights of that ancient interface, you’ll probably have used a PC running the more recent version: Microsoft Windows.

But there isn’t just one operating system for every device. Different kinds of machines run on different systems. For example, Apple Mac computers use a Mac OS. In the same way, different types of phones run on different operating systems: BlackBerry uses the BlackBerry OS, iPhones use iOS, and so on.

As time goes by, developers make improvements to operating systems, so more powerful new software is released. MS-DOS evolved into Windows 3.0, Windows 95, 98, 2000, then Windows XP, Vista and the latest version is Windows 8.

Mac operating systems evolved from OS 7 through to OS X (that’s 10 in roman numerals) and since then, new OS releases have taken the names of big cats: Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and the current version, Lion. Our money’s on the next one being called ‘Tiddles’.

Phone operating systems work in a similar way. The first Android OS was 1.5, nicknamed ‘Cupcake’. The sweet treats theme continued with version 1.6 Donut, 2.0 Éclair, 2.2 Froyo (that’s frozen yoghurt for us non-Americans), 2.3 Gingerbread, 3.0 Honeycomb - and now Ice Cream Sandwich.


The main phone operating systems are:

Android
iOS
BlackBerry
Symbian
Windows Phone 8

But what difference does it make when you’re actually using your phone? The short answer is – not much. Unless you’re really into your gadgets, most of us never know – or care – what operating system our phone runs on.

The only time you need to know is when you download apps. Just like you need to put diesel fuel in a diesel car, you need to get Android apps for an Android device. If your phone doesn’t link there directly, you can find the right app store for your phone here. 

From time to time you might see software updates for your phone’s operating system. These are downloadable files containing small improvements to make your OS perform better. Find out more about software updates here.