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I only knew OS as an acronym for Operating System - the essential software to be able to interact with a computer.

E.g. Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Snow Leopard etc

Now this term 'General Purpose Operating System' appeared in a document, and I find myself wondering what are the types of OS out there. Hence the question.

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A categorized list of Operating Systems which may be of interest to you can be found here: lumbercartel.ca/resources/os –  Randolf Richardson Jul 3 '11 at 7:07
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closed as not constructive by studiohack Jul 3 '11 at 7:25

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1 Answer

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Types of Operating Systems

Within the broad family of operating systems, there are generally four types, categorized based on the types of computers they control and the sort of applications they support. The categories are:

Real-time operating system (RTOS) -

Real-time operating systems are used to control machinery, scientific instruments and industrial systems. An RTOS typically has very little user-interface capability, and no end-user utilities, since the system will be a "sealed box" when delivered for use. A very important part of an RTOS is managing the resources of the computer so that a particular operation executes in precisely the same amount of time, every time it occurs. In a complex machine, having a part move more quickly just because system resources are available may be just as catastrophic as having it not move at all because the system is busy.

(Think embedded OS systems)

Single-user, single task -

As the name implies, this operating system is designed to manage the computer so that one user can effectively do one thing at a time. The Palm OS for Palm handheld computers is a good example of a modern single-user, single-task operating system.

Single-user, multi-tasking -

This is the type of operating system most people use on their desktop and laptop computers today. Microsoft's Windows and Apple's MacOS platforms are both examples of operating systems that will let a single user have several programs in operation at the same time. For example, it's entirely possible for a Windows user to be writing a note in a word processor while downloading a file from the Internet while printing the text of an e-mail message.

Multi-user -

A multi-user operating system allows many different users to take advantage of the computer's resources simultaneously. The operating system must make sure that the requirements of the various users are balanced, and that each of the programs they are using has sufficient and separate resources so that a problem with one user doesn't affect the entire community of users. Unix, VMS and mainframe operating systems, such as MVS, are examples of multi-user operating systems.

Edit: Answer drawn from:

How Operating Systems Work by Curt Franklin and Dave Coustan

and:

Google.fu

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+1 because this answer is informative, clear, and appropriately organized. –  Randolf Richardson Jul 3 '11 at 7:08
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It's also a direct copy/paste. No credit for organization is due me. Just ask my wife. :) –  zenbike Jul 3 '11 at 7:14
    
Could you edit your answer to include the source, and indicate attribution accordingly? –  Randolf Richardson Jul 3 '11 at 7:14
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Sure. I linked the source in the first sentence however. I'll try to include more info? –  zenbike Jul 3 '11 at 7:15
    
Oh, I see. It wasn't obvious. I suggest including the link immediately after within brackets (or below) to make it more clear that it came from somewhere else. –  Randolf Richardson Jul 3 '11 at 7:16
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