Although it would be easy to mistake yourself as the reason your computer works so well when you consider the tools at your disposal and the stealth of the real reason your computer runs at all. The operating system on your computer determines what your computer can do and how it handles instructions you give it with the click of the mouse or a bit of tapping on the keyboard. In fact, without an operating system, your computer would be a useless chunk of junk sitting on your desktop.
Most PCs and laptops are preloaded with Microsoft Windows, currently the Vista edition of that operating system. Macintosh preloads their computers with Mac OS X, otherwise known as Leopard 10.5. Corporate servers typically use UNIX or Linux based operating systems. In all of these, one thing happens before any other when the computer is turned on: the operating system loads before any other application is loaded on the computer.
The entire purpose that an operating system serves is to organize and control the hardware and software of a computer. This has a couple of major benefits. The operating system maintains predictable behavior which gives the user an expected reaction to every action that occurs. The benefit comes in the form of retaining flexibility in behavior as new software and hardware are installed upon the computer for use by the operator.
This may be a little confusing as an operating system is indeed software. However it isn't your typical variety of software. Operating systems must be able to do certain things before they can be considered above simple software and be exalted as operating systems. Operating systems must be able to serve a variety of purposes, interact in complicated ways with users and keep up with change.
Operating systems supply a method that can be employed to make changes in the manner that a device works in order to offer customization of its functions for individual users. This did not occur as an accidental plus for operating systems. The reason this is so is to keep the operating system from becoming useless when change occurs, which will happen over the course of time. If the operating system were hardware instead of software, the entire operating system would have to be scrapped anytime a significant change occurred. Since it is code and software, the code can be added to and modified with each change that occurs during the course of the operating system's use.
In simple terms, an operating system will allow a user to update security or other software without requiring that the user purchase an entirely new operating system. You can even load and implement a new operating system if you choose as long as the new operating system is compatible with your hardware. If not, a few adjustments in hardware will rectify the situation and allow an old computer to see more years than if the operating system were not so flexible to change.
Operating systems also manage the computer's resources, such as its processor and disk space. The operating system does this resource management while providing a consistent way for applications to utilize hardware without each application having to be coded for all aspects of the details of the hardware.
The importance of these attributes of the operating system is more than may be thought since the concepts are relatively simple in nature. Managing hardware keeps your CPU happy and you using all of the applications you need when you need them. Providing a consistent and stable application interface allows for the running of an application written by a developer on one computer that will run on any computer of similar style or type even if the memory or capacity for storage differs from the computer that the application originated from during the creation of the application. This is a specialty done by operating system software that other software applications do not have to the same degree.
As you can see, the operating system is the real operator of the computer. We are only a tool for initiation that the operation system needs to implement its vast array of functions to make our lives easier and more productive.