5.1: Operating Systems

Exam Board:


What is an Operating System?

An operating system (OS) is software that helps to manage the resources of a computer system.

There are five main functions of an operating system:

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Memory Management & Multitasking

RAM (1).png

The OS reserves memory space in RAM for stored programs to be copied into. The FDE cycle is executed continuously to carry out the instructions. 

The OS also ensures that programs are appropriately managed so that data is stored in correct memory locations and not corrupted

The OS manages tasks so instructions can be executed by the CPU in turn - this is called scheduling.

The OS prevents processes from interfering with others and crashing. Tasks should appear to run simultaneously even though only one process can be executed at a time.

Peripherals Management & Drivers

The OS manages the receiving of data from input devices (such as a keyboard or mouse) and the transfer of data to output devices (such as a monitor or speaker).

User Management

The OS allows users to create, manage and delete accounts with different permissions. It also permits multiple users to log in and change passwords.

Antivirus and firewall software is managed by the OS as well as some data encryption processes.

File Management

A folder and file system is displayed and manipulated allowing for copying, searching, sorting and deleting data.

User Interface

The final function of an operating system is to provide a user interface, allowing a human to interact with the computer system. The way in which a user can navigate a computer system is known as human-computer interaction (HCI).

Graphical User Interface (GUI)

The most common type of user interface is a graphical user interface (GUI) which can be presented in the following ways:

Icons are displayed to represent shortcuts to applications and files.

Multiple windows can be opened at the same time and switched between.


A folder and file system is displayed and manipulated allowing for copying, searching, sorting and deleting data.

The interface can be customised, such as changing font sizes and the desktop background.

The taskbar allows shortcuts to be pinned for quick access.

Menus can be opened from the Start button to display files and shortcuts.

System settings can be accessed such as network and hardware options.

Command-Line Interface

Other types of user interface do exist, such as a command-line interface (CLI).


This type of interface is entirely text-based and requires users to interact with the system by typing commands. This is a complicated process and mistakes could easily accidentally delete data. There are many commands to learn so only experts who have been trained to learn this interface will be able to efficiently make use of it. 

Menu-Driven Interface

A menu-driven interface displays data in a series of linked menus. Examples include cash machines (ATMs) and old iPods.

This type of interface is generally user friendly and easy to use as commands do not need to be memorised. However it can be annoying to find specific data through a large number of menus without a search feature.


Touch-Sensitive Interface

Another type of user interface is a touch-sensitive interface, used with smartphones and tablets.

A human interacts with the device by pressing on a touchscreen, making it very intuitive and suitable for most users without training. Touch-sensitive interfaces may not work with dirty or wet fingers and it will take longer to write text compared to using a keyboard. 

Examining New Tablet

Voice-Driven Interface

A voice-driven interface can be controlled by speaking commands aloud to a listening device. Examples include Amazon's Alexa devices, Apple's Siri technology and Google Home.

This interface is intuitive, can be used hands-free and helps to speed up processes. However commands may be misheard or limited in what can be performed.

Online Discussion

Questo's Questions

5.1 - Operating Systems:

1. Describe each role of the operating system:

  • 1. Manage input and output devices [2]

  • 2. Manage printing [2]

  • 3. Manage processes

  • 4. Manage backing store [2]

  • 5. Manage memory [2]

  • 6. Manage security [2]

2. Describe 5 different ways the operating system can provide a graphical user interface (GUI). [5]

3. Describe two advantages and two disadvantages of using the following types of human-computer interaction (HCI):

  • a. Command-Line interface [4]

  • b. Touch-Sensitive interface [4]

  • c. Menu-Driven interface [4]

  • d. Voice-Driven interface [4]