What was the First Operating System?

I recently had to upgrade my phone. Too old, the apps couldn’t update anymore, and I needed a more recent operating system. That brings back memories as, once upon a time, I had to tweak my config to play games on my PC, forcing it to use only MS-DOS because with Windows it wouldn’t work. Not really nostalgic about any of that.

But while I was thinking about that, I tried to remember what was before DOS and I couldn’t remember the name. Well, I went on and search for:

Why Create an Operating System?

First, if you are not familiar with the concept of an operating system, it can be described as specialized software that maintains and controls all of the computer’s other programs and hardware. It allows you to interact with the computer by utilizing a mouse and keyboard to provide commands.

The operating system also ensures that several programs operate smoothly without interfering with one another. It handles duties like file management, application execution, and internet access. Essentially, it is the software that runs your computer and allows you to perform the activities you enjoy, including as browsing the web, playing games, and writing documents.

the IBM ® System/360

The first computers didn’t have an operating system. The user would basically write the program, the computer executed it, and that was all.

In the 1960s, IBM introduced the System/360 series of machines, aiming to develop a single operating system, the OS/360, for these new hardware systems. However, the development of OS/360 faced numerous challenges and delays. Performance differences across the hardware range necessitated the introduction of a whole family of operating systems rather than a single unified system.

The first-generation operating systems

The first-generation operating systems were limited in their capabilities. They could only run on a specific type of computer and lacked multitasking capabilities. Users could only run one program at a time, and these systems were not particularly user-friendly, requiring extensive technical knowledge to operate.

Created by Robert L. Patrick of General Motors Research and Owen Mock of North American Aviation in 1956 for the IBM 704, the GM-NAA I/O was one of the earliest examples of an operating system used for real work.

The IBM 704 was introduced in 1955 as the first machine in the IBM 700 series scientific line—it was designed specifically for engineering and scientific calculations. It was the first machine with magnetic core memory and the first to use the FORTRAN programming language. (source)

The second generation of operating systems brought about the OS/360, developed by IBM in the early 1960s. It was a comprehensive, multi-user, multitasking system that supported virtual memory and offered compatibility with various peripherals.

However, these operating systems were still challenging to use, leading to limited popularity. UNIX emerged as the most popular operating system during this era, while Microsoft’s early attempts did not gain widespread adoption.

The Operating Systems for the Personal Computers

In 1981, Microsoft introduced MS-DOS, a single-user, single-tasking operating system for IBM personal computers. It was heavily influenced by the CP/M operating system developed by Digital Research Inc. MS-DOS provided a command-line interface and became the dominant operating system in the early days of personal computing, despite its limitations.

Microsoft’s landmark release of Windows NT in 1993 marked the fourth generation of operating systems. Built upon the UNIX operating system, Windows NT was a multi-user, multitasking system with a graphical user interface (GUI) and networking capabilities. Windows NT replaced MS-DOS on IBM personal computers and laid the foundation for the modern Windows operating system that we use today.

The development of microprocessors revolutionized computing by making it more affordable and accessible. This led to the proliferation of personal computers, which required standardized operating systems to control the interchangeable hardware components. Digital Research’s CP/M-80 and Microsoft’s MS-DOS played crucial roles in this era, providing the necessary software foundations.

If you’re interested in the history of computer technologies, I wrote about the invention of the Wi-Fi, but also of the Internet.

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