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An operating system is the computer software that you see when you first turn the computer on. It provides the "look and feel" for all the applications that you run on the computer.
You'll learn more about operating systems in Chapter 2, "Concepts of Information Technology."
Although we've chosen to use Microsoft Windows XP as the operating system for our examples, it's not the only operating system in widespread use. In this section, we briefly introduce some of the other operating systems that you might encounter in the workplace. Remember, the ICDL can be administered on any operating system.
Microsoft Windows XP is the culmination of a long line of personal computer operating systems released by Microsoft. Figure 1.1 shows Windows XP in action. Windows XP has a rounded, colorful theme for user interface elements. You'll see a lot more of Windows XP in this book because it's the operating system we've chosen for our examples. It's also one of the operating systems that you're most likely to meet in a professional setting.
Another operating system that you might use in a business setting is Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional, shown in Figure 1.2. As you can see, the user interface for Windows 2000 is less flashy than that for Windows XP. However, the basic functions are the same. A few things are located or labeled differently, but if you know Windows XP you won't find it hard to learn Windows 2000 (or vice versa).
There are other versions of Windows 2000, such as Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server. These versions, as well as the newer Windows Server 2003, are generally used on network serverscomputers that store common files for hundreds or thousands of users. You're unlikely to meet any of these operating systems on your desktop.
Microsoft created many versions of Windows before Windows XP and Windows 2000. They include Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. Because it costs money to upgrade, some businesses are still using these older versions. By and large, if you know one version of Windows well, you should find other versions easy to learn. Older versions of Windows lack some of the features you might be used to. For example, Windows 3.1 does not include the search technology that Windows XP uses to find files. In addition, earlier versions don't look the same as recent versions.
An operating system that's been much in the news recently is Linux. Actually, Linux is an entire family of operating systems; there are numerous Linux "distributions" that vary slightly in look, contents, and support. But what they have in common is an open source software core . Open source software is usually free and supported by volunteers. Although Linux started out only being used by a few computer professionals, it's made great strides toward user-friendliness in recent years . Thanks to the low cost, many large organizations are eyeing Linux as a desktop operating system, and you might end up using a Linux system. Figure 1.3 shows a typical Linux system in action.
In some industries, such as graphic design or music production, the Apple Macintosh computer has a substantial following. The current operating system for the Mac is Mac OS X 10.3. Mac operating systems are renowned for well-designed graphics and ease of use across many applications. Although OS X is very different from Windows, you'll find that they share many of the same basic concepts such as windows and mouse use. Figure 1.4 is an example of what Mac OS X looks like with an application open.
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