What is an Operating System? A historical investigation (1954–1964)

Abstract : Today, we could hardly imagine using a computer without an operating system , it shapes and frames how we access the computer and its peripherals and supports our interaction with it throughout. But when the first computers were developed after World War II there was no such thing. In fact, only about a decade after the birth of digital computing did the first attempts at some kind of operating systems appear. It took another decade before the idea became widely accepted and most computers would be rented out or sold with an operating system. With the development of ambitious operating systems during the mid 1960s, such as OS/360 for the IBM machines or Multics for an integrated time-sharing system, a more systematic framework was formulated that has determined our modern view of the operating system. Especially the emergence of time-sharing systems has traditionally been seen as a turning point in the development of operating systems. In the history of computing this has become a classic point of passage because of the sometimes fierce discussions between the proponents of time-sharing and the defenders of batch-processing in the late 1960s. Important as these discussions were for thinking about the use and about the users of the computer , the emphasis on this transition has biased the view on early computer systems. As a matter of fact, the period between roughly 1954 and 1964 cannot be merely discounted as " empirical " or " prehistoric " , nor as the time of batch-processing systems. Rather a variety of systems were developed and the very idea(s) of an operating system had to be created from scratch
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Contributor : Maarten Bullynck <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - 10:05:05 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - 2:22:10 AM

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Maarten Bullynck. What is an Operating System? A historical investigation (1954–1964). Reflections on Programming Systems. Historical and Philosophical Aspects, 2019. ⟨halshs-01541602v2⟩

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