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Chapter 3. System Software > The Operating System

The Operating System

Every personal computer ever made has an operating system at its heart. An operating system (often abbreviated as OS) is a highly specialized program that tells the computer's hardware components how to behave and talk to each other. It also takes care of the user interface—the part of the software that handles interaction with a computer's users. This latter part of the system software gets all of the attention, mostly because it's the most visible part of the operating system. Operating systems go much deeper than their user interfaces, though.

Under your Mac's serene surface area of windows and icons is a labyrinth of programming code that's busily moving data between the hard drive, the memory, and the monitor, all the while keeping track of what programs are running, which windows are open, and what network connections it needs to maintain. Add to that keeping track of every key press and mouse click, and you start to understand why operating systems get so big and complex. And that's just the start of things. Fortunately, you don't have to become too intimately acquainted with the inner workings of your Mac's operating system, but it's a good idea to understand the basics of how it all works. That way, when you run into a problem or need to do some tweaking beyond moving a few folders around, you're more likely to have the knowledge required to take care of things yourself.


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