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What is My Operating System?

What Is My Operating System?

Linsey Knerl
Reading time: 5 minutes
To play games, run software, and even use certain accessories, you'll need to know that your operating system is compatible. Compatibility is essential for preventing many bugs and errors, as well as ensuring a satisfactory computing experience. How can you determine which operating system you use? We'll show you how to check and why it's important.

What is an operating system?

The operating system (OS) is the system software used to manage the computer’s software, hardware, and resources. The OS is needed to coordinate common services and provide a user interface for interacting with the program and hardware.
Operating systems are important since we can’t use computers without them. But what is the purpose of an operating system? The most basic operating system definition is fairly straightforward. This tells you what an operating system is, but you may still be wondering, "what is MY operating system?" Before we can answer that question, it's important to know about the available systems.

Types of operating systems

If you run a standard home computer, whether it’s a desktop or laptop, you likely run one of three main operating systems:
  • Microsoft Windows: This is the system that a PC uses
  • iOS: Created by Apple, it’s essential for Mac computers
  • Linux: Not as common, this is an option that many computer enthusiasts and DIYers enjoy
There are also operating systems for mobile devices, such as the Android OS for phones and tablets and the Amazon Kindle OS for the company’s Kindle and Kindle Fire tablets. Apple and Windows have mobile devices that use a variation of their standard OS as well. There is also ChromeOS which was developed from Linux for use in Chromebook notebooks.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that you’re running either Windows or iOS. If you purchased a computer from a store or specific manufacturer, you likely use one of these two. Linux isn’t common unless you know quite a bit about computers and are comfortable installing operating systems on your own. If you own a Chromebook, searching for articles specific to Chrome OS is your best bet.

Operating system versions

Each of the main OS types has different versions. Think of each version as an update or upgrade on the previous version. Computer operating system designers will run a model for a few years before changing to a new one. Each continues to be updated until Microsoft or Apple decide that they want to retire it and replace it with a model that has a completely different name.
One example is the Microsoft Windows operating system. When the product was first developed, it was called "Windows 1." As time went on, new versions were developed including NT, 98, 2000, Me, XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and the current version Windows 10. Each version also had various updates that changed or improved on the functionality in ways you may not have noticed. While you would see drastic differences between Vista and Windows 7, for example, there were minor updates within each of these versions.
Operating system versions had their winners and losers. Many people barely speak of the NT years, and many users were slow to change over from Vista to Windows 7. By holding on to an outdated and unsupported version, you are putting your computer at risk. The security updates that Windows produces are for current versions only.
Old versions become increasingly unstable and unable to work well with the newer games and software that hit the market. Looking at a new computer game specs, for example, you can see what Windows versions it works with. If your version isn't listed, it may not be compatible, which makes gameplay difficult or even impossible.

How to check your version

Now that you know how vital it is to run current versions of your OS and ensure they are compatible with your favorite programs, you may be wondering how to check it. This is a simple process.

For Windows computers:

  1. Press the Windows key + R at the same time
  2. In the Open box, type winver
  3. Select OK
You should now see your Windows version. You may also want to find out additional information about your OS, including whether it is a 32-bit or 64-bit system. This makes a difference for some software programs. To learn this information:
  1. Click the Start button at the bottom left of your computer screen
  2. Select Settings, then System, and About
  3. Open the About settings
  4. Select System type under Device specifications
It will tell you which system you are running, including the edition and version, and if it’s 32-bit or 64-bit.

For Mac computers:

  1. Click on the Apple icon at the top left of your screen
  2. Click About This Mac
You will be able to see the version of the macOS along with other details like when your computer was built, how much memory you have, and details about your processors. You can also find out if you need to update your OS, although most users will opt to enable automatic updates.

How to perform an operating system update for Windows

Your operating system should be set up to automatically update when needed. It's possible that this isn't enabled, or you may prefer to initiate manual updates. You may also have “snoozed” the update notification and then forgotten to go back and run the update. To see if your Windows 10 OS is updated:
  1. Click the Start button at the bottom left of your computer screen
  2. Select Settings, then Update & Security, and Windows Update
This screen will tell you if you are updated, as well as the last time you ran an update. You may also check for updates if you haven’t been connected to the internet in a while, or if you think you may have missed an update. Click the Check for Updates button to refresh your status and see if you are still running the most current Windows 10 operating system.
If updates are available, you can select Update and Install Now. Click Advanced Options to specify more preferences for future updates, or change your active hours to tell Windows that you don’t want updates to automatically run during specific hours. The latter is particularly useful for avoiding interruptions when you’re working or gaming.

In summary

Operating systems will continue to evolve and change as our use of computers becomes more involved. In order to keep up with the demands of intensive programs, to stay secure, and to fulfill the requests that new tech accessories place on them, computers require more and more updates.

About the Author

Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

Disclosure: Our site may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.