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5.3.1 Software - Operating Systems & user interfaces 

Revision Points:  (Full course)
Candidates are expected to be able to:
  • identify different types of software (operating systems, user interfaces, utilities, applications software, programming languages);
  • identify the main features of a graphical user interface;
  • identify the main difference between a graphical user interface (GUI) and command line interface, explaining their relative benefits and drawbacks.

Operating Systems Software: 

The Operating System (OS) of a computer is the complex software that actually controls the input, output and storage devices of the computer, as well as acting as an interface between the user and any other software that is installed.

Examples of systems software:

  • Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Windows NT, LINUX and UNIX are different operating systems that can be used to control computers.

The following are examples of the functions that an operating system has to be able to do:

  • Allocating a processor 'time slot' for each programming task that is running
  • Managing the priorities for each programming task that is running
  • Allocating and keeping track of the memory used for storing programs and data
  • Managing the transfer of data between memory and the backing store
  • Handling input operations from the user and from other input devices
  • Handling output operations
  • Managing the system security

System utility programs work with the operating system. Examples include programs to format floppy disks, copy files etc.

Types of user interface:

Many computer or database operating systems use complex programming languages which are not easy to use.  A user interface is created to allow easier control of the operating system by the user of the system.

A good interface should be easy to use, for example: 

  • consistent menu structures;
  • consistent operations from actions like clicking the right mouse button.

Examples of user interfaces:

  • Command line interface (CLI) - commands are typed directly into the computer and then the enter button is pressed to run them. The commands must be entered correctly and are often abbreviated. They can be difficult to remember.


c:>copy c:\examplefile.doc a:

This command would copy a file called 'examplefile.doc' from the hard drive (drive C) to a floppy disk (drive A).

  • The Windows 98 screen - a typical WIMP interfaceGraphical User Interface (GUI) - This type of interface is sometimes called a WIMP interface (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer). The contents of folders (directories) and the output from programs are displayed in rectangular 'windows' which can be moved and resized. Icons (small pictures) are used to represent files or software and the mouse can be used to move the icons, run programs and select options from pull-down menus.
  • Features of a good GUI:
    • Items are placed in similar positions on different screens.
    • Navigation between screens is easy and consistent with an escape route available to return to a main screen.
    • Text should be easy to read for all users.
    • Screens should be uncluttered with good use made of colour.

Comparing a Command Line Interface with a Graphical User Interface



The user has to know the commands or look them up

The commands are much more intuitive

The commands usually have to be entered in full

Command shortcuts are possible such as <Ctrl> C to copy

The user has to learn the commands and more training is needed

Less learning and training by the user is required

The interface can be daunting, more difficult to use and the user is more likely to make mistakes

The GUI is more user-friendly

There are no graphics

Graphics are used to represent tasks, files etc.

There are no menus

Menus are used for making choices and selections

The user has complete control

The user choices are restricted to those on the menus

Commands have to be entered accurately with the correct spellings and syntax (rules)

Spelling and typing errors are avoided

No pointing device is used

A pointing device is used to select items and make choices


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