What is an Operating System (OS)?
An Operating System (OS) is a computer program installed to the computer on its initial boot up and used to manage other software and the hardware components while providing a graphical user interface (GUI) for computer users (Peopleware) to interact with the computer (White, 2016). An OS is ranked under the systems software category and without it, computer operations, such as, file management, data input, and output and memory organization are crippled.
What is a Network Operating System (NOS)?
A Network Operation System (NOS) handles network operations among computers connected to a network. A NOS is an enormous, complex operating system software that apart from working as a regular OS described above, manages how resources are distributed and shared among computers in a Local Area Network (LAN) (Li, 2013). To allow a computer to handle both local and network functions, a NOS is attached to an operating system or produced with combination of both capabilities of the OS and the NOS.
Differences Between OS and NOS
An operating system (OS) is a software installed on a computer and used to manage all the processes within the computer. For example, an operating system controls other programs like word processors, spreadsheets and file managers. Additionally, the OS controls all hardware components like keyboard, mouse and secondary storage devices. We can basically think of an OS as an administrator of the computer it resides in.
Network Operating System (NOS), on the other hand, can be considered as a network administrator. Unlike the OS discussed above, the NOS manages different network operations within a network. In other words, the OS manages activities within a single computer while the NOS manages a group of devices within the same network. Some of the functions of a NOS include; managing client needs, file sharing, and printing and distribution of applications among computers in a Network. An example of standalone NOS is the operating system designed for network devices like routers and switches.
With the advancement in technology, it is hard to draw a line between OS and NOS since most operating system developers like windows have incorporated Network Operating System in their Operating Systems.
The Microsoft Windows Enterprise OS
The Microsoft Windows enterprise OS assimilates a Network Operating System to a regular computer operating system. All Microsoft Windows operating systems are designed to support network operations like surfing. However, there are special operating systems designed to specifically manage networks and other devices on the network, for example, the Microsoft Windows Server Operating System. The server OS grants access permission to network users and manages directory services. Other windows operating systems designed for user machines provide interfaces needed to connect to the network.
Irrespective of whether a windows OS is specially designed for server side or client computers, they deliver the following features and services:
Windows servers operating systems allow access to files and data stored in a centralized server space. These server operating systems also provide access controls where certain users may be given access privileges. Other windows operating systems installed on the users’ computers allow file sharing among computers connected to the same network using the Network and Sharing Center file sharing option that users may enable and disable as they wish.
Windows OS come with a firewall (Windows Firewall) that blocks suspicious programs and files using packet filtering approach (Tidrow, Boyce, & Shapiro, 2017). The windows firewall, initially called Internet Connection Firewall, can also be customized by the user to either restrict or allow certain programs from/to accessing the internet.
With the windows operating system, either servers or computers connected to a printer may be used as print servers for other computers in the same network using the Network and Sharing Center printer sharing feature that is supported by most windows OS. Like file sharing, Windows OS provide access control settings used to set users and/or groups allowed to use printers in a network.
An Example of LAN With Client/Server Relationship
Li, H. (2013). Network Operating System. Information Technology Journal, 12(22), 6531-6536.
Tidrow, R., Boyce, J., & Shapiro, J. R. (2017). Protecting Yourself with Windows Firewall. Windows® 10 Anniversary Update Bible, 113-129.
White, C. (2016). Data communications & computer networks. 7th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.