User OS interface, Command Interpreter, and Graphical User Interfaces

User Operating-System Interface

There are two fundamental approaches for users to interface with the operating system. One technique is to provide a command-line interface or command interpreter that allows users to directly enter commands that are to be performed by the operating system. The second approach allows the user to interface with the operating system via a graphical user interface or GUI.

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Command Interpreter

 Some operating systems include the command interpreter in the kernel. Others, such as Windows XP and UNIX, treat the command interpreter as a special program that is running when a job is initiated or when a user first logs on (on interactive systems). On systems with multiple command interpreters to choose from, the interpreters are known as shells. For example, on UNIX and Linux systems, there are several different shells a user may choose from including the Bourne shell, C shell, Bourne-Again shell, the Korn shell, etc. Most shells provide similar functionality with only minor differences; most users choose a shell based upon personal preference. The main function of the command interpreter is to get and execute the next user-specified command. Many of the commands given at this level manipulate files: create, delete, list, print, copy, execute, and so on. The MS-DOS and UNIX shells operate in this way. There are two general ways in which these commands can be implemented. In one approach, the command interpreter itself contains the code to execute the command.

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 For example, a command to delete a file may cause the command interpreter to jump to a section of its code that sets up the parameters and makes the appropriate system call. In this case, the number of commands that can be given determines the size of the command interpreter, since each command requires its own implementing code. An alternative approach—used by UNIX, among other operating systems —implements most commands through system programs. In this case, the command interpreter does not understand the command in any way; it merely uses the command to identify a file to be loaded into memory and executed. Thus, the UNIX command to delete a file rm file.tx t would search for a file called rm, load the file into memory, and execute it with the parameter file . txt. The function associated with the rm command would be defined completely by the code in the file rm. In this way, programmers can add new commands to the system easily by creating new files with the proper names. The command-interpreter program, which can be small, does not have to be changed for new commands to be added.

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Graphical User Interfaces

 A second strategy for interfacing with the operating system is through a userfriendly graphical user interface or GUI. Rather than having users directly enter commands via a command-line interface, a GUI allows provides a mouse-based window-and-menu system as an interface. A GUI provides a desktop metaphor where the mouse is moved to position its pointer on images, or icons, on the screen (the desktop) that represent programs, files, directories, and system functions. Depending on the mouse pointer's location, clicking a button on the mouse can invoke a program, select a file or directory—known as a folder— or pull down a menu that contains commands. Graphical user interfaces first appeared due in part to research taking place in the early 1970s at Xerox PARC research facility. The first GUI appeared on the Xerox Alto computer in 1973.

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However, graphical interfaces became more widespread with the advent of Apple Macintosh computers in the 1980s. The user interface to the Macintosh operating system (Mac OS) has undergone various changes over the years, the most significant being the adoption of the Aqua interface that appeared with Mac OS X. Microsoft's first version of Windows—version 1.0—was based upon a GUI interface to the MS-DOS operating system. The various versions of Windows systems proceeding this initial version have made cosmetic changes to the appearance of the GUI and several enhancements to its functionality, including the Windows Explorer. Traditionally, UNIX systems have been dominated by command-line interfaces, although there are various GUI interfaces available, including the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) and X-Windows systems that are common on commercial versions of UNIX such as Solaris and IBM's AIX system.

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 However, there has been significant development in GUI designs from various opensource projects such as K Desktop Environment (or KDE) and the GNOME desktop by the GNU project. Both the KDE and GNOME desktops rim on Linux and various UNIX systems and are available under open-source licenses, which means their source code is in the public domain. The choice of whether to use a command-line or GUI interface is mostly one of personal preference. As a very general rule, many UNIX users prefer a command-line interface as they often provide powerful shell interfaces. Alternatively, most Windows users are pleased to use the Windows GUI environment and almost never use the MS-DOS shell interface. The various changes undergone by the Macintosh operating systems provides a nice study in contrast. Historically, Mac OS has not provided a command line interface, always requiring its users to interface with the operating system using its GUI.

User OS interface, Command Interpreter, and Graphical User Interfaces

However, with the release of Mac OS X (which is in part implemented using a UNIX kernel), the operating system now provides both a new Aqua interface and command-line interface as well. The user interface can vary from system to system and even from user to user within a system. It typically is substantially removed from the actual system structure. The design of a useful and friendly user interface is therefore not a direct function of the operating system. In this book, we concentrate on the fundamental problems of providing adequate service to user programs. From the point of view of the operating system, we do not distinguish between user programs and system programs.

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