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Understanding the Linux Kernel by Marco Cesati, Daniel P. Bovet

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1.4. Basic Operating System Concepts

Any computer system includes a basic set of programs called the operating system. The most important program in the set is called the kernel. It is loaded into RAM when the system boots and contains many critical procedures that are needed for the system to operate. The other programs are less crucial utilities; they can provide a wide variety of interactive experiences for the user—as well as doing all the jobs the user bought the computer for—but the essential shape and capabilities of the system are determined by the kernel. The kernel, then, is where we fix our attention in this book. Hence, we'll often use the term "operating system" as a synonym for "kernel."

The operating system must fulfill two main objectives:

  • Interact with the hardware components servicing all low-level programmable elements included in the hardware platform.

  • Provide an execution environment to the applications that run on the computer system (the so-called user programs).

Some operating systems allow all user programs to directly play with the hardware components (a typical example is MS-DOS). In contrast, a Unix-like operating system hides all low-level details concerning the physical organization of the computer from applications run by the user. When a program wants to make use of a hardware resource, it must issue a request to the operating system. The kernel evaluates the request and, if it chooses to grant the resource, interacts with the relative hardware components ...

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