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Operating Systems

by Paul McJones last modified 2009-05-16 20:53

Paul McJones, editor

Last updated May 7, 2009.


The goal of this project is to preserve source code, design documents, and other materials concerning the origins and development of operating systems. This is a project of the Computer History Museum's Software Preservation Group. Comments, suggestions, and donations of additional materials are greatly appreciated.



Thanks to Bob Patrick for his enthusiastic support of this web site, and for contributing the initial articles.

Large general purpose mainframe operating systems

Early batch systems

In the early 1950s, the engineering/scientific community in the U.S. quickly embraced the electronic computer because they had a large backlog of applications awaiting digital solution. However, there were two problems: The programming problem and the operations problem. Solutions to reduce the programming effort and increase its quality arose in the form of programming languages such as FORTRAN, COBOL, ALGOL, APL, and more recently C, C++, and Java.

Less well known are the efforts to push more jobs per day through each installed computer system so programs could be developed quicker and more production application programs could be run to produce numbers for analysis, design, and manufacture. To get more jobs per shift through an installed computer, Operating System Software was developed.  The first such system was designed at General Motors Research Labs and implemented by personnel from GMR and NAA (North American Aviation) for the IBM 704.  It first ran production in 1956 and greatly increased the number of jobs per day a 704 could process.  The following first-hand article describes how it came about.

  • Robert L. Patrick. Operating Systems at Conception. December 2008. HTML

Evolution of Main Frame Operating Systems

The Direct Couple was an important step in the evolution of large mainframe operating systems which led to OS/360. The series started with the GM-NAA Operating System in 1956, and progressed through SOS, IBSYS, the Direct Couple, and then to the vast OS/360 in 1965.

  • Robert L. Patrick and Richard K. Van Vranken. The Direct Couple for the IBM 7090. February 2009. HTML

General purpose timesharing (multiuser) systems

Examples: Compatible Timesharing System (CTSS), Project Genie, Unix

Single-application control programs

Examples: Airline Control Program/Transaction Processing Facility (ACP/TPF) for Sabre/PARS airline reservation system

Fault-tolerant control systems

Examples: Tandem NonStop Guardian Operating System

Personal operating systems

Examples: CP/M, MS-DOS, Macintosh OS, Microsoft Windows

Miscellaneous special purpose systems

Examples: real-time process control, hypervisors (CP/CMS, etc.)

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