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Peer Review

How Operating Systems Work



Overall Rating:

2.73 stars
Content Quality: 4.1 stars
Effectiveness: 4 stars
Ease of Use:
Reviewed: Feb 13, 2004 by Information Technology Editorial Board
Overview: This material is an introductionary tutorial on operating systems included in
HowStuffWorks, a News & Information Web site covering a variety of topics
ranging from science and technology to entertainment. Time Magazine has included
HowStuffWorks on its "50 Best Web sites" list. The tutorial covers six
functions of operating systems, namely Processor management, Memory management,
Device management, Storage management, Application interface and User interface.
The site provies an introduction to operating systems in general. It consists
of 9 sections. There is a general introduction, followed by a high-level
overview of operating systems in general, a section devoted to the booting
process, and 4 sections each devoted to a specific function of an operating
systems (process management, memory and storage management, device management,
and application program and user interfaces). There is a small discussion on
the future of operating systems (essentially drawing attention to the importance
of the open source movement). Finally, the material contains a long list of
URLs of sites where the reader can find information about related topics (e.g.,
how caching works) and on specific operating systems.
The author is Curt Franklin.

Learning Goals: The major aim of the site is to give students an introduction to Operating
Systems. On completion of the material, students will be able to
a. Define the concept of an operating system;
b. Describe the booting process;
c. Describe the various functions of a standard operating system (process
management, memory and storage management, device management and interfacing to
application programs and users).
Target Student Population: The material is aimed at persons wishing to get an introduction to Operating
Systems. It could be used in introductory courses in Computer Science or
Information Technology (College level students taking operating systems or
computer organization courses).

Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: A basic familiarity with computer architectures might be helpful. However, the
material itself contains numerous links and a student might be able to acquire
the prerequisite knowledge by following the links provided in the material
Type of Material: Tutorial/Textbook (Tutorial that presents and demonstrates concepts).
Recommended Uses: The material could be used for background reading in a introductory course in
Computer Science or Information Technology. It could also be used to introduce
students to operating systems
Technical Requirements: Web browser (HTML)

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.1 stars
Strengths: The material is well-written and clearly explains the major concepts. It also
provides some nice illustrations of certain aspects of an operating system
(e.g., device management).The material introduces essential concepts of
operating systems.
Concerns: Because the material is presented by a commercial site, the page contains a
number of advertisements, some of which are distracting.

Also, the material does not provide many examples of the more general concepts

It may be useful to give an example for a Real-time operating system in The Bare
Bones section.

It may be helpful to describe various process states before mentioning them in
Process Management section.

It may be preferable to mention a more recent operating system than Windows 98
as an example.

It will be useful to include a diagram that shows memory allocation for the
example given in Memory Management section.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4 stars
Strengths: The material is extremely well-explained.
It introduces essential concepts and has further links to other useful
information including how computer hardware works and various operating systems.

Concerns: Since this is essentially textbook material, in order for it to be used
effectively, the instructor would have to add significant additional material,
such as specific learning outcomes and assignments and self-study quizzes.
Some of the linked sites are discontinued (e.g. Current Operating Systems
Projects and OS-related Research). There is no assessment component.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Strengths: The material is extremely well presented. Navigation is straightforward and all
the links seem to be working.Two versions are provided, normal view and
printable version.

Concerns: It needs additional graphics to explain the examples. Some of the animated
graphics do not add much to the pedagogy.

Other Issues and Comments: This is an excellent source for background reading on operating systems. Since
it is a commercial site, several advertisements occupy part of the screen
in the normal view, but they are not very distractive.