Pre-class Activity 1

I try to post some pre-class activities every week before the lecture. These are activities that you can do or think about before each lecture. We may not explicitly discuss every pre-class activity during lecture and tutorial, but nonetheless following each activity could help improve your understanding of the class. Feel free to discuss these activities online (via commenting on this blog post) with your classmates and the teaching staff.

What is an operating system?

  1. Google “define: operating system” and see what the rest of the Web say.
  2. Microsoft tried to bundle the Internet Explorer with every Microsoft Windows, claiming that it is part of the operating system (see Wikipedia entry on US vs MSFT)

    Based on your understanding what an operating system is, should the Web browser be part of the operating system?

  3. Recently, a new phrase “The Web browser is the new operating system” has emerged. What does this mean? Do you agree?

11 thoughts on “Pre-class Activity 1

  1. for the question that what an operating system is, I just read from a that OS is just like a teacher in class, who schedules the use of different equipment and coordinates student activities. Different software applications and hardware stuffs are just like these students. Then for Web browser I do not think it is part of OS because I know some early operating systems that are even just based on DOS, which means they do not contain the web browser but they are also called integrated OS.
    Then for the phrase “The Web browser is the new operating system” , recently google has released their new OS called Chrome OS, which is a kind of OS that mostly relies on the Internet. So for this OS maybe it is just a kind of Web browser that process every work of the computing through Internet. I do know this kind of understanding is correct or not. So I still do not agree with this phrase.

  2. The definitions on the Internet seem to agree that the operating system is the software that manages computer hardware and controls execution of computer programs (and provides said programs with common services such as access to hardware).

    Based on that definition, I believe that, strictly speaking, the web browser is not part of the OS, but merely an application that relies on the networking functionality exposed by the OS’s API. Having said that, in today’s context where access to the Internet is almost taken for granted, it would be necessary for an OS to come bundled with a web browser. I am hard pressed to find a modern OS that does not come with any form of a browser, text-based (e.g. Lynx) or GUI-based (e.g. IE, Safari). Not having a browser bundled would definitely make surfing the Web very difficult (am I expected to write my own?)

    Today, web browsers are becoming the basis for our tools, due to their support for scripting, an increase in performance (of both hardware and browser), and cloud computing. One can perform many tasks through the browser today: Want to share information with friends? Post it on Facebook. Want to listen to music or watch videos? Go to YouTube. Need to edit a document? Use Google Docs. Want to write some code? Use CodeRun or CodePad.

    Looking at the definition again, the web browser is, in a loose sense (ignoring the portion about managing hardware), an operating system. After all, it provides online applications with common services, and manages the execution of these applications.

  3. Let’s see… I propose the following workaround to the lawsuit.

    1) Make Internet Explorer (iexplorer.exe) the main rendering engine for 2D software applications, part of the OS shell
    2) For their next generation user interface subsystem ie. WPF, adopt HTML+CSS as a window layout description language instead of XAML.
    3) Now, the lawsuit requires Microsoft to “share its API.” Run XAML through a XSLT processor to generate the HTML needed by the user interface rendering engine. But because of the overhead in XSL transformation, no one will want to use the “alternative API”.
    4) Old apps still need to work, based on the win32 graphics API calls. Run these API calls through a compatibility layer but add random delays so performance suffers
    5) Now, Internet Explorer is really part of the OS shell and cannot be removed. Other browsers have no market because the OS can now natively display HTML pages.
    6) ???
    7) Profit!

    Besides, the following approach will also make web apps run better and faster! Imagine a hardware accelerated 3D web app. Easily achievable by my proposed method.

    Instead of the old kernel + shell + applications, we now have kernel + Internet Explorer + web apps! (Answer for Q3)

  4. 1. Prof has already explained this in detail in the lecture.
    2. In my opinion, web browsers can choose either to be a part of the operating system or choose not to be. An advantage of the web browser being a part of the operating system can be that since this will remove one unnecessary layer (browser acting on top of the operating system), it might actually prove to be more efficient. However, a counter argument can be that if this happens, then the browser industry will be converted into a kind of monopoly being dominated by giants like Apple, Microsoft etc. who sell the most operating systems around the world. This would kind of eliminate any only-browser vendors.
    3. I was reading an interesting read on this a few days back – I do not agree with the phrase because I think it would be better to say – “browsers are starting to resemble operating systems in their own right”. This is because as websites are starting to resemble applications, the web browser is also having to resemble an operating system. For example, one of the main functions of an operating system is local storage. Now a days, website developers want to store a large chunk of data on the client machine so that the users can continue to use the application (like a game) even if the internet connection is broken in between. So, for this, browsers have had to make arrangements to store the data in the local memory (one of the main tasks of an operating system). But still, I think there is a very important distinction because as far as I know, the browser still requests the operating system to do this job for it. This is because most of the web browsers are downloaded from the internet and are not part of the operating system (unless the host operating system allows for something like this).

  5. A browser (web browser, even file browser) is not part of an OS, but is just another application that runs on top of the services provided by the OS. The browser depends on the OS to schedule its threads and processes, and uses the interfaces to I/O devices provided by the OS. It doesn’t implement any of the things above by itself.

    I believe the WebOS actually has 2 layers: the operating system that provides an interface to the I/O devices and a web browser on top that provides a nice GUI for the user.

  6. 2. I heard that Microsoft has been fined and they are willing to pay to pre-install their IE in windows. So although they claim that “it is part of the operating system”, I personally think that they just want to increase the number of IE users. As a result, IE is the most popular browser today even when chrome, firefox… are far more better.

    btw, many people just say IE is the best browser for downloading another one :)

    • Sorry for the bad use of terminology. I don’t know how people refer to technology that resembles Chrome OS. I have seen a demo of Chrome OS in June. They provide all the front-end services through a web browser.

  7. 3. “The Web browser is the new operating system”
    At first, I thought about ChromeOS when I read this sentence, but it is actually from an article in 2008, and at this time, no one know this new kind of OS :)
    According to an example from Goyal’s link, a browser is still not an OS. We all know from lecture 1 that OS is a resources manager. OS helps sharing the CPU between applications while a browser just helps prevent itself from sucking up all CPU.

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