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Definition of operating system utilities

Updated February 21, 2017

Operating systems have many different software programs that help them run basic processes for the computer. Some of this software users can replace or delete. Other types of software are vital to the operating system and help it function correctly. Likewise, some software is highly complex and multilayered, while other types are simple and take up only a little space. Utilities tend to be smaller, more basic types of software.

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Operating System

An operating system is a conglomeration of software that controls the hardware of the computer and ensures that the computer can perform all its basic functions, which are necessary for all other programs to work. The operating system helps additional programs integrate with the computer so that they can run. Because the operating system is so important, it is usually the first software added to the computer. Operating systems contain a number of utilities.


A utility in an operating system is a computer program that performs a single task, usually very specific and related to only part of the operating system software. These programs work mostly with system resources such as memory and basic data flow. They often help computers organise their memory and set apart memory for applications that are added later in the life of the computer.


Operating systems also use software known as applications, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell what the difference is. In general, utilities are smaller and more simple than applications. Applications are complex and perform many functions instead of only one, often functions that are not directly related to the basic computer structure. Word processors and datasheet programs are two of the most common applications.


There are utilities for most components of the operating system. One of the most common types is the disk drive utility, which manages the disk drives that the computer creates. Other utilities manage printers and other basic devices that are linked to the computer and need a direct line to computer memory.


Some utilities in operating systems may not be completely necessary, and some utilities can even be part of applications. For instance, a simple program within an application that allows it to print to multiple locations may be considered a utility, as can simple tools within an operating systems. These tools can often be added on or taken away from the operating system as desired.

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About the Author

Tyler Lacoma has worked as a writer and editor for several years after graduating from George Fox University with a degree in business management and writing/literature. He works on business and technology topics for clients such as Obsessable, EBSCO, Drop.io, The TAC Group, Anaxos, Dynamic Page Solutions and others, specializing in ecology, marketing and modern trends.

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