Applications and operating systems in the real world
You would not be using the computer that you’re on right now without the operating system and the desktop applications that allow you to do certain things. It wouldn’t turn on, you wouldn’t see anything on the screen and you’d just be mindlessly bashing the keyboard. Essentially, your laptop’s only function would be as a percussion instrument.
Every computer needs an operating system and a range of desktop applications. These bad boys are designed and developed by expert software engineers!
You should be thankful for the software engineers that design and develop operating systems and desktop applications. Without these guys, you wouldn’t be able to write your essay on Word; you wouldn’t be able to play your favourite real-time strategy game like Command & Conquer; you wouldn’t be able to upload the photos from your beer-soaked ‘lads weekend’ or your ‘night out with the girls’; and most importantly, you wouldn’t be able to get on AllAboutCareers.com!
What is an operating system?
According to Hitachi, “An operating system is a software program or set of programs that mediate access between physical devices (such as a keyboard, mouse, monitor, disk drive or network connection) and application programs (such as a word processor, World-Wide Web browser or electronic mail client).”*
Basically, the operating system (a.k.a. the OS) provides the user with the ability to actually use the computer. It is a software platform from which you can ‘operate’ various different applications to achieve what you want to achieve, do what you want to do and learn what you want to learn.
Every kind of computer device has an operating system, from laptops and desktops, to consoles and mobile phones. The most famous operating systems are Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
What is an application?
According to the Microsoft Developer Network’s Glossary, an application is “a program used to perform a related set of user tasks; often relatively complex and sophisticated.”**
Basically though, an application is a program which runs on your computer, like Word, Excel, Outlook, iTunes, Entourage, Photoshop or GIMP, which allows you to perform specific tasks like editing photos, listening to music or creating an invitation for your lobster-themed fancy dress party.
What are the different responsibilities between a developer and a designer?
Software developers and designers work their socks off to make sure operating systems and applications are usable, scalable and functional. Moreover, application developers and designers are now tasked with making sure that applications are compatible across different platforms.
The developers deal with the core programming responsibilities that make operating systems and applications actually work. They are presented with a problem or a task and are then required to develop a solution in accordance with the demands of the specific project.
Designers, on the other hand, focus on the look and feel of the user interface. After all, you wouldn’t want to use a desktop application which is confusing, disjointed and painful to look at because of its garish pink and fluorescent-yellow colour scheme.
Is there more work available as a developer or a designer?
Considering the fact that there are a very limited amount of operating systems out there, OS development is a very niche area of work and very few people pursue careers in this arena. It is possible though!
However, it’s more likely that you’d be working on the development and design of operating system updates. Who knows? You could even be developing the new Windows or the next Mac OS X update! Operating systems tend to be developed using programming languages, such as C# and C++.
A lot more career opportunities are available in the development of desktop applications. These guys tend to use programming languages, such as C#, C++ or Java, to develop all kinds of weird and wonderful applications. Cross-platform compatibility is of paramount importance here, because ideally the application you develop will work on various different operating systems. This is where multimedia programmers come in.
Designers in this area focus on how the application and operating system looks. These guys combine graphic design skills with specific knowledge of computer programmes to create and arrange the bits and pieces that comprise the interface of the application or operating system.
What is GUI design?
Essentially, it’s a designer’s job to make sure everything looks good and is simple and efficient to use. These guys manipulate how text, buttons, symbols and images are arranged on the page. This area of design is often known as Graphical User Interface (GUI) design.
Software developers and designers who pursue careers in this area are likely to work for large computer companies like Windows, IBM, Apple or Oracle.
Alternatively, you might work for government organisations, independent software engineering agencies or I.T. consultancies.
The future of software development
Many software developers will eventually become independent contractors, who work on a freelance basis for a range of different clients and get their teeth stuck into various projects throughout their careers. This career path tends to offer higher wages, but often provides less job security.
One thing to bear in mind before you dive headfirst into this area of development is that ‘cloud computing’ is on the rise. In the future, it is widely anticipated that everything you do with your computer will be done online, i.e. “in the cloud”, and traditional operating systems and desktop applications will be a thing of the past. Google has even developed its own web-based operating system, called Google Chrome OS.
Do you speak the language of programme, which is foreign to most of us mere mortals? Are you app happy? If so, why not consider a career in applications and systems or design and programming?