Which operating system controls a quantum computer

The market offers various operating systems for computers. An overview.

What is an operating system?

The operating system (OS) is the central software of the computer: It controls the input and output systems, manages the stored data and serves as the basis for user programs. In addition, operating systems usually provide a basic set of programs such as Internet browsers, image viewing software or simple word processing programs.
When you switch on a computer, the first program started is the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). It is located in permanent memory on the motherboard. The BIOS carries out a self-test and then loads the operating system. The BIOS manages the data flow between the various hardware components until this task is taken over by the operating system. How many tasks the BIOS takes on depends on the operating system. With Linux or newer Windows versions, it is mainly needed for the start-up process.

Pixabay.com/kropekk_pl | CC0

Which operating system?

The choice of operating system depends primarily on which computer it is used for: What hardware do you want to manage? Is it a stand-alone computer or is it integrated into a network? Which programs should be run on it? Does one or more people work on the computer? But of course it is also a question of cost whether a commercial product like Windows is used or free software like Linux is used. (See also: Tips on software procurement)
Only three operating systems actually play a role in the home computer sector: Windows from Microsoft, MacOS from Apple and the open source software Linux. For network servers there are other relevant operating systems such as Unix or Novel, on tablets and smartphones there are other operating systems such as Android.
Programs such as text or image processing software, Internet browsers or computer games are written for a specific operating system and can then only be installed on a computer that works with this operating system. Many, but by no means all, programs are also available in different versions for the respective platforms.


Windows is the name of a number of Microsoft operating systems, the latest version of which is Windows 10. Microsoft's first operating system was MS-DOS, which was used in 1981 for the first PCs made by the hardware company IBM. DOS was later expanded to include the Windows graphical user interface, and the combination of MS-DOS and Windows became the market leader in home computing. Since Windows XP it is an independent operating system that is no longer based on DOS.


When Apple released the Macintosh computer with the MacOs operating system in 1984, it was the first computer to be sold with a graphical user interface. The current operating system for the Mac is called MacOS X. The basis of MacOS X is the Unix-based Darwin open source operating system.


The Unix operating system was developed in the late 1960s at Bell Laboratories, part of the American telephone company AT&T. Based on this system, various commercial and free Unix versions were created by different companies and developers.


Linux is a Unix variation, for which the Finn Linus Torvald developed the basis in 1991. Since the source code of Linux is open, the development of the operating system is not in the hands of individuals or corporations, but of a worldwide community of programmers. In order to simplify the installation even for inexperienced users, there are commercial and non-commercial distributions such as SuSE or Debian, in which the necessary tools of the operating system and various programs have been put together.

Teaching media at SESAM

At SESAM you will find teaching materials and media on everything to do with computers.


This text is licensed under a Creative Commons license. You are allowed to reproduce, distribute and edit the content if you state the name of the author and distribute the text under the same license conditions. Please note that the images are subject to different copyright provisions.


Andreas Konitzer and Henriette Carle

© State Media Center Baden-Württemberg 2021
All rights reserved
Reproduction only with the approval of the LMZ