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What Exactly is a Network Operating System: Definition

A computer operating system referred to as Networking Operating System was designed with the sole purpose of supporting workstations, database, application, file and printer access sharing between multiple computers in a network. It is also referred to as NOS basically a software that, makes it possible for multiple computers to communicate, connect hardware devices and share files with each other and in and, in some instances, older terminals that are connected on a local area network (LAN).

This operating system includes special functions that help in connecting devices and computers to a local-area network and internetwork. Typically the composition of a network operating system would be a compilation of a number of personal computers along with a common printer, server and file server for archival storage, with a local network that ties them all together.

There are certain standalone operating systems, like Microsoft Windows NT and Digital’s OpenVMS, which come with multipurpose capabilities and can also act as network operating systems. Although these are some of the most popular network operating systems- Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Windows Server 2008, Linux and Mac OS X.

Network Operating System Features 

The features of a network operating system include the provision of basic operating system features like support for processors, protocols, automatic hardware detection while supporting multi-processing of applications. Security features such as authentication, logon restrictions, and access control come next in line. Following which is the provision of name and directory services. After this comes the provision of file, print, back-up and web services. It also supports internetworking like routing and WAN ports. And lastly, it handles user management and support for logon and logoff, remote access, system management, auditing tools and administration with graphical interfaces.

What is the role of a network operating system?

Network operating system (NOS) is an operating system which supports to connect a number of autonomous computers, devices and other electronic machines.  A network operating system is a system which also provides facility to connect computers and other devices through a local area network (LAN). For example, in a typical computer network configuration we can see a collection of personal computers along with a common printer, server, file server and others tied together by a local network.

A network operating system includes special functions for connecting computers and devices into a local-area network. Some operating systems like, UNIX, Mac OS include in-built networking functions for network operating system.

The term ‘network operating system’ generally reserved for software that enhances a basic operating system by adding networking features. Novell Netware, Artisoft's LANtastic, Microsoft Windows Server and others are the some of the examples of network operating systems.

A network operating system also provides basic operating system features such as support for processors, protocols, automatic hardware detection and support for multi-processing of applications. The users can also obtain security features including authentication, logon restrictions, access control and others. Name, directory services, file, print, web services, internetworking and other features are also included in a network operating system.

Network operating system does also mean that an operating system that contains special utilities to unite computers and devices in a local-area network (LAN) or inter-network. The list of some of the popular network operating systems includes Novell Netware, Windows NT/2000, Linux and others.

Types of Network Operating System :  

There are two types of network operating systems exists, Peer-to-Peer and Client / Server. Let's understand them further:

Peer-to-peer network operating system

It allows the network users to share resources and files saved in their computer network and to access shared resources. In a peer-to-peer network, all computers found equal with regard to their functioning. Peer-to-peer networks have also designed primarily for small to medium local area networks and Windows for Workgroups is an example for peer to peer operating system.

Client/server network operating system

This system allows the network to unify the functions and applications of one or more reserved file servers. The file servers serve as an integral part of the system and provide security and access to resources.

Under client/server network, the users or clients have access to the resources available on the file servers. The network operating systems allows more than multiple users to simultaneously share the same resources irrespective of the physical location. Novell Netware, Windows 2000Server and others are the best examples for client, server network operating systems.  Under the network, the user can execute his actions by logging into the operating systems akin to LAN. Sharing of files, documents, hardware resources and execution of remote machines can also be completed through the NOS.

History of network operating systems 

More than 3.5 decade ago, network operating systems came into existence. In the early days of NOS, UNIX had aimed to support networking, and all of its followers including Linux and Mac OSX feature inbuilt support for networking.

Novell NetWare was the first well-liked network operating system for personal computers around the globe. Windows 95 and Windows for Workgroups were the Microsoft's first network operating systems after Novell NetWare. As of now, almost every operating system treated as a network operating system. This is following the popularity of the internet and the consequent need to support the internet protocol suite.

Functions of a Network operating systems

Network operating systems support servers to handle data, security, applications and user groups. Some of the features of network operating systems include security features such as authorizations, restriction, access control, user management features and many more.

Under a network operating system, a network administrator should create the directory of services as his first task to gather information on users, resources, directory services and others. He has also the responsibility to create the database on the resources shared by the each and every user of the network.   

A network operating system is also delivering services to its customers through a network. The client, server and peer-to-peer networking models use network operating systems and the network operations to provide service to the users or clients.  Network operating system gives access hardware including printers and others and also manages access to remote files and documents.  

Basic network administration utilities (such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)), enables an administrator to execute his network tasks including network resources management, configuration of network, monitoring the network security and many others.

Under network operating system, there is a type of network known as client and server network which designed for clients to access all types of resources including files, books, videos and many others from the central computer (server). The main purpose of the server is to serve its clients. Here, the main computer system shares data with client computers in many forms.  

Advantages and disadvantages of network operating system

Major Advantages of Client and Server Network include, well-managed security features, easy to add, remove new resources from the networks, easy to add or remove resources, easy to access server remotely and others.

The list of disadvantages includes, building cost of the network is higher, the administrator requires more the number of staff for maintenance, dependency of all computers on the server may result in a crash of the network if a server crashes unexpectedly.

If we talk about examples of network operating systems, there are two commonly used networks exists- Windows XP (peer to peer network) and Windows server 2000 (client and server network)

A peer-to-peer network requires a small investment in the initial stage of the building of the network. The network doesn’t need the main server instead of the data and other resources stored in the computers of the network to access the same. Meanwhile, a client-to-server network operating system is an expensive network and needs a centralized server along with technical staff for maintenance of the network.

Connections in a client-to-server network controlled centrally and it is very easy to incorporate new technology into the network. However, the maintenance staff of the network requires information or training before the integration of the new technology. 

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