All about operating systems

Operating Systems is the course I spend the most time preparing for each year. The course objectives remain stable, but the software often changes.

A decade ago I focused entirely on Microsoft products. Students learned the basics of Windows 98, NT, and 2000 while exploring the graphical user interface. We also covered the command line interface, system tools, system maintenance procedures, and how to fix problems. Now the focus is only partly on Windows as we cover XP, Vista and Windows 7.

The growing use of open-source Linux in the IT world caused a recommendation from our advisory committee to incorporate Linux into the OS course. So around 2003, I started to spend a few weeks each semester covering one Linux distribution. The initial choice was Red Hat Linux which has transformed into a version called Fedora Core. Yesterday I downloaded Fedora Core 14 in preparation for the spring semester.

Students will install Fedora, learn to use the graphical and command line interfaces, and become familiar with the OS. I believe if students become familiar with one Linux distribution they can go on and learn other distributions. It's no different than learning how to drive on a Chevy and then driving a Ford; the controls may be different but the big picture remains the same.

Learning virtual machine operation was long considered a more advanced IT topic but now it's a critical skill for new technicians. About three years ago I began covering software and hardware virtual machines. Students learned the differences between the two types while setting up a hardware machine using VMware's ESXi.

The coming semester will be the first with Windows 7 installed on the lab computers. Along with exposure to the new OS, students will create and operate several virtual machines using a software virtual machine.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in computer repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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