network operating system (NOS)

A network operating system (NOS) is a computer operating system (OS) that is designed primarily to support workstationspersonal computers and, in some instances, older terminals that are connected on a local area network (LAN). The software behind a NOS allows multiple devices within a network to communicate and share resources with each other.

The composition of hardware that typically uses a NOS includes a number of personal computers, a printer, a server and file server with a local network that connects them together. The role of the NOS is to then provide basic network services and features that support multiple input requests simultaneously in a multiuser environment.

Due to earlier versions of basic operating systems not being designed for network use, network operating systems emerged as a solution for single-user computers.

Types of network operating systems

There are two basic types of network operating systems, the peer-to-peer NOS and the client/server NOS:

  1. Peer-to-peer network operating systems allow users to share network resources saved in a common, accessible network location. In this architecture, all devices are treated equally in terms of functionality. Peer-to-peer usually works best for small to medium LANs and is cheaper to set up.
  2. Client/server network operating systems provide users with access to resources through a server. In this architecture, all functions and applications are unified under one file server that can be used to execute individual client actions regardless of physical location. Client/server tends to be most expensive to implement and requires a large amount of technical maintenance. An advantage to the client/server model is that the network is controlled centrally, makes changes or additions to technology easier to incorporate.

Common features of network operating systems

Features of network operating systems are typically associated with user administration, system maintenance and resource management functionality. This includes:

  • Basic support for operating systems like protocol and processor support, hardware detection and multiprocessing.
  • Printer and application sharing.
  • Common file system and database sharing.
  • Network security capabilities such as user authentication and access control.
  • Directory
  • Backup and web services.
  • Internetworking.

Examples of network operating systems

True network operating systems are categorized as software that enhances the functionality of operating systems by providing added network features. A few examples of these network operating systems and their service providers are:

  • Artisoft’s LANtastic- This is a simple, user-friendly NOS that supports most PC operating systems.
  • Banyan’s VINES- This uses a client-server architecture to request specific functions and services.
  • Novell’s NetWare- This was the first network operating system to be released and is designed based on XNS protocol architecture.
  • Microsoft’s LAN Manager- This operates as a server application and was developed to run under the Microsoft OS. Now, most of the functionality of LAN Manager is included in the Windows OS itself.

In addition, some multi-purpose operating systems, such as Windows NT and Digital's OpenVMS come with capabilities that enable them to be described as a network operating system. Further, the most popular operating systems like WindowsUnixLinux and Mac include built-in networking functions that may not require additional network services.

This was last updated in May 2019

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