Network Operating System Definition

A network operating system (NOS) is a computer operating system that is designed for network use.

Usually a NOS is a complete operating system with file, task and job management. However, with some earlier operating systems, it was a separate component that enhanced a basic, non-networking operating system by adding networking capabilities. Examples include Novell's Netware and Artisoft's LANtastic.

A server-based network operating system provides networking support for multiple simultaneous users, each with the ability to access network resources, as well as security and other administrative functions.

Network operating systems, in the first sense, have existed for more than 35 years. In particular, UNIX was designed from the beginning to support networking, and all of its descendants (i.e., Unix-like operating systems) including Linux and Mac OSX, feature built-in networking support.

The Microsoft Windows operating systems did not initially support networking. Thus, Novell NetWare was introduced and became the first popular network operating system for personal computers. Windows 95 and Windows for Workgroups were Microsoft's first network operating system products.

Today, almost every consumer operating system qualifies as a NOS. This is in large part due to the popularity of the Internet and the consequent need to support the Internet protocol suite.

In a peer-to-peer network, such as Microsoft Windows 98 or XP, in which each host can also be a server, the operating system might still be considered a network operating system, but it is more light weight than a full-blown NOS.

Created October 29, 2005.
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