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The System

What is an operating system?
Does your computer seem like a mysterious contraption that does not have obvious distinctons between hardware and software? Does the concept of the Operating System as a separate entity residing inside your computer befuddle you? Well, lets straighten out this basic idea so that we can help you understand what makes that Mac chug and hum so well.

To be simple, the Operating System is the basic software (i.e. a program) that your computer needs in order to function. And just like other programs, the Mac Operating System software is regularly updated by Apple" and given a new version number, like System 6, System 7, System 7.5, System 7.5.3, etc.

The Operating System tells the computer how to store files, how to use the various hardware both inside and outside of the computer (hard drive, disk drives, CD-ROM, modem, scanner, etc.) and provides an essential set of features used by other applications that run on your Mac.

The Operating System is tightly coupled with the hardware of your computer (the circuitry and electronics that you would see if you opened up the case), so that different computers require different operating sytems.

The guts of the Mac Operating System (the MacOS as we will affectionately refer to it) are located in the System Folder on your hard drive. This is a special folder that most Mac novices are told to keep away from for fear of dire consequences and in fact you can easily cripple your computer by randomly messing about with files in there. But to develop confidence in working with your Mac and improve your computer's efficiency you will need to become familiar with the contents of your System Folder.

Much of the Essential Mac website is about components of the System Folder complete with tips on how to adjust the various elements to maintain and improve the functionality of your computer. This System Folder section will give you an overview of the sub-folders that are automatically included in the Mac System Folder when your system is first installed.


Unless otherwise stated, the Essential Mac is written with the assumption that you are running some version of MacOS version 7 (System 7, for short). We faithfully upgrade to each new version of the Mac operating system as it is released (usually by downloading free update files from Apple" Computer over the Internet). However, the newest, System 7.6, must be purchased.

Which system am I running?
To find out what system your Mac is using, first go to the Desktop either by clicking on your Apple Menu Desktop or choosing Finder from the applications menu at the top right-hand corner of your monitor. Then click on the Apple Menu the little Apple logo at the top left of your Desktop. From the Apple Menu select About this Macintosh...

About This Macintosh

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