An operating environment is the place where users run application software or programs. It is not necessarily a full operating system (OS) but it does act like a middleware, that is, the software that makes the OS work with a specific application.

Initially, operating environments helped an OS improve and extend its capabilities to more than just providing a reliable user interface (UI).

Other interesting terms…

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What Are the Common Examples of Operating Environments?

Disk Operating System (DOS) was mostly surrounded by a shell or command-line interpreter to connect to the OS. Most of these shells were text-based and used graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to run most personal computer (PC) applications. However, these systems were more than just simple menus, but operating environments that allow users to switch between windows and make other dedicated applications. Over the years, many types of operating environments have become widely available, including:


Terminate and stay resident (TSR) is a type of operating environment first introduced in 1984. It allows users to set it up, load, and keep in computer memory for quick accessibility. It often ran DOS and most non-task OS tools, such as clocks, calculators, and notepads. Users can simply press a hotkey or preset key that corresponds to a TSR program to open it. For example, users can press Ctrl + Alt + C to open the calculator.

Expanded Memory

The rise in the number of built-in applications included in a PC, Microsoft needed to raise DOS’s memory capacity. That was made possible by the introduction of Expanded Memory Specification (EMS). From the 640KB limit, the MS-DOS memory can be raised to 1MB using a memory riser card. A host of EMS applications can directly use an expanded memory board that comes with a random access memory (RAM) plugin.

Task Switchers

Also known as “context switchers,” task switchers are operating environments that allow users to switch from one program to another without losing track of the original program. However, this should not be confused with multitasking.

In the latter, the central processing unit (CPU) can switch back and forth between programs to give the notion that all run simultaneously. In task switching, the CPU does not do back and forth. Instead, it runs one program at a given time while letting the user transition to another task if needed.

Task switchers usually use EMS memory and the hard disk to carry out transitions. DESQView is the first operating environment that used EMS to run programs in the background by combining task switching and multitasking.

Memory Managers

Memory managers help users keep TSRs and other memory-resident drivers between the 640KB and 1MB (1024KB) addresses in the PC, commonly referred to as the “upper memory area (UMA).”

Memory managers mainly help extend the EMS memory to control and coordinate computer memory by assigning blocks to running programs to optimize system performance.

DOS 5 and 6

Windows 3.0 still has the underlying OS of DOS. As such, there was a need to enhance DOS to make it work seamlessly and continue interacting with Windows.

Hence, DOS 5 was created to improve UIs for task swapping, getting online help, full-screen text editing, undeleting commands, and improving memory managers. It included QBasic, which accompanied BASICA in the IBM version.

DOS 6 came a year later to introduce built-in and real-time compression for backup, disk optimization, file transfer, memory management, and antivirus configurations.


DR-DOS is the operating environment mostly used in embedded systems due to its advanced memory management, particularly for recovery programs.

Operating environments improved over the years to enhance UIs to what we know today. While memory storage used to be the primary hurdle, it has likewise evolved to dealing with malware and other cybersecurity threats.