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Page 1 1002 Operating Systems Study Guide for the CompTIA A+ Core Series Exam

How to Prepare for Questions About Operating Systems on the CompTIA A+ Core Series 1002 Test

General Information

The emphasis on each of the content areas tested on the CompTIA A+ Core Series 1002 test is roughly equal, with Operating Systems being the subject assessed by 27% of the questions. A little over half of these questions begin with a scenario, and those concept areas are indicated below by (scenario) notation.

Operating System Types

An operating system controls and coordinates all the elements of a computer. It controls many functions that are necessary to use the computer, such as hardware management, file system, and user interface.

The workstation operating systems in the scope of the exam are:

  • Windows
  • MacOS
  • Linux

Cell phones and other mobile devices also have operating systems. The scope of the exam is:

  • Windows
  • Android
  • iOS
  • Chrome OS

32-bit vs. 64-bit

Operating systems need to manage the hardware, and there are different operating system versions for different hardware. One important difference is CPU architecture that differs in bits. Historically, there were 8-bit and 16-bit computers. Currently, 32-bit and 64-bit computers are widely used.

The bit length refers to the number of bits that is used for memory addresses. For instance, 64-bit computers use 64 bits for memory address.

RAM Limitations

Computer architectures with different numbers of bits can support different amounts of memory. For instance, when using 32 bits for memory addresses, the highest number would be:

1111 1111 1111 1111 1111 1111 1111 1111 = 4,294,967,295

That means that the maximum size of memory a 32-bit computer can use is 4 gigabytes.

With 64 bits, the highest address in memory would be 18,446,744,073,709,551,616, and the maximum size of memory this architecture can use is 16 exabytes. This number is way beyond memory addressing needs for the foreseeable future. In practice, the most memory supported by a Windows workstation operating system is 2 terabytes.

Software Compatibility

Most operating systems will have a 32 and 64-bit version. The 32-bit version may be referred to as x86, and the 64-bit version as x64. In most cases, the hardware is backward compatible, meaning that you can install a 32-bit OS on 64-bit hardware, but not vice-versa.

Applications can also come in different versions. You will need a 64-bit OS on a 64-bit CPU to run a 64-bit application.

Workstation Operating Systems

Workstation operating systems are designed to be used on a desktop or a laptop computer by one person at a time. These operating systems provide a convenient graphical user interface (GUI) and access to files and applications on the computer.

Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows is the most widely used workstation operating system. It can be installed on a wide variety of compatible hardware from many manufacturers and it is commonly used in homes, schools, and offices.

Apple Macintosh OS

Apple MacOS is the operating system designed to run on Apple workstations. It is included with every Macintosh computer and is the second most widely used workstation OS.


Linux is a kernel, the core of the operating system. Interfaces and applications can be added to the kernel. These pre-configured combinations are known as distributions. This flexibility allows users to create various flavors of systems for different cases. A distribution can have an extensive graphical user interface (GUI), like Ubuntu, or be better adapted to high performance server tasks, like Red Hat.

Cell Phone/Tablet Operating Systems

Phones and tablets are widely used, growing in hardware and performance, and raise the need for complex, powerful, yet convenient operating systems.

Microsoft Windows

Microsoft has discontinued its operating system for mobile phones. Tablets from different hardware manufacturers support Windows, and they run the full version of Windows 10.


Android is an operating system developed by Google specifically for mobile devices. It is based on the Linux kernel and is free and open source. Many devices from different manufacturers around the world make phones and tablets that run the Android operating system. It is the most used mobile OS.


iOS is the operating system on Apple’s iPhones and iPads. It cannot be installed on devices not manufactured by Apple.

Chrome OS

Chrome OS is not widely used on tablets, but mostly on netbooks. These are lightweight laptops that are intended mostly for using services over the Internet and for web browsing.

Vendor-Specific Limitations

Once an operating system is installed, it can continue running. But there are some limitations that you need to keep in mind and consider updating.


When an operating system reaches the end-of-life phase by its developer, there will be no more updates, patches, or technical support. There will probably be no more applications developed or supported for this OS version.

Update Limitations

When the OS developer stops supporting the version, there will be no more security patches released for that OS version. As new vulnerabilities get discovered, this may leave the computer with an outdated operating system exposed to security risks.


Applications that are available for one operating system may be not available for others. The developer of the application may limit its efforts to only one operating system. Some applications may be available for MacOS and Windows (for example, Microsoft Office). Some applications may be available for MacOS, Windows, and Linux (for example, Google Chrome). In any case, these are different installation files of similar software.

Another compatibility concern may be caused when updating an operating system to a newer version. New versions of operating systems may cause issues with previously installed hardware and applications. Many large organizations choose not to update their operating systems without thorough testing of the new version with the existing hardware and business-critical software.

Microsoft Windows


Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 have many elements in common, but there are also some differences in what each provides.

Windows 7

File management—Windows Explorer is the utility to manage the files on the computer.

Libraries—Libraries showed files of a specific type in one place, even though they were stored in different locations on the computer. Default libraries are Documents, Pictures, Videos, and Music. This is the default location for Windows Explorer on Windows 7.

Aero—Provides visual enhancements to the desktop and GUI experience. Requires a video card with enough performance for full support.

Windows 8

Start screen—The Start Menu has been replaced with the Start Screen. This is a screen with tiles for installed applications and system menus.

Windows Store—This is an online store for downloading and purchasing new software.

Microsoft Accounts for sign-in—In addition to local accounts, a Microsoft online account can be used to login. This allows transferring appearance and system settings between computers.

Settings—The most-used user settings became available in a separate Settings menu.

Control Panel—This allows more system configuration and is still available.

Recommended multi-touch display screen—To emphasize that the operating system can be used on tablets and allow advanced GUI interaction, Microsoft has recommended that a multi-touch display be used with Windows 8.

Libraries—Introduced in Windows 7, libraries are still available, but not enabled by default. Instead, the folders Documents, Pictures, Videos, and Music are now normal folders that are created for each user.

Windows 8.1

Refinements—Windows 8.1 is a more refined version of Windows 8, with no fundamental changes. Most enhancements are related to the user interface, making it easier to use, especially on computers without touch displays.

Windows 10

Cortana— This is a personal assistant you can talk to by voice or typing, and get a response in text or speech. It can set reminders, calendar appointments, and answer questions using the Bing search engine.

Start menu—It combines the start menu of Windows 7 with a panel similar to the Windows 8 start screen, and doesn’t obstruct the whole screen and the desktop.

Corporate vs. Personal Needs

Microsoft Windows is the most popular workstation OS for both personal and corporate use. Although they have a very similar look and feel, the Professional Editions allow more efficient and secure use in corporate environments and offer additional features.

Domain Access

This allows access to the network domain. The computer will be registered on the domain and domain users can be used to log in.


This is a drive encryption utility. All data on a disk is encrypted to prevent unauthorized access, which may be especially useful on laptops that may leave the protected office environment and may be lost or stolen.

Media Center

Available on Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows Media Center is a player for slideshows, videos, and music from files, optical drives, local networks, and selected streaming services.


Beneficial in corporate environments with multiple branch offices, this creates a local cache of files from file servers and web servers for quicker access.


Standing for Encrypting File System, this is a file system feature that can be configured to encrypt volumes, folders, and files. This protects data from an attacker with physical access to the computer.

Desktop Styles/User Interface

Windows versions in the scope of the exam, between Windows 7 and Windows 10, provide a similar user experience. The important differences are Aero, Start Menu and Start Screen differences, and the Settings menu.

Windows also offers different interfaces: keyboard and mouse entry, touch screen, and Cortana voice recognition.