How do I know what operating system I have?

What is an operating system?

An operating system (OS) refers to the overall software installed on your computer that communicates with the hardware to perform the tasks the user initiates. It contains the fundamental files that allow the computer to boot up and function, as well as allowing other software to run. The two dominant OS are Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s OS X. Since PC Ninja currently services only Windows-based computers, this blog focuses on the various versions of Windows.

Why does it matter?

Knowing which operating system is key to making sure all of your hardware and software are compatible. When you buy a new program, check the system requirements to make sure that it will be supported on your version of Windows. Many older programs will not run on a new OS, and newer programs have trouble on older computers that don’t meet the minimum system requirements, such as processor speed, amount of memory (RAM), or hard drive space.

From the perspective of a technician, when the user describes a problem, it is crucial to know which OS the device is running so that the tech can provide proper instructions and fixes. Each OS has a distinct look and apps, as well as particular underlying coding and structure. Here are just a few things a technician will be able to surmise about the computer by knowing its OS:

  • An estimated age of the computer or how long you’ve had that OS.
  • The look of the system and what steps the user should take to complete a task.
  • Which programs are pre-installed on the computer (Windows Media Player, Photo Viewer, Photo App, Internet Explorer or Edge browser, etc.).
  • Able to verify if certain software or hardware is compatible with that OS.
  • Problems and bugs common to that system and the steps to fix them.

How can I tell what version of Windows I’m running?

  • The sticker on the laptop or tower. This may be located on the back panel or near the touchpad of your laptop. For a tower, the sticker may be on the side or back of the computer. Windows 7 computers and earlier should also show a license sticker with the product key. Of course, if you’ve upgraded the computer, the sticker won’t reflect what’s currently installed.
  • The logo when you boot and in the bottom left hand corner of the desktop, as each version of Windows has its own distinct logo:
    • Windows XP (now obsolete), Windows Vista (to be retired next April), Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10
      Logos:

      Windows Vista Operating System Logo

      Windows Vista Logo

      Windows 7 Operating System Logo on Desktop

      Windows 7 Logo on Desktop

      Windows 8 Operating System Logo

      Windows 8 Logo

      Windows 10 Operating System Logo on Desktop

      Windows 10 Logo on Desktop

  • The look of the desktop.
    • Windows 7 has the traditional start menu, with recent program on the left and options like “My Computer” on the right.
    • Windows 8.1 by default boots into the start screen with tiles. It does not have a start menu and when you swipe to the left side the Charms bar appears.
    • Windows 10 boots into the desktop mode, and has a start menu, which combines icons of most used programs on the left with app tiles on the right that you can organize.
  • By checking the system information. Even the way you get to this will depend on which OS you have.
    • Control Panel –> System & Security –> System; Windows Edition
    • System –> Settings –> About

If you’re unsure which version of Windows you’re running on your computer, follow the steps above to find out. Being aware of this will help you to make smart decisions when purchasing compatible hardware and software and enable you to better articulate any computer problems to a technician

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