Historically operating systems have been tightly related to the computer architecture, it is good idea to study the history of operating systems from the architecture of the computers on which they run.
Operating systems have evolved through a number of distinct phases or generations which corresponds roughly to the decades.
The 1940's - First Generations
The earliest electronic digital computers had no operating systems. Machines of the time were so primitive that programs were often entered one bit at time on rows of mechanical switches (plug boards). Programming languages were unknown (not even assembly languages). Operating systems were unheard of .
By the early 1950's, the routine had improved somewhat with the introduction of punch cards. The General Motors Research Laboratories implemented the first operating systems in early 1950's for their IBM 701. The system of the 50's generally ran one job at a time. These were called single-stream batch processing systems because programs and data were submitted in groups or batches.
The 1960's - Third Generation
The systems of the 1960's were also batch processing systems, but they were able to take better advantage of the computer's resources by running several jobs at once. So operating systems designers developed the concept of multiprogramming in which several jobs are in main memory at once; a processor is switched from job to job as needed to keep several jobs advancing while keeping the peripheral devices in use.
For example, on the system with no multiprogramming, when the current job paused to wait for other I/O operation to complete, the CPU simply sat idle until the I/O finished. The solution for this problem that evolved was to partition memory into several pieces, with a different job in each partition. While one job was waiting for I/O to complete, another job could be using the CPU.
Another major feature in third-generation operating system was the technique called spooling (simultaneous peripheral operations on line). In spooling, a high-speed device like a disk interposed between a running program and a low-speed device involved with the program in input/output. Instead of writing directly to a printer, for example, outputs are written to the disk. Programs can run to completion faster, and other programs can be initiated sooner when the printer becomes available, the outputs may be printed.
Note that spooling technique is much like thread being spun to a spool so that it may be later be unwound as needed.
Another feature present in this generation was time-sharing technique, a variant of multiprogramming technique, in which each user has an on-line (i.e., directly connected) terminal. Because the user is present and interacting with the computer, the computer system must respond quickly to user requests, otherwise user productivity could suffer. Timesharing systems were developed to multiprogram large number of simultaneous interactive users.
With the development of LSI (Large Scale Integration) circuits, chips, operating system entered in the system entered in the personal computer and the workstation age. Microprocessor technology evolved to the point that it become possible to build desktop computers as powerful as the mainframes of the 1970s. Two operating systems have dominated the personal computer scene: MS-DOS, written by Microsoft, Inc. for the IBM PC and other machines using the Intel 8088 CPU and its successors, and UNIX, which is dominant on the large personal computers using the Motorola 6899 CPU family.