Operating System Design/History
The earliest computers were purely mechanical devices which could run through a series of inputs and produce some output. Usually instructions and data were combined, or the instructions were built into the computer. Over time more generalised computers appeared that could be programmed. These early programmable computers did not have any operating system. However, some tasks are common to most programs (reading input and writing output for example) and so standard routines were developed to perform those tasks.
As computers were large and expensive, companies offered computer services to those who could pay for them. Initially this would have been on an ad hoc basis, but quickly developed into time sharing services where many people would run their programs on the same computer (in quick succession) and would be billed for the amount of time that their program took. These time sharing systems were the earliest operating systems.
As hardware has developed so have operating systems, removing inefficiencies and providing more services to the application programmer, and even the end user. Interactive systems have become common, particularly as more modern schedulers allow a single processor to perform a task while another task waits for I/O.
A good reference book for computer history is "A History of Modern Computing" by Paul E. Ceruzzi. It outlines the development of the computer from a single operator machine to a multiple operator machine and beyond.
- Evolution of Operating Systems Designs gives a more detailed history of operating systems.