In Computing, what is an Operating Environment?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Every computer program or application is made to run within certain parameters. Some of these parameters, particularly in the realm of software, may be tightly defined, like the operating system or systems that the program works with. Other parameters, particularly hardware, may allow for a great deal of variation, like the type of mouse that one can use to interact with the program. The name of the collection of software on a computer at the time that a program or application is used is the operating environment for that program. Any troubleshooting concerning the operation of the might need to investigate aspects of the operating environment for conflicts or other problematic interactions.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

Besides troubleshooting a problem, the main use of looking at an operating environment is in the creation or implementation of a standard operating environment. A standard operating environment is an organizational standard, rather than a government or international standard. It includes the operating system and the programs on the computer. Sometimes a standard operating environment can include the computer’s file structure, with a standardized place for each file that is the same on every company computer. It is sometimes, but not always, considered to include computer hardware.

The purpose of a standard operating environment is twofold. First, it can streamline a businesses information technology needs by limiting the number of different situations and contexts that the IT team has to troubleshoot. Upgrading can be done universally throughout the organization, rather than computer-by-computer. Second, it can improve functionality, because any computer can be used by any employee for any task. If an employee is absent and some information is needed from his or her computer, the standardization allows easier retrieval of important files, records, or emails.

There are some situations in which a standard operating environment would be counterproductive and certain subsets might be created. This includes situations in which the demands of one department or person are substantially different from those of the others. This could be the case when one department has to interface specialized equipment — for example, an electron microscope, video production equipment, or medical testing equipment — with their computers, and it wouldn’t make sense to have all computers with the very specialized features needed for these tasks. It is also the case when computers with different specs and different software are needed for very different tasks, such as those needed for on-site inspections versus those used in an office.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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