Embedded Operating System

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What Does Embedded Operating System Mean?

An embedded operating system is a type of operating system that is embedded and specifically configured for a certain hardware configuration. Hardware that uses embedded operating systems is designed to be lightweight and compact, forsaking many other functions found in non-embedded computer systems in exchange for efficiency at resource usage. This means that they are made to do specific tasks and do them efficiently.


Embedded operating systems are also known as real-time operating systems (RTOS).

Techopedia Explains Embedded Operating System

Embedded operating systems are usually used for hardware that have very little computing power, little RAM/ROM and a slow CPU, so they tend to be very specific in their applications and scope. They are usually made using assembly language in order to really take advantage of the limited computing resources, since it is the closest to machine language and is able to squeeze every drop of computing power available. This means that the OS is optimized for whatever hardware it was developed for and will not be compatible with other hardware systems with different configurations.

In most embedded OSs, the applications are built in to the OS or part of the OS, so they are loaded immediately when the OS starts. The most common examples of devices with an embedded OS would be cell phones before Android and iOS popularized the mobile operating system, which may still be considered as embedded but are also arguably desktop-like in the way they handle tasks and apps and their access to vast amounts of computing power. Embedded OSs can also be found in cars, large laser printers, some home appliances, and even military systems.

Notable embedded OSs currently in use by consumers include:

  • Symbian – Used in cell phones, mainly ones made by Nokia
  • Embedded Linux – Of which Android is a subset, used in many other devices like printers
  • BlackBerry OS – For BlackBerry phones
  • iOS – Subset of Mac OS X, used in Apple’s mobile devices
  • Palm OS
  • Windows Mobile

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Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor
Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.