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In computer software, an operating environment or integrated applications environment is the environment in which users run application software. The environment consists of a user interface provided by an applications manager and usually an application programming interface (API) to the applications manager.
An operating environment is usually not a full operating system, but is a form of middleware that rests between the OS and the application. For example, the first version of Microsoft Windows, Windows 1.0, was not a full operating system, but a GUI laid over DOS albeit with an API of its own. Similarly, the IBM U2 system operates on both Unix/Linux and Windows NT. Usually the user interface is text-based or graphical, rather than a command-line interface (e.g., DOS or the Unix shell), which is often the interface of the underlying operating system.
In the mid 1980s, text-based and graphical user interface operating environments surrounded DOS operating systems with a shell that turned the user's display into a menu-oriented "desktop" for selecting and running PC applications. These operating environment systems gave users much of the convenience of integrated software without locking them into a single package.
In the mid 1980s, text-based and graphical user interface operating environments such as IBM TopView, Microsoft Windows, Digital Research's GEM Desktop, GEOS and Quarterdeck Office Systems's DESQview surrounded DOS operating systems with a shell that turned the user's display into a menu-oriented "desktop" for selecting and running PC applications. These programs were more than simple menu systems--as alternate operating environments they were substitutes for integrated programs such as Framework and Symphony, that allowed switching, windowing, and cut-and-paste operations among dedicated applications. These operating environment systems gave users much of the convenience of integrated software without locking them into a single package. Alternative operating environments made TSR pop-up utilities such as Borland Sidekick redundant. Windows provided its own version of these utilities, and placing them under central control could eliminate memory conflicts that RAM-resident utilities create. In later versions, Windows evolved from an operating environment into a complete operating system with DOS as a bootloader (Windows 9x) and a complete operating system, Windows NT, was developed at the same time. All versions since Windows 2000 have been based on the Windows NT kernel.