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An embedded operating system is an operating system for embedded computer systems. This type of operating system is typically designed to be resource-efficient and reliable. Resource efficiency comes at the cost of losing some functionality or granularity that larger computer operating systems provide, including functions which may not be used by the specialized applications they run. Depending on the method used for multitasking, this type of OS is frequently considered to be a real-time operating system, or RTOS.

The hardware running an embedded operating system can be very limited in resources such as RAM and ROM, therefore embedded design of these operating systems may have a narrow scope tailored to a specific application in order to achieve desired operation under these constraints. In order to take better advantage of the processing power of the CPU, software developers may write critical code directly in assembly. This machine efficient language can potentially result in gains in speed and determinism at the cost of portability and maintainability. Often times, embedded operating systems are written entirely in more portable languages, like C, however.

An important difference between most embedded operating systems and desktop operating systems is that the application, including the operating system, is usually statically linked together into a single executable image. Unlike a desktop operating system, the embedded operating system does not load and execute applications.[1] This means that the system is only able to run a single application.

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  1. ^ Programming Embedded Systems, Second Edition, Michael Barr and Anthony Massa