What’s the Difference Between an RTOS and a GPOS?

Along with the Internet of things, Real Time Operating Systems (RTOS) have gained a great deal of popularity. They are much better suited for use in embedded systems as opposed to General Purpose Operating Systems (GPOS), and, in many cases, are far easier to work with.

It can be easy to forget that not everyone understands all of the buzzwords and insider terminology that are used in regards to a particular technological development, but they aren’t as complex as you might think.

General Purpose Operating System

A General Purpose Operating System (GPOS) is an essential component of any mobile device, server, or computer system, and is responsible for running all the applications in an installation. Platforms like Linux, Windows, and Mac OS are GPOS.

GPOS is great for performing multiple tasks at the same time, but issues with latency and synchronization make them less than ideal for time-sensitive applications.

Real Time Operating System

Real Time Operating Systems (RTOS) are software platforms designed for use cases in which time is of the essence, for example, in connected cars. Processing time must be far shorter than in a GPOS, and the execution pattern for applications and processes needs to be predictable. Generally, RTOS runs on smaller, more lightweight hardware than GPOS, as larger hardware configurations tend to be less agile.


  • In a GPOS, task scheduling is not always based on which application or process has priority. They typically use a “fairness” policy to dispatch threads and processes. An RTOS, on the other hand, always utilizes priority-based scheduling.
  • The more threads that are running in a GPOS, the longer it will take to schedule and start executing a thread.
  • In a GPOS, a high-priority thread cannot preempt a kernel call. In an RTOS, a low-priority task will be preempted by a high-priority one if necessary, even if it’s executing a kernel call.
  • Where development is concerned, GPOS code generally isn’t modular in nature. RTOS kernel code, on the other hand, is designed to be scalable, so that developers can pick and choose kernel objects selectively.

Mind you, there’s a bit more to this whole discussion than what I’ve laid out above. That said, this piece should serve as something of a primer for you, giving you a general idea of the two terms. If you’d like to learn more, you can go here, and be sure to subscribe to our blog!

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