Saw two separate videos on Youtube where they go into the details of how a given model of firearm works -- I think they use the term "operating system" to describe things like how ammunition is fed into the firing chamber, how spent rounds are ejected, etc.

"Operating system" is in fact to me an extremely apt term and so I wonder, given that complex firearms have existed since the 19th century (like the first machine guns), did operating system originate in firearm design and was adopted by computer makers or the other way around?

I suspect that in fact it was computing that influenced gun makers since any modern gun maker would tend to be computer literate and I don't recall seeing term used, for example, in articles about early machine guns.

  • 1
    An interesting question. But operating system is completely understandable in many contexts, certainly when dealing with automatic weapons; there is a system, and it's often referred to. How common is the term "Mauser system" or "gas system"? However, the computer term has its own history and specific senses, and it seems unlikely weapons development contributed to it. May 26, 2022 at 15:32
  • 1
    @JohnLawler: my previous memory was that the individual parts are described, like "ejector" or "magazine" without mentioning an overall system to which these parts belong. I know little about guns but my ears pricked up when I heard a term from computer science in an unfamiliar context. Do they refer to the operating system of an automobile? That also seems apt.
    – releseabe
    May 26, 2022 at 16:54
  • I wouldn't, unless there were several kinds. Like diesel or electric, maybe. I've wondered to myself occasionally whether you had to choose between Windows and Macintosh cars. May 26, 2022 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


A search in Google Books can answer this question.

Operating system seems to be described for rifles and guns predating modern computers with OS.

1945 book: movable butt plate with the usual trigger - guard , lever - operating system of the Winchester type repeating rifle

It otherwise seems common for mechanical devices in such as railway breaks to be operated by a human, or in electrical engineering for voltage control (the probable precursor for computing).

Certainly the term has become more common with the advent of modern computing starting in the 1960s, has shown in Google NGram Viewer.

Strictly speaking the two uses could be related and/or have a common ancestor in railway/mechanical/electrical engineering, but the use of the terms with guns (possibly has early as 1906 in a transcribed senate hearing) seems to predate the use for computers.

  • Thanks, quite interesting and surprising to me. It would be interesting if computer science independently came up with the term but I think it is plausible, since it is hard to think of what else one would call the operating system of computer. On the other hand, if the term was used in other kinds of engineering, it is likely that early computer builders would have encountered it from their experience as electrical engineers which would have overlapped more with mechanical engineering 80 or so years ago.
    – releseabe
    May 30, 2022 at 2:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.