2

Example:

These programs require certain common operations, such as those controlling the I/O devices. The common functions of controlling and allocating resources are then brought together into one piece of software: the operating system.

In addition, we have no universally accepted definition of what is part of the operating system. A simple viewpoint is that it includes everything a vendor ships when you order “the operating system.” The features included, however, vary greatly across systems.

I have a real hard time understanding that part in bold. What I think this is trying to say is probably that there is no agreed-upon definition of what the term part of the operation system means. If that's the case, then why not say it like this: In addition, we have no universally accepted definition of what part of the operating system is. I'm so confused with this sentence structure that I don't even know how to express myself.

  • 3
    Read (no universally accepted definition)(of)((what is part of the OS)(and what is not part of the OS). The latter unwritten. – Stephie Jul 21 '15 at 5:57
  • +1 to Stephie's comment. For example, are text editors part of an OS? What about device drivers, or C/C++ libraries? How about things like Pages and Keynote? It's not always clear-cut, what is and what is not part of an OS. – Damkerng T. Jul 21 '15 at 6:26
  • Just to clarify (I don't think this justifies a full answer), 'part', in this sense, means inclusion - so the writer is saying that there is no clear definition of what elements (outside of some core features) come together to form the OS and that clearly vendors (Microsoft, Apple, Linux Distro makers etc) have different ideas on what to include – PerryW Jul 21 '15 at 7:13
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In addition, we have no universally accepted definition of [what is part] of the operating system.

We could rephrase it thus:

  • "What kinds of modules should be included in an operating system? What kind of modules should be considered part of an operating system?
  • "We don't know! There is no universally accepted definition of what is part of the typical operating system (and what is not part of the typical operating system)."

Imagine you have a list of 1000 modules: I/O drivers, text editors, graphics procedures etc. And someone asks you:

A great collection! But which are part of the operating system?

In your example, the word what is used instead of which because the number of components that could be included in an operating system is well nigh limitless nowadays, and we are not picking from a list.


Regarding your idea:

What I think this is trying to say is probably that there is no agreed-upon definition of what does the term "part of the operation" system mean. If that's the case, then why not say it like this: In addition, we have no universally accepted definition of what part of the operating system is.

Had we wanted to say this, we would've added the indefinite article a, because "part" in this sense is a singular count noun:

We have no universally accepted definition of what is a part of the operating system.

Compare:

We have no universally accepted definition of what a planet is. (or " [...] of what is a planet")

But the word part looks a bit awkward here, so we would've more likely used some other phrase:

We have no universally accepted definition of what is an operating system component.


P.S. Kudos to Stephie for her comment on the implied clause " [..] and what is not part of the OS".


P.P.S. Note that there is a slight difference between "part" and "a part".

A verb is a part of speech. (a discrete piece, a segment, a unit; we stress here this "discretness")

Swear words are part of my everyday speech. (an intinsic component; the logical stress is on that intrinsic presence of swear words in my speech)

See some related questions:

  • I think In addition, we have no universally accepted definition of what part of the operating system is is not quite grammatical. However, this may be passable: In addition, we have no universally accepted definition of what "part of the operating system" means. – Damkerng T. Jul 21 '15 at 7:51
  • @DamkerngT. Maybe it is wrong, I have no opinion on this count, barring that one should use a before "part" to convey this particular meaning. Otherwise it seemed okay to me. Is it wrong because "what is" has been split? Using quotation marks and means seems perfectly okay too. – CowperKettle Jul 21 '15 at 8:00
  • 1
    Such what-phrase are certainly in widespread use, even though they may be hard to define. For example: books.google.com/ngrams/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 21 '15 at 12:41

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