How-To Geek

Why Do Operating Systems Have a Shut Down Option?

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Most of us use an operating system’s built-in “shut down function” to turn our computers off, but what if you are considering using a computer’s power switch instead? Does it really matter which method you use or will it lead to problems if you use the power switch? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has some answers to a curious reader’s questions.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader IAmJulianAcosta wants to know why operating systems have a shut down option:

I want to know why operating systems require us to shut them down using a built-in option. Why not just shut everything down using the computer’s mechanical hardware switch? Will I damage the hardware or corrupt my data if I constantly shut a computer down without using the operating system’s built-in option?

To clarify, I want to use an Intel Compute Stick as a media player (connected to a projector) and control it using an electrical switch. The computer will only be used to play videos and will not have additional programs installed on it, nor will it have Internet access.

Why do operating systems have a shut down option?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor DrZoo has the answer for us:

It depends on what is happening with the operating system at the time you chose to suddenly cut the power. If the system is busy writing important data and you cut the power, you could potentially damage the data or corrupt the operating system. A lot of things are going on that you do not really see. You mainly need to worry about something software related breaking when you do a hard reset. As far as the hardware is concerned, you should not encounter any problems.

You do not want to make a habit of bypassing the operating system’s built-in shut down method by cutting the power. It would just be a matter of time until something becomes corrupt and causes you to have to reinstall the operating system.

In some cases, a hard reset is the only choice you have. If your computer locks up and you cannot get it to do anything at all, what other option is there?

The origin of your screenshot is from Windows 9X systems where the message was displayed when Windows had successfully shut down to MS-DOS, but was not configured to return to the prompt (COMMAND.COM) again. On systems with proper ACPI support and an ATX power supply, the computer in question may power down instead.


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya (Asian Angel) is our very own Firefox Fangirl who enjoys working with multiple browsers and loves 'old school' role-playing games. Visit her on Twitter and .

  • Published 03/15/16

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