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Computer and Software Basics for Beginners

Sean Spencer, Software Development Expert and Author

A computer uses software, colloquially known as programs and applications, to perform tasks. The computer accesses its commands from the operating instructions in the software and then performs the tasks specified in these instructions. Computer users can purchase a host of software, including word processors, graphic editors, databases, games, and more. Software has to be compatible with a computer operating system, such as Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. A computer becomes unusable if it does not have software installed onto it. An operating system typically has software programs already installed onto it. In addition, numerous software programs can be found online totally free of charge.

A personal computer (PC) can eliminate the clutter sitting around the house. A computer has an electronic phone book, calendar, notepad, address book, daily planner, files, and folders. The latter two replaces manila folders and filing cabinets, huge space wasters in any environment. People can use their computers to watch television and DVDs. Computers can play recorded music and streaming live audio. Computer technology has rapidly advanced to the point where people can upload entire photo albums, send electronic mail, and make long distance calls at the same time. More importantly, computer technology has increased its user-friendliness, making it easily accessible for those limited by mental and physical constraints.

Anybody can learn how to use a computer; however, it takes a little knowledge to understand its basic processes. For instance, the Central Processing Unit (CPU), the computer “brain,” processes millions of bits of information per second. The CPU processes this information consistently and accurately, making it unique to the human brain. The human brain processes information faster than we realize; however, it also discerns information as it passes through its receptors. A computer does not think for itself, which means it cannot comprehend the tasks it executes. The two major CPU manufacturers are Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Intel. Both of these manufacturers produce integrated circuits, or chips, and perform optimally.

A large percent of computers today come equipped with dual core CPUs. A dual core CUP includes two processors in a single circuit. Dual core processors also come with two execution cores, making them ideal for multitasking environments. Casual computers typically do not need a dual core CPU, unless they perform intensive video work or play high-resolution video games. Professional computer jobs usually require working with dual core CPUs, especially since these occupations require computers with ample Random Access Memory (RAM).

Random Access Memory (RAM) refers to easily retrievable data storage that can be accessed randomly. Many computer users refer to RAM as the main working area executing tasks with stored data. In other words, RAM functions like an office desk, whereby workers can open files, retrieve reports, and place them in working order. RAM comes in the form of sticks that look like the size of a few sticks of gum. Most computers have open slots that a technician can use to add or replace RAM. RAM can have information written to it. In addition, the computer reads RAM to find the information written to it. RAM erases itself when a computer user shuts down their computer effectively.

A computer relies on its RAM for optimal performance. The recommended RAM varies according to a computer's operating system (OS). For instance, Microsoft requires 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM for 32-bit, or 2 gigabyte RAM for 64-bit processors for Windows 7. The recommended RAM for Microsoft 7 will vary according to the tasks carried out on the operating system.

Other types of irrelevant computer memory for the casual user include Read Only Memory (ROM). Read Only Memory (ROM) stores all of the basic computer instructions needed to do very simple tasks. ROM never changes, even if the computer loses its power. Nobody really cares about the Complementary-symmetry/Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS). The CMOS stores information about the computer system, including its current date and time. The CMOS needs electricity to continue working; however, it only needs a very small amount of it. To put it in perspective, a small battery will keep it working for 4 to 5 years. If the CMOS battery dies, then the computer malfunctions and will not start-up correctly. Therefore, the computer user will need to have it replaced. In addition, the computer user will probably have to re-enter all of their set-up information about the computer system.

Every document, photo, video, music, or program has at least or one more files. Casual computer users may group files into folders that make up a directory. Computer users can find these groups of files, also known as sub-folders, together in another folder almost like a filing cabinet. This electronic filing cabinet is referred to as a hard drive. A hard drive is a permanent storage device, because data stays on the computer even if it is turned off. Hard drives do fail eventually, which makes it imperative to save copies, or back-up, of important documents. Casual computer users can also consider printing out important documents. Retail store outlets offer hundreds of printers available on the market, ranging from under one hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Casual computer users do not need commercial printers. Many people recommend multi-function printers to print, scan, copy, or fax documents. A phone line is required to send documents via the fax machine.

All of this technical jargon can confuse those newly introduced to the computer. In order to get the most out of the experience, most users learn how to use a keyboard. A keyboard has all of the basic layouts found on a typewriter. Computer users will need to find a basic keyboarding course to increase their typing speed and accuracy.

Lastly, beginning computer users will want to sign on to the Internet. A computer needs a modem in order to access the World Wide Web. A modem serves as a medium between the Internet and a computer. It enables the computer to connect to the Internet. Some computers connect to the Internet through the telephone line, also known as a dial-up service, although this has a very slow connection that will drive most computer users crazy after a while. Fortunately, Internet Service Provider (ISP) technology has advanced its connection speed. As a result, more people have switched over to high-speed broadband that uses a cable modem or a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) to connect a computer to the Internet. Computer users who subscribe to a broadband service will enjoy all of the multimedia features available on the Internet. Computer users can usually sign up for DSL and broadband services at very competitive rates.

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