Computer Orientation - 1st Overview

"The analytical engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform." said by Countess Ada Lovelace. She and mathematics professor Charles Babbage collaborated on modifying an automatic loom invented by Joseph-Marie Charles Jocquard. Their work begun in 1823 is the underlying principle that all modern day computers are built upon.

3 types of computers:

Mainframes -  the largest, fastest and most expensive of all computers.

                        found in banks, major universities, government.

                        can serve a lot of users simultaneously.

Miniframes -   smaller, slower, and cheaper version of mainframes.

                        found in businesses and small colleges.

                        can serve many users simultaneously.

Personal computers - all other computers.

                         -          divided into 3 types:

                                    1. Desktop stand-alones

                                    2. Portables

                                    3. Networked Workstations

All computers are a synthesis of Hardware and Software. Software is composed of Programs which are lists of instructions that the hardware follows.

Hardware -     things you can actually physically touch and see.

                        4 basic hardware components are:

            Input devices - used to enter data, commands, choices, pictures, sound, etc..

            Processors (CPU’s) - used to manipulate, calculate, route or direct the input.

            Memory or other Storage devices - used to store the input for future use by CPU.

            Output devices - used to view the input after processing by the CPU

Some common hardware devices:

            Keyboard - device with keys similar to typewriter, used for input .

            Mouse - used to move a pointer around screen to select computer’s focus point.

            Monitor - used to display information on a screen like a small television.

            Printer - used to output information onto paper.

            Hard & Floppy Drives - used to store software and information

            Microprocessors - integrated circuit built on a silicon chip that can execute, or follow, the instructions of a program. Most popular processors for PC’s in historical order are the 8088, 80286, 80386, 80486, Pentium. These operate at different clock speeds measured in megahertz. Early speeds were 25, 33, 66, 70, 90, 100 and are now approaching 300 and 500 MHz. The larger the number, the better! Also remember that a DX designated chip is better than a SX designated chip. As an example a used computer with a 386-33DX chip is better than a 386-33SX chip! A chip with an SX means you’re getting Short-Xchanged, but a DX chip is a DEAL!


            Memory chips - R.O.M. = Read Only Memory

                                    - R.A.M. = Random Access Memory

            There are various areas of the computer that have their own memory chips for their own various purposes. All are used to store information temporarily while the computer is turned on. Turning off the computer erases all information that is stored in memory chips. All types are sized by how many bytes can be temporarily stored or cached. A byte is about equal to one typed character or number. Each byte is composed of 8 bits, or switches that are either off (0) or on (1). Kilobytes (KB) is equal to 1,000 bytes, Megabytes (MB) are 1,000 times more than KB’s, Gigabytes (GB) are 1,000 times more than MB, and Terabytes (TB) are 1,000 times more than GB. As in the CPU numbers, the higher the number, the better. Today’s software applications require computers with at least 8MB of main RAM to run, but are recommending you have at least 16MB.

            Hard Drives - a hard metallic disk that stores data and other information in a permanent manner inside the computer. Size is indicated by how many megabytes of information it can store. Data and other information, including software programs are permanently stored on these devices when power is shut off. They are the most common form of permanent storage device in use today. Again, today’s software applications are getting bigger and bigger, using up more and more hard drive space. It is advisable to get the biggest hard drive you can afford, at least 520MB or more. As costs come down, 1GB hard drives are becoming common. Remember 1GB = 1,000MB!!

            CD-ROM - Compact Disk - Read Only Memory drives are becoming increasingly common and inexpensive for use in multi-media applications and games. They are rated by speed indicated as 1X, 2X, 4X and now are up to 24X speeds. Each CD-ROM disk can hold about 500 books of information! Unlike hard drives which cannot be simply swapped or changed, the CD-ROM drive allows you to switch disks, much like a floppy drive allowing for greater ease of use, practicality and versatility. There are also now available re-writable CD drives for under $500, along with Jukeboxes which allow you access to many CD disks at the same time. You need a minimum of a 4X speed player to run present day multi-media software and they can cost less than $100.

            Floppy Disk Drives - These are the drives that use the individual diskettes that we will be using to store our work on. They come in two basic sizes, the old 5 1/4 inch drives and the more convenient size of 3 1/2 inch. The diskettes come in two kinds called double-density (DD) and high-density (HD). In the 3 1/2 inch size diskette, a DD is indicated by a single square hole at the top of the diskette, while a high-density (HD) has two (2) square holes at the top. It is preferable to buy the HD diskettes as they hold twice as much information as the other one. Save all your data on the A: drive ! ! !

            When using the computer, all drives are indicated by letters. Drives A and B are reserved for floppy drives, and the C: drive is always a hard drive. Other drives are given other letters above this as they are added. (Note: New technology has allowed compression of data on hard drives creating ‘virtual compressed’ drives which must also have a unique letter identifier.)


            Modem - a hardware device that allows your computer to connect with other computers over the telephone lines. Modems are rated by baud rates, and again the higher the number the better. Nearly all modems today are combination fax-modems, which means that you can also send your documents as faxes to any fax machine besides being able to send (or receive) the file at another computer. Common sizes were 1200, 2400, 4800, 9600,14400; but you will need at least a 28,800 or a 56,600 baud modem for practical access to the World Wide Web (WWW) also know as the Internet. A 28,800 modem runs about $35 or less today.

            Sound Cards and Speakers - hardware that allows your computer to play 8-bit mono or 16-bit stereo sound. They usually are part of a CD-ROM multi-media package. Much of today’s multi-media applications require sound cards. 16-bit stereo is the norm.

            Printers - hardware which puts our computer output onto paper. These devices are categorized into the following types:

            Line Printers - can print only numbers and letters and a few special symbols.

            Dot Matrix - uses pinpoint size hammers to transfer ink from a ribbon to paper.

            Laser - similar technology to photocopiers.

            Ink-jet or Bubble-jet - squirts ink onto the paper.

            Thermal - uses heat and lasers to draw onto special paper.

            Video Display Terminals - the screen which we conduct most of out inter-action with the computer. Nearly all new VDT’s are what is referred to as SVGA today, and all have video cards which come with their own cache of RAM. When buying a system, the more video memory you have, the faster the screen will re-fresh when doing various tasks. They also come in different sizes with the 14" diagonal being the most common.

            There are many other hardware devices in popular use today including:

            scanners-for inputting pictures or text into the computer.

            video-grabbers for inputting video from VHS tapes or television.

            digital cameras for inputting photographs.

            gloves or other body-mimicking devices used in virtual reality 3-D applications.

            robotic machines which either input data or act on data output.

            and of course, the joystick and mouse used as a pointing and clicking tool.

            The most important pieces of hardware you will be using are the VDT screen for seeing what is going on (Read the screen, use the on-line help!), the mouse (sets the computer’s focus where-ever you point the arrow and click the left mouse button!), the floppy disk where we will store our work, the printer where we will print our work, and the keyboard where we input our work. It is important that you get to know these devices and be able to know what each is used for and how to use them. Remember that the on-line help system is readily available by pressing the F1 key in any Windows program we will be using!

            Now supposing we just went out and purchased all the above hardware, hooked it all together with the power supply and turned it on. Would everything automatically work for us? Would we get output on the screen or printer, would we be able to see the arrow to accurately move the mouse, or know where to input our words from the keyboard?


Software is the instructions that tell the hardware what to do, where to do it, and when to do it. As Countess Ada so aptly put it, it is our "orders" to the machine to "perform."

3 Major types of Software:

            1. Operating software

            2. Programming software

            3. Application software

            Operating Software is a set of programs (lists of instructions) that controls and manages the entire computer system. It controls the inter-action of the different pieces of hardware with all the different application or programming software demands, and what our wants are via our input into the computer. Operating software is the framework upon which everything else rests and works. The most common referred to system was DOS which stands for Disk Operating System. OS/2/Warp is another operating system in use today in true IBM machines. While the Windows "shell" you see on your screen is not an actual operating system by itself, for our use we will consider it as such since the new version really is it’s own system and not just a shell. Files are the electronic grouping of data, commands or other information under one name for storage and use. Files are grouped in directories (or folders) which are merely sub-divisions or ‘streets’ on the disk. The operating software allows you to do such file management as copying, moving and renaming files, creating and changing directories, etc.

            Programming software is used by programmers to create their own set of instructions to direct the computer to perform a specific task or group of tasks. Also referred to as programming languages, some examples are basic, fortran, cobol, C, C++, pascal, Visual Basic, Visual C+, Ada, dBase, Foxpro, etc... There are many many programming languages!

            Application software performs useful tasks for people. It is the most common type of software and is what most people think of when talking about software. Programs that solve mathematical equations, even run robots, do payrolls, process words or documents, display graphs, manage data and pictures, and even games; are all examples of application software. This type of software allows people to use computers productively and easily without having to think like computers. Well-written application programs are intuitively easy to use and very forgiving for those who make mistakes and need help often. Also every well-written program in commercial use today has an on-line help system to help the user understand and properly use the application to get productive work done. The on-line help system is usually activated by pressing the F1 key and can help you get better acquainted with the computer faster and easier. Use it! Many of the new applications have guided tours using "Wizards", "Cue Cards" or other form of on-screen step-by-step help in doing various common work tasks that you will be doing. Once again, use them! You will find that following a Wizard will help you better understand how and why a certain task is done, and you will find yourself creating dazzling presentations quickly and easily.

Major categories of application software are:

            1.) Word processing and desktop publishing.

            2.) Spreadsheets and other number crunching applications.

            3.) Databases for information storage and retrieval.

            4.) Telecommunications and Networking for computer to computer transactions.

            5.) Graphics for manipulation and creation of pictures.

            6.) Presentation for combining all or any of the above into one file.

            7.) Multi-media for creating or editing video, sound, text, graphics, 3-D VR, etc...

Word Processor software eliminates most of the drudgery associated with the old typewriters. It allows for easy insertion of text, graphics, tables, or even pictures. Once entered and saved, it can be easily changed, moved around, highlighted with different fonts (letter shapes), bolded and otherwise modified before printing. When doing a paper for school, it is easy to check for spelling, re-writing only the passage the teacher asks you to re-write without re-typing the entire page. Make the changes, select print and presto!

Spreadsheets are used mainly for financial calculations such as payroll, accounting, forecasting, estimating; and other number-crunching tasks. A business uses spreadsheets to track their financial health, activity, and possibilities for future growth.

Databases are used to keep track of, store and retrieve large volumes of information quickly and easily about business customers and other data. The key attribute of a database is that it allows you to pull a very specific list of data from a much larger pool of data. A business would use a database to keep track of inventory and customer information. They could then easily get a list of all customers in New York from their World-Wide customer file when putting on a seminar in that city.

Telecommunications and Networking software is needed to allow your computer to communicate with another computer. With such software and connections you can download (get from) or upload (send to) files on another computer across the room or across the world. It is this type of software that is behind the Internet.

Graphics software allows you to create computer art, scan in pictures or combine both with text to create nearly anything you wish. The U.S. Secret Service has been concerned for some time now that the sophistication of the hardware and software has led to people being arrested for scanning and printing currency. That is why our money is changing in form and texture to avoid counterfeiting.

Presentation software allows you to combine files created in different applications into one file for a sales or other promotional project. The computers in the school have such a package with Microsoft’s Power Point. Although these types can be difficult to work with, practice and using the Wizards will help you get the hang of it if you want to try.

Multi-media software allows you to create or interact with video, sound, graphics, and virtual reality 3-D worlds and games. This area is the newest and fastest growing segment of the software market development as processors and drives get faster and bigger and cheaper.

            Your use and interaction with any of the above software applications comes through using the various input hardware devices available and seeing what happens on the screen when you do something. Some of the older computers are "text-based" and require a more thorough knowledge of DOS commands and file name extensions and directories. The newer computers have what is referred to as GUI (Graphical User Interface) using what is termed WIMPs (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing devices). Such terminology may be the old computer "nerds" getting back at us regular folk who demand that these things be easier to use than in the past when only "nerds" could use them. I personally don’t mind using the WIMP system to accomplish work faster and easier than before.

            However, saving your work still requires you to understand the syntax for file names, extensions, directories and drives. Remember that all drives are designated as letters, with A: referring to the floppy drive we insert our diskette into. By the way, the round silver part you can see on one side of the diskette is the bottom of the diskette, it goes into the drive facing towards the little button on the drive that you will push to pop the diskette back out. So remember that the bottom goes towards the button!!

            You will remember that a file is an electronic representation of our work, programs, data, pictures or any other data. It has to have a unique name composed of, at most, 8 letters or numbers, with NO spaces or fancy characters! It may have a 3 character extension after a period to indicate what type of file it is. Some common extensions you will see are .exe for an executable file, .wks for a worksheet, .ico for the data needed to draw one of the icons or little pictures you see on the screen, and there are many others. Most programs will automatically supply the extension after you supply the 8 character name when saving your work.

            I hope you also will remember that directories are like streets in a city, they are simply a way of organizing related files in one area. On most computers you will find all the files the Windows program needs to run in the Windows subdirectory. Similarly all the Dbase files will be in the Dbase directory. On your own computer you may have a directory call Mystuff in which you may further subdivide to Mystuff\pics or Mystuff\school or mystuff\games, etc...

            So when saving your work in Word, your complete file location or address may read like this: a:\mystuff\school\hist1.doc where the a: indicates the drive where the file is located, \mystuff is the directory or street off the main drag, \school is the subdirectory off the mystuff directory, hist1 is the name we gave it as our first history paper, and the .doc extension was added by Word so that it knows it was the application software which saved the file.


            As you work with the computers more and more, these things will come more easily and naturally. Remember that you MUST work on the computer outside of class time in order to succeed. If the only time you spend on the computer is during class, you will not do well in this class. You MUST get in some computer time outside of class. I also encourage you to experiment and try new things. Save your work often. If your application "locks-up" on you, or goes away and seems to "sulk" and do nothing, pressing and holding the following key sequence will get you re-started: Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Press and hold both the Ctrl and Alt keys together, when you press the Delete key you can release all 3 keys, after reading the screen and pressing the Enter key you should find yourself back at the beginning and can re-load the application, then re-open your file and begin from your last save. It is vital you remember to save your work often!!! When you do this key sequence, ALL data of your work in memory will be lost since your last disk save.

            Business computer use has been, and will continue growing rapidly because:

            1.) Hardware costs are steadily decreasing.

            2.) Computer literacy rate is growing, more people are learning how to use them.

            3.) Good user-friendly software makes it easier to use and be more productive.

            What are computers good at?

            1.) Intuitive thinking?

            2.) Repetitive tasks?

            3.) Speed and accuracy?

            4.) Unstructured tasks?

            5.) Structured tasks?

            Should I computerize a task?

            1.) Does the task lend itself to computerization?

            2.) Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

            Practice using the mouse and moving the computer’s focus around by clicking the left mouse button once. Press the F1 key and look through the on-line help available. Look through the different menu choices after opening-up various programs just to see how the different menu items are arranged. You may be able to highlight various menu choices with the mouse or arrow keys, and then press F1 to get help on that particular menu choice. The Windows environment is a very friendly place to be if you follow what you are doing by reading what is on the screen and taking advantage of the on-line help.


            When doing word-processing it easier to modify text in a report or paper after you have entered it in normal mode first. Then you merely have to move the mouse pointer to the beginning of the text you want to modify, click and hold down the left button, then drag the point of focus to the end of the text that is to be modified, then release the left mouse button. The section of text, or graphic, will be highlighted and is ready for you to make bold, italic, change the font, size, color, or anything else your imagination decides you want to perform on the selected text, or item. Experiment and enjoy! This type of editing can also be done in other application software such as spreadsheets and databases, as you will find out as the class progresses. The future is filled with computers and you can easily succeed in understanding and using these machines to do some amazing and wonderful things with your imagination !



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