NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2009
Computer Basics
Written by Hilton Kaufman,
a member of the Chicago Computer Society, IL

hmkaufman (at) earthlink.net (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

A computer is nothing but a bunch of wires and parts sitting in a box. Programming makes it work. Over the years computers have become smaller and more powerful, while programming became more sophisticated.

Years ago memory was expensive and the programming was relatively cheap. Now, memory is quite cheap. For many purposes the necessary programming either comes with the machine or can be purchased in a box or online.

For most people, a commonly available operating system and an office suite meet their needs. The operating system helps direct commands through the parts and wires, although there is a chip with some very low level programming on it that is part of the machine. The office suite has the programs or applications that allow business-type things to be done.

The most common operating systems are those in the Microsoft® Windows® line of products. These come with some useful applications and games. WordPad®, which comes with the Microsoft® Windows® operating systems, is sufficient for the word processing needs of many people who do not need a complicated office suite.

When you buy a computer, the operating system and its included applications are usually pre-loaded into the machine. Depending on the package that is purchased, other programs may come with the machine. There is likely to be a minimal office suite, such as Microsoft® Works®, a web browser and an e-mail program. These will be inexpensive, low end products, which may be adequate.

A business class office suite may cost a few hundred dollars depending upon what is included. A powerful database program will approximately double the cost of the office suite.

The required power and cost of the machine depends on how it will be used. Computer games with life-like graphics require powerful machines. Text only e-mail messaging can use inexpensive machines.

Many computers are connected together through something known as the Internet. Several services, such as the World Wide Web and e-mail, are delivered through the Internet. The Internet works through a complex addressing system so that messages can go where they are supposed to go. Any computer may or may not be connected to the Internet at any given time.

Connections to other than local computers, such as to the Internet, usually go through a commercial Internet Service Provider, or ISP, which connects to the Internet trunk lines. This connection could be through a school, government agency, business, or other organization instead. ISPs can be small neighborhood operations, large International concerns, or in between.

One should be a bit careful when using the Internet. While there is a lot of useful information available, there is also significant bad stuff. Attempts are made to scam people in various ways or to harm computers.

Hilton Kaufman serves as an Internet content provider and unit technical support person in the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Among his other duties, he designs interactive forms and assists people with the use of computer programs.

He is old enough to have seen room size computers that were programmed by inserting boards with plug in wiring. Yet he is familiar with much of the modern technology. For several years he has been writing articles for beginners on the use of computers, which have been published in computer user group newsletters.

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