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Computer Basics

You don't have to know everything to be comfortable with computers. But there is a lot of
information that will help you understand why things are the way they are... and how disaster
can strike!

"Knowledge is power!" So it's to your advantage to gather all the knowledge that you can.
Besides which, computers are lots of fun - when they aren't driving you insane!!!

What's in these lessons?

The lessons in this Computer Basics section of Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
explain a lot of the techno-babble that you hear about computers. The goal is to learn enough
that you can follow along as computer technology becomes more and more important in our

Consider this set of lessons "Beginning Driver's Ed" for the computer. What might be covered in
a Driver's Education course in high school? How the engine works. Parts of the car. How to turn
it on. How to shift gears. Rules of the road. Laws. Proper signaling. Lane changing. Basic
maintenance. Changing a flat. Filling up with gas. Some clues on when "You'd better stop the car

The topics covered here will introduce you to a similar set of topics about computers. When you finish,
you'll be just as prepared to "drive" a computer, as you were to drive a car when you finished Driver's Ed.
Scary thought, isn't it? That clearly means you will need lots of practice with a skilled "driver" in the
passenger's seat before you can be considered "safe on the road!" But we can get you started! But, really,
you'll understand the basic ideas behind computers, some of the ills that affect computers, and some of the
basic safety measures to take to keep your computer healthy. You'll gain some knowledge of how we got
to today's computers and what lies ahead. It'll be great!

1. Computer Types

2. Applications

3. Input

4. Processing

5. Output

6. Storage

7. Computer to Computer

8. System Software

9. Programming

10. What You See

11. Hands On!

12. On Your Own


Computer Basics
You don't have to know everything to be comfortable with computers. But there is a lot of
information that will help you understand why things are the way they are... and how disaster
can strike!

"Knowledge is power!" So it's to your advantage to gather all the knowledge that you can.
Besides which, computers are lots of fun - when they aren't driving you insane!!!

What's in these lessons?

The lessons in this Computer Basics section of Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
explain a lot of the techno-babble that you hear about computers. The goal is to learn enough
that you can follow along as computer technology becomes more and more important in our

Consider this set of lessons "Beginning Driver's Ed" for the computer. What might be covered in
a Driver's Education course in high school? How the engine works. Parts of the car. How to turn
it on. How to shift gears. Rules of the road. Laws. Proper signaling. Lane changing. Basic
maintenance. Changing a flat. Filling up with gas. Some clues on when "You'd better stop the car

The topics covered here will introduce you to a similar set of topics about computers. When you
finish, you'll be just as prepared to "drive" a computer, as you were to drive a car when you
finished Driver's Ed. Scary thought, isn't it? That clearly means you will need lots of practice
with a skilled "driver" in the passenger's seat before you can be considered "safe on the road!"
But we can get you started! But, really, you'll understand the basic ideas behind computers,
some of the ills that affect computers, and some of the basic safety measures to take to keep your
computer healthy. You'll gain some knowledge of how we got to today's computers and what lies
ahead. It'll be great!

Computer Basics does not require you to touch a computer, except to read the lessons. Other
lesson units guide you in actually using a computer, starting with Working with Windows.

If you are using this site as part of a class, your instructor may have you do only certain sections
or do them in a different order.

Are you ready? Begin the first lesson by clicking on the little computer.

For more detailed lessons on software, try the tutorials on Windows, word processing,
spreadsheets, the web, presentations, and databases.
1. Computer Types

2. Applications

3. Input

4. Processing

5. Output

6. Storage

7. Computer to Computer

8. System Software

9. Programming

10. What You See

11. Hands On!

12. On Your Own


Computer Basics
1 - Computer Types: Intro

Computers are showing up everywhere you look, and even in places you can't see. Computers
check out your groceries, pump your gas, dispense money at the ATM, turn the heat on and off,
control the way your car runs. They're everywhere! They're everywhere!

In fact, the computer is rapidly becoming, if it hasn't already gotten there, as tightly woven into
the fabric of our lives as the automobile. The analogy runs quite deep.

When automobiles were new, many people said "Those smelly, loud, complicated things will
never replace the horse!" And "Those things break down in just a few miles, while my faithful
horse goes on and on and repairs itself!" Nowadays it's hard to imagine the world without all the
variety of four-wheeled, internal combustion vehicles. How many can you name? Sedans, pickup
trucks, fire engines, front-end loaders, 4-wheelers, golf carts, bulldozers, cranes, vans, dump
trucks... We have an "automobile" for every purpose under heaven - and in different models and
colors, too.
Do you know all these vehicles?
Click the image to see the answers

So it is with computers. There are different kinds of computers for different purposes. They are
just as varied in size, expense, and ability as our more familiar 4-wheeled vehicles are.

What is a computer?

A computer is an electronic device that executes the instructions in a program.

A computer has four functions:

a. accepts data
b. processes
data Processing
c. produces
output Output
d. stores results The Information Processing
In the lessons that follow we will study the parts of the computer and each of
the four parts of the Information Processing Cycle.

Some Beginning Terms

Hardware the physical parts of the computer.
Software the programs (instructions) that tell the computer what to do
Data individual facts like first name, price, quantity ordered
Information data which has been massaged into a useful form, like a
complete mailing address
Default the original settings; what will happen if you don't change
What makes a computer powerful?
Speed A computer can do billions of actions per second.

Reliability Failures are usually due to human error, one way or

another. (Blush for us all!)

Storage A computer can keep huge amounts of data.

Computer Basics
1 - Computer Types: Descriptions

There is a computer for every use under heaven, or so it seems. Let's look at the kinds of
computers that there are, based on general performance levels.

Personal or micro

Computers for personal use come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny PDAs (personal digital
assistant) to hefty PC (personal computer) towers. More specialized models are announced
each week - trip planners, expense account pads, language translators...

Hand-held (HPC) PDA Tablet PC Laptop/Notebook

Desktop Tower Workstation

Descriptions of Personal Computers

When talking about PC computers, most people probably think of the desktop type, which are
designed to sit on your desk. (Bet you figured that one out!) The tower and the smaller mini-
tower style cases have become popular as people started needing more room for extra drives
inside. Repairmen certainly appreciate the roominess inside for all the cables and circuit boards
... and their knuckles.

A workstation is part of a computer network and generally would be expected to have more
than a regular desktop PC of most everything, like memory, storage space, and speed.

The market for the smallest PCs is expanding rapidly. Software is becoming available for the
small types of PC like the palmtop (PPC) and handheld (HPC). This new software is based
on new operating systems like Windows CE (for Consumer Electronics). You may find simplified
versions of the major applications you use. One big advantage for the newer programs is the
ability to link the small computers to your home or work computer and coordinate the data. So
you can carry a tiny computer like a PalmPilot around to enter new phone numbers and
appointments and those great ideas you just had. Then later you can move this information to
your main computer.

With a Tablet PC you use an electronic stylus to write on the screen, just like with a pen and
paper, only your words are in digital ink. The Tablet PC saves your work just like you wrote it
(as a picture), or you can let the Hand Recognition (HR) software turn your chicken-scratches
into regular text.

Main Frame

The main frame is the workhorse of the business world. A main frame is the heart of a
network of computers or terminals which allows hundreds of people to work at the same time on
the same data. It requires a special environment - cold and dry.

The first Cray supercomputer was introduced in 1976

The supercomputer is the top of the heap in power and expense. These are used for jobs that
take massive amounts of calculating, like weather forecasting, engineering design and testing,
serious decryption, economic forecasting, etc.

A list of the top 500 supercomputers -who made them, where they are installed and what
they are used for.

Distributed or Grid Computing

The power needed for some calculations is more than even a single supercomputer can manage.
In distributed computing, using a PC grid, many computers of all sizes can work on parts of
the problem and their results are pooled. A number of current projects rely on volunteers with
computers connected to the Internet. The computers do the work when they are not busy

The projects that need distributed computing are highly technical. For example, the
SETI@Home project looks for signs of intelligent communication in radio signals coming from
space. (SETI stands for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.)

If you volunteer your computer for this project, you might be asked to load a small screen-saver
program onto your own computer. When the computer is not busy, the screen saver comes on.
The program downloads some signal data, starts to analyze it, and later reports the results back
to SETI@Home. Once the program is installed, you do not have to do anything else but watch
the progress in the screen saver.

Another method does not use a screen saver, but uses any idle time on your computer to work on
the project. Results are sent to the project's home over the Internet.

A listing of current distributed computing efforts can be found at DistributedComputing.Info

, such as:

Entropia: modeling evolution of resistance to drugs and designing better AIDS

FightingAIDS@Home treatments
Folding@home working on how proteins fold, which is important to understanding how
they work and reproduce
Distributed.Net cryptography and mathematical problems
GOLEM@Home Completed: evolving robots (Genetically Organized Lifelike Electro
PiHex Completed: calculating the value of Pi to certain large places

Other Important Terms


The term server actually refers to a computer's function rather than to a specific kind of
computer. A server runs a network of computers. It handles the sharing of equipment like
printers and the communication between computers on the network. For such tasks a computer
would need to be somewhat more capable than a desktop computer. It would need:

• more power
• larger memory
• larger storage capacity
• high speed communications


The minicomputer has become less important since the PC has gotten so powerful on its own.
In fact, the ordinary new PC is much more powerful than minicomputers used to be. Originally
this size was developed to handle specific tasks, like engineering and CAD calculations, that
tended to tie up the main frame.

For more on the history of computing: The Computer Museum History Center The center
traces the development of the computer. The site includes a timeline that is sorted by year or by
topic. You can also search for information on people, companies, and products in the computer

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Intro
An application is another word for a program running on the computer. Whether or not it is a
good application depends on how well it performs the tasks it is designed to do and how easy it
is for the user to use. That involves the user interface- the way the user tells the software what
to do and how the computer displays information and options to the user.
Text Interface

A text interface was all that was available in the beginning. The example below is of PKZIP,
which squashes files into smaller size to save you space. Notice in the center the command you
would have to type to use this program. An actual command line would look something like:
c:\>pkzip c:\myfiles\newfile.zip c:\docs\report14.doc

A text-based interface means typing in all the commands. If you mis-type, you have to backspace
to your error, which erases what you already typed. It's hard to have fun this way!

Add-on programs were written, of course, so you could edit what was typed - to the joy of all who
had to work with long command lines.

Modern text interfaces have lots of cool shortcuts and features. But you still have to spell and
type well.

Text Interface with Menus

Improvements arrived with the addition of menus and the use of the arrow keys to move around
the screen. This is much better than having to type in all the commands.

The example to the right is of a bulletin board communications program.

Notice the list of commands in the popup menu in the center. You would use the arrow keys to
move up and down the list and then press the Enter key to execute the command. Various
menus are usually available by using the ALT key in combination with a letter or number key.
Graphical Interface

A graphical user interface (GUI - sometimes pronounced GOO-ee) uses pictures to make it
easier for the user.
It is more user friendly.

The example below is from Windows 95/98. The use of drop-down menus, windows, buttons,
and icons was first successfully marketed by Apple on the Macintosh computer. These ideas are
now as standard for graphical interfaces as door knobs are for doors.

Common features of a graphical interface:

window menu button icon

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Word Processing

There are many different kinds of applications, all with lots of spiffy features. Word
processing is the application that is used most often and most widely. We will start with it to
learn about the terms and features that are common to most applications, as well as some that
are specific to word processing. Then we will look at other major applications and what they do.

Examples of word processing programs: Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Lotus WordPro, and
Open Office Writer.

Word Processing

Word processing is the most used computer application!

It has replaced the typewriter as the main way words are put on paper. Documents can be
revised and corrected before they are ever printed. An existing document can be used as a
template, or pattern, for a new one. So the user doesn't have to recreate standard documents
from scratch each time. This is a major time-saver and helps keep things consistent.

Purpose: To produce documents

Main advantage: Can easily change what has been done

Steps to produce a document

• Create
• Edit
• Format
• Print
• Save (often!!)

Let's look at the terms involved in these steps more closely.

Most of these terms also apply to the other standard applications, so we will not redefine them
for all.


You create a document when you open a blank document and enter text.
Word wrap - automatically wrapping the text to the next line so it all fits within the
screen's width
Cursor - symbol for where text will appear like:
Enter text- type new text
Scrolling - moving document around within window
Select - Highlight text, usually by dragging. Commands and keystroke
combinations will apply to the selected material.
Edit - make changes
Cut - remove selection from document and store temporarily on the
Clipboard, which is a section of computer memory. The Windows
Clipboard can hold only one thing at a time. The Office Clipboard from
Office XP can hold many items.
Copy - duplicate selection onto Clipboard
Paste - place contents of the Clipboard at cursor location
Undo - reverses whatever change you just made
Some programs will only "undo" the last change.
Others keep a list and can undo more, depending on how many changes the program
Insert - add text at location without overwriting existing text
Delete - remove text (not saved anywhere)
Search - look for specific word(s) or character(s)
Replace - can replace specific word(s) or character(s) with stated text
Template - a document that serves as a pattern for a new document
Thesaurus - looks for synonyms for selected word
Spelling check - looks for spelling errors
Grammar check looks for grammar/style errors (of limited help)
Do it!

Would you like to play around with the basic word processing skills?
Try the Do It! practice page. Both versions will open in a new window.

Do It! - framed
Do It! - no frames

For a full set of lessons on word processing, go to the section: Working with Words


Once a document has been created, or during the process, you arrange how it will look by
selecting the kind of letters and their sizes and colors, how much space is left and where, how
things line up. This is formatting the document.

Typeface - set of characters of similar design like:

Point size - one point = 1/72 of an inch like:

12 pt 18 pt 24 pt 36 pt
Font - combo of typeface & point size, includes styles such as BOLD, italics,
Margins -

space at the page borders

Justification - left center right justify

Spacing -

space between letters and lines

lines around table or page; background color
Headers/footers -

info to repeat on each page

Style sheets - saved sets of formats to reuse
Columns -

columns of text side by side as in a newspaper

Tables -

items listed in rows and columns

Graphics - pictures and charts


When a document is finished, it may be printed onto paper.

Choose number of copies/pages to print
Choose Orientation:

Portrait Landscape
Print Preview shows you how it will look in print

For a full set of lessons on word processing, go to: Working with Words

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing does on the computer what used to be done with scissors and glue and other
non-computer methods - put together text and graphics for printing.

High-end word processors can do much of what a desktop publishing program does, at least
for fairly simple documents. The difference between them has become a bit blurred.

Look at a national magazine and try to duplicate the layout and graphics quality in a word
processor! You will see that there IS a difference.

For professional publications, a desktop publishing program gives the precise control needed
and also advanced capacities such as preparing four-color separations for commercial
Levels of Software

"Desktop publishing" covers a wide range of activities and difficulty levels:

• Professional Create for commercial printing - magazine, company annual

report, newspaper, book, full-color advertising
• Small business/home Use a wizard or template to create a brochure, business card, or
office ad and print on your own printer

• Specialty programs Make your own greeting cards, calendars, or labels.

Print T-shirts.

Major players in the desktop publishing game include Microsoft Publisher, Corel Ventura,
QuarkXpress, and several Adobe products - PageMaker, FrameMaker, InDesign.

Purpose: To prepare documents with graphics with precise control of the layout

Major Advantages: Ability to place text and graphics precisely on page

Ability to chain sections together like newspaper columns
Advanced tools for professional work

Layout - arranging text and graphics
Clip art - pre-drawn pictures to add to page
WYSIWYG - What You See Is What You Get
pronounced "wiz-e-wig"
How page displays on screen is the same as how it prints

separations- For full color in high quality printing, the paper goes through the printing press
4 times, once for each of the colors cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK
color system). The print shop must create separate versions of your document,
called separations, for each color.
Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Spreadsheet

A spreadsheet is the application of choice for most documents that organize numbers, like
budgets, financial statements, grade sheets, and sales records. A spreadsheet can perform simple
or complex calculations on the numbers you enter in rows and columns.

Examples of spreadsheet programs: MS Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro, and Open Office Calc.
Purpose: Organizing numbers

Major Advantages: Can calculate for you using formulas

Auto-update of related numbers when data changes

Can display data in graphs and charts

rows & Creates a grid

cell Intersection of row and

column. Can contain text or

formula Calculates value to put in cell, =SUM(C21:C45)

like a total, an average, interest, =Average(B3:W394)

chart Graphical representation of the


Do It!

Would you like to see a spreadsheet at work?

You can open an actual spreadsheet by clicking one of the icons in the first row below.
Depending on your software, you will either get an Excel window or the spreadsheet will open in
a new browser window which will have new toolbars and menu commands.

If you do not have the software to actually open the spreadsheet, use the second set of links to
open images that show how a spreadsheet looks. The images also open in a new window.

Excel spreadsheet:

Image of Excel

Look for the spreadsheet features listed above. [rows, columns, cells, formulas, and charts]

For a full set of lessons on spreadsheets, go to the section: Working with Numbers

Computer Basics
2 -Applications: Database

A database is a collection of data that you want to manage, rearrange, and add to later. It is a
good program to use to manage lists that are not entirely numbers, such as addresses and phone
numbers, inventories, and membership rosters. With a database you could sort the data by name
or city or postal code or by any individual item of information recorded. You can create forms to
enter or update or just display the data. You can create reports that show just the data you are
interested in, like members who owe dues.

Both spreadsheets and databases can be used to handle much the same information, but each is
optimized to handle a different type most efficiently. The larger the number of records, the more
important the differences are.

Examples of databases: MS Access, dBase, FoxPro, Paradox, Approach, Oracle, Open Office

Purpose: Managing data

Major Advantages: Can change way data is sorted and displayed

A flat database contains files which contain records which contain fields

A relational database contains tables which are linked together. Each table contains
records which contain fields.
A query can filter your records to show just the ones that meet certain criteria or to arrange
them in a particular order.
Types of databases

Flat database:

The earliest and simplest databases are flat databases. A flat database may still be all you
need for your purpose.

Advantages: Easy to set up

Easy to understand

Disadvantages: May require entering the same information in many records.

A text database is hard to read.
A single record in a spreadsheet database may not fit across the screen.

A text database is a plain text file where the fields are separated by a particular character like a
vertical bar | or a comma , or a semi-colon ; . The example below puts a vertical bar between
each field. The first record shows the names of the fields.

A text database is hard to read in this raw form. A database program can show each record
separately in a more readable display. It is hard to create a report that contains just the parts you
want to see.
A spreadsheet can work as a flat database. Each field is in a separate column and each row is a
single record. The example below shows how quickly a record gets wider than the screen. You
cannot use two rows for one record.

Relational database:

Microsoft Access and Oracle and other relational databases are more advanced and more
efficient. This kind of database uses a set of tables which are linked together. Using a well-
designed relational database can greatly reduce the amount of data you must enter each time
you add a record. For large numbers of records, a relational database can search through the
records faster.

Advantages: Reduces the duplication in data entry.

Faster searches.
Can create forms and reports that display only the data you want to see.
Can create queries to answer questions that are hard or impossible to answer in
flat databases.

Disadvantages: Can be complex to set up, using many tables.

It is harder to understand how all the parts relate to each other.
Below is an illustration of the tables in a small database that records information about
insurance agents and policy holders. This particular insurance office works with several different
insurance companies. There are 7 tables in the database. The lines show which fields in each
table are the same. These link the tables together.

Each agent can be licensed with several different companies and in several different states. In a
flat database you would have to have a record for each agent for every company and state he is
licensed with, repeating the agent info for each record. Argh! Too much typing!!

You can design a form so that you can do this all in one spot! This is much easier than repeating
so much information for each record as you would do in a flat database. The images below show
the two screens for the Agent Info Form. This form can be used for entering new agents as well
as for displaying the current ones.

You often want to look at just part of the data in a database. You can reorder or filter your data
using Structural Query Language (SQL). You might want a list of people who have a
particular postal code, for example. Happily there are visual methods you can use to create your
query, like the example below from MS Access. You can drag the fields from the list at the top
and drop them in the columns at the bottom. You can add sorting orders or criteria, like picking
a particular postal code. The query below brings together the fields from the Agent Info table
that are needed for mailing labels.
The actual SQL code for this query looks a lot different from the Design view above! No wonder
a drag-and-drop method was created!

For a full set of lessons on databases using MS Access, go to: Working with Databases

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Graphics

Graphics programs deal with pictures, either static or moving, flat or 3D. There are an amazing
number of different formats for images in the world and no one program can handle them all.

Adobe Photoshop is the most widely used graphics program for professionals. PaintShopPro is
popular because it offers most of Photoshop's features at a lower cost and with a friendlier
interface. There are many other programs. Some specialize in handling photographs or
animations or creating logos.

Purpose: To create and edit images

Paint programs work with pictures on a pixel-by-pixel basis, where a pixel is the smallest dot on
the screen. Such programs handle photographs and most clipart. MS Paint is this type of

Advantages: Control over each dot in the picture

Disadvantages: Angled lines are jagged stair steps, especially if enlarged.

Drawing programs, on the other hand, define images in terms of vectors, that is, equations
that describe geometric shapes. Fortunately, the user doesn't have to do the math! Drawing
objects in MS Office are vector images.

Advantages: Does not get as fuzzy or jagged when the size is changed.
The file size is smaller.
(For the web, the original vector picture at right had to be converted to a bitmap

Disadvantages: Can't change the color of a dot in the middle of a shape.

Animation and video programs put a set of still pictures into a sequence. When the
sequence of images is run, the change from one picture to the next fools the eye into seeing
motion. This is how movies and television work. An individual image in an animation is called a
cel. (Yes, there is just one l in that word!)

The animation of eyes above was made with just 2 cels. The animation below from Microsoft
GIF Animator takes 56 cels!
bitmap image a picture defined as a series of dots
vector image a picture defined as a set of geometric
shapes, using equations
animation a sequence of images that are shown rapidly
in succession, causing an impression of
pixel a single picture element, the smallest dot on
the screen. A period (.) is made of 4 pixels in
a square.
palette a set of choices, such as colors or shapes

brush a tool for drawing lines. May give the effect

of using a pencil, a paint brush, an airbrush
spray, chalk, charcoal, felt-tip marker...
handles shapes on a selected object that allow you to
change the shape by dragging the handle
fill colors an enclosed area with one color or
cel a single image in an animation sequence
Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Presentations

A presentation program, also known as presentation graphics, links together a sequence

of slides containing text and graphics. A slide show might be used for a sales presentation or
for training or to enhance any kind of speech.
A presentation program includes a number of tools for creating graphics that are quite useful.
High-end programs can add sound and video to the slides.

Three slides from a presentation

Examples of presentation software: Microsoft PowerPoint, Corel Presentations, Lotus Freelance

Graphics, Harvard Graphics, Open Office Impress

Purpose: Turning information into visual form

Major Pictures convey info faster than tables of numbers.
Having something to look at helps keep your audience
focused on what you are saying.


charts analytical graphics slides

slide show The whole sequence of slides shown in order

transition effect The way a slide changes to the next slide.

For example the new slide might appear to slide in from the side over
the old slide.

animation effect The way part of a slide appears. For example, a line might be revealed
one letter at a time.
Example of a Presentation
The slides that make up the presentation Chap1.ppt are shown below. This presentation was
written in 1996 as a part of a review for students. There are 10 slides, but the slides are revealed
in parts. When you actually go through the presentation, it takes 1 click to change to a new slide
or to reveal a new part of a slide.

Slide sorter view of presentation in PowerPoint

Most slides are revealed line by line.
Detailed directions:

Example: PowerPoint file (224 kb) Requires PowerPoint. After you click the link, the
presentation will download. Choose Open in the dialog(s) that appears. The presentation will
open in the inline frame above. If you get an error message, use the HTML version instead.

Navigating PowerPoint version:

Use the scrollbar.
Click on the slide itself.
Use your mouse scroll wheel.

Example: HTML version - (if you do not have PowerPoint) After you click the link, slides
will load in the inline frame above. Each slide is a web page and has to download each graphic.
Be patient. This is not exactly like the normal presentation, but it is close.

Navigating HTML version:

Click the title in the navigation frame at the left.
Arrows bring up the previous or next slide.
Slide Show button shows presentation in full screen.
Advance by clicking the slide.

ESC key: returns you to this page from full screen view.

For a full set of lessons on presentations, see Working with Presentations .

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Communications

These programs temporarily connect computers to each other to exchange information. They
may use telephone lines or dedicated cables for the connection. This allows you, for example, to
work at home on the weekend and transfer all you've done to your computer at work before you
leave home.

These are not the same as networking programs where computers are actually linked together all
the time.

Most communications programs now include many different communication functions in one
Purpose: Transmitting data and messages between computers
Major Advantage: Speed

A communications program includes one or more of the following actions:

• sending and receiving files: FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

• exchanging messages in a group: chat programs
• private text messages: instant messaging
• voice messages
• video conferencing
• phone calls over the Internet

FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

An FTP program manages the moving of files between computers. When you download a file
over the Internet, you are using an FTP program. Programs like word processors and HTML
editors that can upload files to web sites include this ability without having to use another

The image below is for the program WS_FTP, which is a fairly typical FTP program. It shows the
folder tree for both the source and destination. You can copy in either direction.

WS_FTP - a program for transferring files


In a chat program you join a chat room. You write messages that appear in a window that
shows all the messages being sent in this chat room. Everyone who is logged in to this room can
read your messages.

The image below is for the program mIRC. Each person listed on the right is "in" the room and
can write messages and all the others can read them. Recent chat programs let users format
their text with color and even with different fonts. People in chat rooms tend to use a lot of
abbreviations and smiley faces.
mIRC - a chat program

For more on how to use mIRC: Prometheus Project tutorial on IRC .

Instant Messaging

An instant messaging program notifies you when your friends are online. Then you can send
them messages, which they see immediately. Only the one you send the message to can see it
and only you can see the messages that are sent to you, unless you choose to change to a
multiple-user mode. Recent versions of instant messaging include the ability to use video
conferencing, to play games together with your friends, and even to make phone calls over the
Internet. Examples of instant messaging programs are ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN
Messenger Service.

The image below shows what ICQ messages look like, when there are just a few people
messaging. You customize the look of the messages, of course.
ICQ - an instant messaging program

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Browser

An Internet browser is a program that lets you navigate the World Wide Web or view HTML
pages on a CD or on your hard disk. [It's what you are using to view this page!]

A browser displays web pages, keeps track of where you've been, and remembers the places you
want to return to.

More information is available over the Internet every day, and more tasks can be done. You can
buy books, check on your bank account, buy and sell stocks, even order pizza over the Internet.
But you have to have a browser to do it.

Internet Explorer is by far the most popular browser, though there are many others around.
Netscape was once the dominant browser. Mozilla FireFox has evolved from Netscape and has
become the favorite of many.

Purpose: Navigating the Internet

Major Advantage: Can display graphics, which older internet applications
Keeps a list of places you want to return to.
Shows HTML pages, which can include links to other
pages and files for quick access.

For more on using a browser, see the section Working with the Web: Browser Basics

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Web Pages
To create a web page for the Internet, you must write HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
code to define what is on the page, create or acquire the images for the page, and then upload
the files to a web server.

What do you need?

• HTML editing program

• Graphics editing program
• Uploading program
• Browser
• Web space

HTML Editor:
You can use any plain text editor, like Notepad, to write the code. Or, you can use a specialty
program for writing HTML pages. Such programs make it much easier to manage complex pages
and large web sites. Also useful are programs that help you write scripts or that check your
HTML code for errors.

Popular programs for writing HTML include Notepad, Microsoft FrontPage, Allaire's HomeSite,
and Macromedia Dreamweaver.

For the images on your web pages you need a graphics program that can save your images in
GIF or JPG format. PNG format will work for newer browsers, but GIF and JPG work for all

MS Paint: Older versions of MS Paint, which comes with Windows, cannot save images in
GIF, JPG or PNG formats.
Can your version?
Open MS Paint (Start menu | Run | type mspaint and click OK). Look in the Save As dialog at
the file types: File | Save As | File type list. If the list includes GIF and JPG, you are ready to
create and edit images for your web pages.

(If you do much with images, you will soon want a more advanced program than MSPaint!)

You might also want a scanner to scan photos and drawings. Collections of clip art come in
very handy.

To move your new web pages and images to a web server, you need uploading software, such as
an FTP program. HTML editors like FrontPage and Dreamweaver include uploading as a built-
in feature.

To view your web pages you need a browser, like Internet Explorer, Netscape, or Opera.

Web space:
You can view pages yourself that you save to your hard disk, but no one else can see them. You
need access to space on a web server to share your work with others on the Web. Your ISP
account, with which you connect to the Internet, may come with some web space. There are ad-
based, free web hosting companies. Or you can purchase a web hosting account with a
commercial hosting service.


When each logical part of a web page is marked, the browser will know how to display the
contents in a way that makes sense for the particular display device and user.

Special code tags are used to mark all the parts of a web page. For example the text in an
ordinary paragraph is written in between opening and closing tags like this:

<p>This is a paragraph</p>

In the frame below is a simple web page. Click the link below it to view the source code for the
page. Can you find the tags that define the two headings and the list items? How about a simple
paragraph? What does the image tag contain? What line dictates the background image?

Your browser does not support inline frames or is currently configured not to display inline
View example page View source code

View source View

Learning more
Reading and analyzing pages you see on the Web is a good way to learn about writing web pages.
You can view the source code for any page that you can view with your browser.
Try it with this page. From the Internet Explorer menu, choose View | Source. The source
code will open in a text editor. The code for this page is a lot more complex than the example

For a set of lessons on writing web pages, go to Working with the Web: HTML Basics

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Email

Email, or electronic mail, is becoming more and more popular as people learn to
communicate again with written words. For many purposes it is superior to a phone call because
you don't have to catch the person in and you can get straight to the point. No time is wasted on
casual conversation. It also leaves a written record to refer back to for a response or if you forget
who said what. Email is superior to the traditional office memo because it uses no paper (Save
the trees!!) and it can be sent to a whole list of people instantly.

An email client is the program that has to be on your computer to download and manage
emails. Commonly used email client programs include Microsoft Outlook Express, Microsoft
Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Eudora.

Another way to handle email is with a web-based email account. Your email is managed entirely
through web pages. Your computer needs only a browser to access email, compose new
messages, and to reply to messages. HotMail from MSN, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail from Google are
popular web-based email sites.

Purpose: Transmitting messages between computer users

Major Advantage: Speed
Major Disadvantage: You don't know if the receiver actually reads it, though you can
find out if they received it. Of course in a phone conversation
you don't really know if the person is actually listening either!

With no body language or vocal intonations it is difficult to

convey the emotional tone you want. Irony and sarcasm are
particularly dangerous since your reader may take you
For more on using email - view Prometheus Project tutorial on email
This tutorial is illustrated with an old version of Netscape Mail but the principles are the same
for all email.

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Project Management
When you have a group of people working together on a complex project, you need a way to
manage all the details. A project management program, like Microsoft Project, tracks all of
the people, tasks, and deadlines in a major project. By linking to the personal scheduling
programs of the people involved, the project management program can see when meetings can
be arranged by looking at everyone's scheduled events. It can check for conflicts between parts
of the project and for deadline errors.

More from Microsoft on Microsoft Project

Purpose: To plan, schedule, and analyze the events and costs of a

Major Advantage: To display a timeline of tasks and to link to personal
scheduling programs
Computer Basics
2 - Applications: PIM

PIM programs (Personal Information Management) are a special kind of database. A PIM will
normally include an address book, a calendar to schedule activities and appointments, and a to-
do list where you list chores, calls to make, various things to do.

Some popular programs which include PIM functions are MS Outlook, Lotus Organizer, ACT!,
Gold Mine, and Sidekick, which was the first PIM.

New versions of these programs add email management, wireless access, and other features for
the new, hot technologies. The new goal for a PIM seems to be to vanish into the background,
while letting you have access to your email, calendar, and scheduling software from anywhere.

Purpose: Tracking personal information like-

address book
phone messages
notes on future projects
Major Advantage: Quick access to schedule data and address book. Can often be
merged into documents directly.
Contact Manager

An advanced PIM may be called a Contact Manager. Such a program is optimized to make it
easy to track who you have talked to or met with and what you did or said.

A contact manager automatically links a name in the address book to names in the calendar.
Clicking on the name in the calendar brings up the full contact information, including fields for
notes about what you did and reminders for what you need to do after the meeting or
conversation. From the address book you can bring up a list of when you had contacts with this
person. Powerful stuff!

Computer Basics
2 - Applications: Integrated & Suites

Integrated software combines the functions of several programs into one interface. Such a
program is usually designed for the beginning or casual user.

Many advanced features are omitted that might be found in stand-alone products. For example,
the word processor in an integrated software package would not likely have a way to
automatically generate a table of contents and would have fewer options on how to handle
footnotes, headers, and footers.

Microsoft Works is an example of integrated software.


A software suite is a set of applications which can each stand alone. They are packaged together
for a lower price than if all were bought separately. There are usually enhancements that help
the applications communicate with each other, also.

Some popular suites of office software include MS Office, Lotus Smart Suite, WordPerfect Office,
OpenOffice, and iWork (for Mac computers). These include several programs, such as:

• word processing
• spreadsheet
• presentations
• e-mail client
• address book
• database

Other Examples of Software Suites

An example of a graphics suite is Corel Draw Suite, which includes programs for:
• vector illustration
• layout
• bitmap creation
• image-editing
• painting
• animation software

An example of a publishing suite is Adobe Publishing Collections, which includes:

• Adobe PageMaker - desktop publishing

• Adobe Photoshop - bitmap graphics
• Adobe Illustrator - vector graphics
• Adobe Acrobat - converts documents to Portable Document Format for

Purpose: Linking different applications together for better work

(integrated software) Simplifying things for new users
Major Advantage: Costs less than a set of similar stand alone applications
bought separately
Major (integrated software) Lacks many features of the stand-
Disadvantage: alone versions of the same software.

(suites) You may not need all the parts or the advanced
features in the collection.
Computer Basics
1 - Computer Types,

2 - Applications: Quiz
For each question, click on the radio button beside your answer. You will be notified
immediately whether your choice is correct or not. Double clicking may work better.

1. The software application that is used the most often is _____.

word processing

desktop publishing



graphical presentation

2. The largest, fastest, most expensive type of computer is the _____ computer.



main frame


3. A computer which links several PCs together in a network is called a _____.




main frame

4. To publish a magazine a ________ application would be best.

word processing

desktop publishing


presentation graphics

5. Julian is a sales rep calling on up to 20 businesses a week. To keep track of his

appointments and his clients' addresses and phone numbers, he should use a

personal information manager



project manager

6. Acme Corp. sells 1000 different products to over 20,000 customers. To record
the sales and shipments they would use a _____.
word processor

project manager



7. A single application that combines the major features of several types of

applications is called _____.

integrated software

a suite

a combo package


8. Using a word processor you can change _____.

the size of the font

the typeface

the size of the margins

the spacing between lines

all of the above

none of the above

9. The orientation of the page in which the printed lines run the width (8 1/2") of
the page is called _____.




10. Input, processing, output and storage are the steps in the _____.

information cycle

information processing cycle

data cycle

data processing cycle

Computer Basics
3 - Input: Intro

What is Input?



Everything we tell the computer is Input.

Types of Input

Data is the raw facts given to the computer.

Programs are the sets of instructions that direct the computer.

Commands are special codes or key words that the user inputs to perform a task, like RUN
"ACCOUNTS". These can be selected from a menu of commands like "Open" on the File menu.
They may also be chosen by clicking on a command button.

User response is the user's answer to the computer's question, such as choosing OK, YES, or
NO or by typing in text, for example the name of a file.


The first input device we will look at is the Keyboard. The image used on the next page to
illustrate the various keys may not look like the keyboard you are using. Several variations are
popular and special designs are used in some companies. The keyboards shown below put the
function keys in different places. The Enter and Backspace keys are different shapes and sizes.
One has arrow keys while the other doesn't. It's enough to confuse a person's fingers!!
The backslash key has at least 3 popular placements: at the end of the numbers row, above the
Enter key, and beside the Enter key. We also have the Windows keyboards which have two extra
keys. One pops up the Start Menu and the other displays the right-click context sensitive menu.
Ergonomic keyboards even have a different shape, curved to fit the natural fall of the wrists.

Computer Basics
3 - Input: Keyboard
The most often used input device is the keyboard.
The layout of the keys was borrowed from the typewriter with a number of new keys added.

Click on a key or keyboard section in the picture below. You'll be moved to the
information about each section or key. Use the Return to Top arrow to come back to the picture.

Alphabet keys

The letters of the alphabet and some punctuation marks are in these three rows. The order of the
keys is called QWERTY from the order of the keys on the top row.

This arrangement of the letters was inherited from the typewriter. It is not the most efficient
layout. With the first typewriters, the typists had trouble with the mechanical keys jamming each
other because the typists could strike the keys faster than the keys could get out of each others'
way. So the letters were arranged to slow down the typists' speed. Now that electric typewriters
and computer keyboards no longer have mechanical keys, a more efficient layout could be used.
But so many people are familiar and skilled with the old way that it doesn't seem likely that the
layout will change.


The Alt key doesn't do anything by itself. But if you hold it down while pressing another key, the
effect of that key may be different from usual. Exactly what will happen will depend on what
program is running at the time.
Arrow keys

These four keys are used to move the cursor on the screen. The up and down arrows move the cursor up
or down one line. The left and right arrows move the cursor one character.


The Backspace key erases the character on the left of the cursor and moves the cursor that
direction, too.

Caps Lock

When the Caps Lock key is on, pressing any alphabetic key will result in an upper case (capital)
letter. The number and symbol keys are not affected, however. Watch out - this is different from


The Control key does nothing all by itself. It must be pressed in combination with other keys.
When used in combination, the Control key changes the normal effect of a key. Exactly what will
happen depends on the software in use at the time.


The Delete key is used to erase the character just to the right of the cursor. Any text beyond the
erased character is moved to the left.


The End key is a navigation key. It will send the cursor to the end of the current line.

The Enter key is used in several ways. In word processing, it acts like the Return key on a
typewriter by starting a new line. It is also used in place of a mouse click with buttons and drop-
down menus.


The Escape key is used to cancel actions in progress before they finish. It is also used to close
certain dialog boxes.

Function keys

The Function keys are numbered F1, F2, F3,....F12. These are programmable keys. That is,
programs can assign actions to these keys. So the same key might produce different results in
different programs.

Some of the function keys are becoming more standardized as to what they do. For example, F1
is most often used to access the Help file for a program.


The Home key is a navigation key for the cursor. It will move the cursor to the beginning of the
current line.


The Insert key is a toggle key. That is, repeatedly pressing it will alternate between two effects:
1. typing overtypes characters already there
2. typing inserts characters in between the characters that are already there.
Some programs have an indicator on screen to show you which effect is current. But not all are
as friendly.

Numeric keypad

When the Num Lock key is on, these keys are used to enter numbers as with an adding machine.

When the Num Lock key is off, the keys act as navigation keys using the alternate markings on
each key.


When Num Lock is on, the Minus key performs subtraction on the numbers entered.

When Num Lock is off, the Minus key will type a hyphen like this -.

Number/Symbol keys

On this row of keys you will see two characters, one at the top of the key and one at the bottom.
The upper character is a symbol and is accessed by holding the Shift key down while pressing the

Numbers can also be typed from the Numeric Keypad.

Num Lock

When Num Lock is on, the Numeric Keypad responds with numbers, as an adding machine.

When Num lock is off, the Numeric Keypad responds as navigation keys using the alternate
markings on the keys.

Page Down

The Page Down key is a navigation key which will drop the displayed area down the page one
screen's worth . It doesn't necessarily move a whole literal page at a time. That would depend on
the height of a page.
Page Up

The Page Up key is a navigation key which will move the cursor up the displayed area one
screen's worth. It does not usually move a literal page at a time. That would depend on the
height of a page.


The Pause key is little used under Windows. Under DOS it is used to halt actions in progress,
often so that messages on the screen can be read before they scroll off the screen.


When Num Lock is on, this key performs addition.

When Num Lock is off, this key prints a +.

Print Screen

The Print Screen key is more useful under DOS than under Windows. Under DOS pressing the
Print Screen key immediately sends the contents of the screen to the printer.

Under Windows pressing the Print Screen key sends a copy of the screen to the Clipboard. You
must then paste to an appropriate program and print from there.

Scroll Lock

The Scroll Lock key is more useful under DOS where pressing it will stop text on the screen from
scrolling off the top of the screen. This gives you time to read or print it before continuing.

The Shift key is used in combination with the alphabetic keys to get upper case.

With a numeric/symbol key using the Shift key will give the character at the top of the key.

The Shift key can be used in combination with the Alt and Control keys to change the effects of
another key.


When Num Lock is on, the Slash key acts as a division sign on the numbers entered.

When Num lock is off, the Slash key types a /.


The Spacebar is used to enter blank spaces in text. Sometimes it can also be used instead of a
mouse click on buttons.


The Tab key is used to move the cursor over to the right to a pre-set point. This is especially used
in word processing to line up text vertically.


When Num Lock is on, the Times key acts as a multiplication sign on the numbers entered.

When Num Lock is off, the Times key types a *.

Computer Basics
3 - Input: Pointing Devices
A variety of pointing devices are used to move the cursor on the screen.
The most commonly used ones have two or three buttons to click for special functions.

Mouse A ball underneath rolls as the mouse moves across the mouse pad. The cursor on the
screen follows the motion of the mouse. Buttons on the mouse can be clicked or
double-clicked to perform tasks, like to select an icon on the screen or to open the
selected document.

Many recent mice have a scroll wheel as the middle button.

There are new mice that don't have a ball at all. They use a laser to sense the motion
of the mouse instead. High tech!

Practice clicking on the images of mice above. The image will change with a
successful click.

Advantage: Moves cursor around the screen faster than using keystrokes.
Disadvantage: Requires moving hand from keyboard to mouse and back.
Repeated motion can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome

Trackball Instead of moving the whole mouse around, the user rolls the
trackball only, which is on the top or side.

Advantage: Does not need as much desk space as a mouse.

Is not as tiring since less motion is needed.
Disadvantage: Requires fine control of the ball with just one finger or
Repeated motions of the same muscles is tiring and can
cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
Glidepad Uses a touch sensitive pad for controlling
cursor. The user slides finger across the pad
and the cursor follows the finger movement.
For clicking there are buttons, or you can tap
on the pad with a finger. The glidepad is a
popular alternate pointing device for laptops.
Advantage: Does not need as much desk space as a mouse.
Can readily be built into the keyboard.
Has finer resolution. That is, to achieve the same
cursor movement onscreen takes less movement of
the finger on the glidepad than it does mouse
Can use either buttons or taps of the pad for clicking.
Disadvantage: The hand tires faster than with a mouse since there is
no support.
Some people don't find the motion as natural as a

Game Cursor motion controlled by vertical stick (joystick) or arrow buttons


Advantage: A joystick gives a more natural-feeling control for motion

in games, especially those where you are flying a plane or
Both have more buttons for special functions than a mouse
and can combine buttons for even more actions.
Disadvantage: More expensive
Better ones require an additional peripheral card for best

Pen Input Used esp. in Personal Digital Assistants (PDA)

Pen Input is used for:
Data Input - by writing. PDA recognizes your handwriting.
(If only your friends could, too!)
Pointing Device - Functions like a mouse in moving a cursor
around the screen and clicking by tapping the
Command Gestures - You can issue commands by moving pen in
patterns. So a certain kind of swirl would
mean to save the file and a different kind of
swirl could mean to open a new file.
Advantage: Can use handwriting instead of typing
Can use gestures instead of typing commands
Small size
Disadvantage: Must train device to recognize handwriting.
Must learn gestures or train device to recognize the ones you create
Can lose the pen which is not usually attached to the device
Touchscreen Make selection by just touching the screen.

Advantage: It's natural to do - reach out and touch something.

Disadvantage: It's tiring if many choices must be made.
It takes a lot of screen space for each choice since fingers
are bigger than cursors.

Digitizers and Converts drawings, photos, etc. to digital signal.

The tablets have special commands
Graphics Tablets

Advantage: Don't have to redraw graphics already created

Disadvantage: Expensive

Computer Basics
3 - Input: Terminals
A terminal consists of a keyboard and a screen so it can be considered an input device,
especially some of the specialized types.

Some come as single units.

Terminals are also called:

• Display Terminals
• Video Display Terminals or VDT

A dumb terminal has no ability to process or store data.

It is linked to minicomputer, mainframe, or super computer. The keyboard and viewing screen
may be a single piece of equipment.
An intelligent, smart, or programmable terminal can process or store on its own, at least
to a limited extent. PCs can be used as smart terminals.
A point-of-sale terminal (POS) is an example of a special purpose terminal. These have
replaced the old cash registers in nearly all retail stores. They can update inventory while
calculating the sale. They often have special purpose keys.

For example, McDonalds has separate touchpads for each food item available.