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Computer Software

Learning Goals

  • Understand the terms Hardware and Software
  • Become familiar with the layout of the Desktop in Microsoft Windows
  • Become familiar with the layout of the Task Bar in Microsoft Windows
  • Learn how to shutdown your computer properly

Hardware and Software

A computer has two general characteristics:
  • Hardware - the physical parts of a computer that you can see and touch.  Similar to the physical material of our brain.
  • Software - the code and programs that run on a computer. You cannot see them, but can observe their effects when they operate.  Similar to the thoughts and commands that flow through our brains.

How Software Works

This video from CommonCraft explains some great concepts of how Software works on your computer:

Software Building Blocks

The software on your computer is like a multi-layered cake.  Here's what happens when you first start your computer:

  1. First the computer loads a small software program from a chip inside the computer called the BIOS. This "wakes-up" the computer and gives it some basic information, including where to look for the Windows Operating System.
  2. Next the computer typically goes to Drive C: and loads up the RAM with the necessary parts of the Windows Operating System.  Now the system is fully aware of all it's hardware and how to use it.   Windows also provides the basic tools to work with files and folders and administer your system.
  3. At anytime you can run programs, such as Internet Explorer.  
  4. When you use Internet Explorer for special tasks, such as viewing a YouTube video, it will load an Adobe Flash plugin to help you successfully complete the task.
As you can see from the diagram below, each piece of software builds on the next.  A problem in one layer can of course affect all the other layers, so sometimes troubleshooting can get quite complicated.  

Basically programs are loaded from the Hard Disk into RAM.  If there is not enough space in the RAM (Workbench) then the system begins to "swap" slowing down significantly.  This is one of the most important aspects of improving the efficiency of your computer.

Microsoft Windows Basics

The screen layout for Windows is quite predictable and there are some common terms you should know.  These are highlighted on the image to the right.

Microsoft has created some great on-line tutorials on the following topics.  Although these tutorials are focussed on Microsoft Vista, many of the concepts are similar in Windows XP.

Turning off Your Computer Properly

Even when you're not doing anything on your computer, there are many programs working hard in the background. In order to close these down properly and make sure you don't lose any of your work, it's important that you shut down a computer correctly. The Microsoft Vista tutorial below gives you a complete explanation. Windows XP is quite similar.