Know the Basics of Computers

What is a computer?

The computer is the fastest developing and the most powerful electronic device that can store a vast amount of information and accurately recalls from its storage any bit of data at anytime. 'To compute' means 'to calculate' and the ability of computers to store and execute programs on producing relevant output, makes these devices highly versatile and distinguishes from calculators. Computers are virtually used for almost all the applications in every field in your day to day life. However, from large personal computers to small embedded computers that are used to control other devices such as digital cameras and aircraft, these machines simplify your chores, performing the same computational tasks.

History of Computers

The earliest calculating devices includes abacus and the Slide Rule based on the idea of logarithms. It is interesting to know that abacus is still used in China and Japan. At the end of the middle ages, Blaise Pascal a great French Mathematician found the first mechanical calculating machine. However, these devices cannot be called computers, since they could not be programmed. Charles Babbage, the great English Man was passionate on developing calculating machines and he was hundred years ahead of his time and conceptualised and designed a fully programmable computer called "The Analytical Engine" however, due to financial inability, he was unable to build it. The introduction of punch card machines has a major contribution to computers. What is interesting is that Babbage's Analytical Engine was to have used the punch cards for each mathematical formula, but the Analytical Engine was not made and hence in 1890 Herman Hollerith, was the first person to use punched cards in a working machine to process data.

There was always a misconception that the first computer was made in the USA, while it was made by a young German Engineer called Konrad Zuse in 1938. After that, the first general purpose electronic computer ENIAC was introduced and from 1946 to 1950 there was a quick development of computers. In the USA and England, faster computers were made in succession and in 1970, microprocessor or chip arrived. However, computers those days were not programmable and generally lacked the versatility and accuracy of modern digital or fifth generation computers.

Hardware and Software

A computer consists of hardware and software and exists in different sizes and configurations. The hardware performs the software instructions and executes the programme using different components including input devices, output devices and storage devices.

  • The Input Devices such as a keyboard and mouse is the standard way to interact with a computer. However, the game pads and joy sticks are used for games.

  • The Storage Devices stores data and programs through a higher capacity hard disk drive and Floppy disk drives allow you to store and take the data with you.

  • The Output Devices is used by the computer to show what it is doing. The monitor and printer are typically considered to be output devices.

  • The memory of the computer is the key, since it determines the amount of storage in your system. When you apply a program, the computer loads the program to the RAM and when the programme is either saved or quitted, the data gets written back to the hard drive. Microprocessors are the brain of the computer and PCs use microprocessors from Intel and Macs use PowerPC processors by Motorola. The speed of the internal processor speed is referred in MHz.

The hardware accessories include modems that are used to communicate with the system, CD-ROM drives that let you read data from the disk, Printers with different types such as laser, ink jet and dot matrix used to take print outs and Scanners used to digitise printed material and save it to graphic file format to display on the computer.

The software is typically a series of computer instructions written in programming languages such as BASIC and PASCAL that serves for the development of applications. Software is divided into operation system software and application software. The operation system software helps users with a user interface for managing files, customizing computer settings, start programs and other tasks. This as well offers the basic computer functionality for programmers. The application software is used for performing the real functionality of a computer including Word Processing (MS Word, WordPerfect), Database (Fox Pro), Spreadsheets (MS Excel), Internet Browsers (MS Internet Explorer) Presentation (MS PowerPoint) and Games.

Uses of Computers

The special features of a computer consist of its speed, accuracy and storage of information or memory. Computer speeds are increasing rapidly and it can perform any function in less than 5 nanoseconds and assists users in all fields including medicines, science and technology, meteorology, education and office or administration. The greatest achievement of science is the landing of man on the moon and many scientists worked for years to make it possible, but the major factor in the success of this mission was using computers. Computers are also serving the paralysed and speechless invalids. Computer has the capacity to sense even the small movements such as movement of hands or blinking of eyes and it can in turn control gadgets including lamps, a television set or a gas stove. The information explosion in the world is increasing with number of books, reports and scientific articles and computers help for easy storage of all these materials. The uses of computers are endless extending to all the fields, since it is becoming a staple device in all homes and administrative backgrounds.