A Quick Orientation to Computing

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Look at the following picture:

A typical home computer work station.
A typical home computer work station.

This is what a typical home computer workstation looks like. Yours may look a bit different. But certain parts will be common. At the very least, you should have a computer, a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. The monitor has a screen on which you can see what is happening. (Remember the computer does a lot of things in the background which you cannot see). If you want to print out anything, you will need a printer also. These items can sit on different locations on your computer desk - some may sit under the desk as shown in the above picture - depending on availability of space. Of course, you will need a comfortable chair to sit on. By the way, the items like the computer, the monitor, the keyboard, the mouse, the printer, the scanner, the speakers, the external microphone, joysticks etc., which actually feels hard when touched, are known as hardware in computer vocabulary.

A quick word about ergonomics here. In order to prevent injury to your neck, shoulders, back, hands, and wrists, and also to minimize eye strain, the whole setup should follow certain guidelines. You should look it up yourself and follow recommendations. One good site that you can go to for proper recommendations is here. Particularly, elderly people can easily develop back, neck, and shoulder pain if ergonomical recommendations are not properly followed.

Alright, let's assume your workstation has been set up, your computer has been connected to all the needed hardware (all hardware except the computer itself are called peripherals), and you have turned on the power of your computer, monitor, and printer - what happens next?

When the computer is turned on, the first thing you see on your monitor is a bunch of icons (small pictures) labeled My Computer, My Documents, Recycle Bin etc. on a colored screen that fills the entire monitor. This is called the desktop along the bottom of which runs a bar called the taskbar. We will talk about the desktop in the next section of this site.

A typical desktop.
A typical desktop.

Let's talk a little bit about the use of the mouse right now. The mouse is the device used for pointing at some thing on the screen. The thing usually sits right next to the keyboard. Due to its shape, size, and the thin wire that is attached to the middle of one of its ends, it indeed looks a bit like a mouse with a long tail. Move the mouse on the mouse pad (a pad, usually rectangular in shape, about inch thick, made out of rubber-like material to facilitate the movement of the mouse) or on a clean flat surface and see how the pointer (arrow) moves on the screen. The absolute beginner may need to practice a little bit to point at some thing on the screen with the mouse. And do not run out of space on the mouse pad! If you have reached the edge of the mouse pad, and your pointer needs to go further in the same direction, you can lift the mouse and place it on the center of the pad and continue the maneuvering. Have you heard the joke about the lady who was holding the mouse in the air like the TV's remote control and was frantically clicking away with no results? Please don't do that. People will laugh at me. (Read a selection of hilarious computer jokes here.)

Also, you will notice that there are two buttons on the front end of the mouse, one on the left and one on the right. For the right handed people, the left button is used to do most things. You will single-click (press and release the button immediately just once) it to do certain things and double-click (press and release the button twice in quick succession) it to do other things. As you gain experience, you will discover single clicking the right mouse button (often called right-clicking) helps to find shortcuts to many functions. Practicing aiming at something on the screen with the mouse pointer, single-clicking and double-clicking is a good idea for the beginners and many people play the game of Solitaire (it comes free with your Windows for recreation) for this purpose. To find Solitaire in your computer, with your mouse pointer click once on the Start button, point to Programs, point to Accessories, point to Games, and then click once on Solitaire. Solitaire window will open up. Solitaire is a program. You can close Solitaire by clicking on the X button on the top right hand corner of the Solitaire window. The rectangular box with a bright colored (usually blue) bar on top of it is called a window. The bright bar on which the title Solitaire is written is called the title bar. We shall learn more about windows in the windows section later.

If you are left handed and want to change the functions of the left and right mouse buttons, or if your double-clicks are not fast enough and the computer thinks those are two single-clicks, please refer to the section called Some General Tips in COMPUTER HELP FOR PEOPLE OVER 50 to learn how to make the necessary adjustments. Most modern day mice also have a small wheel between the left and the right buttons. That wheel is used for easy scrolling up and down a window when all the contents of the window is not visible at once. We shall learn more about scrolling in the windows section later.

Did you open Solitaire? Did you notice when you clicked on the Start button, a menu opened up? This is called the start menu. On the right side of some of the items on the menu there is an arrow head pointing to the right. When you hold your mouse pointer over any one of these items (such as Programs), a sub-menu opens up giving you more choices. Again, some items on the sub-menu may have an arrow head pointing to the right. Yes, you guessed correctly. That means if you hold your mouse pointer over any of these items, you will be given more choices in the form of another sub-menu. The game of Solitaire was in the third sub-menu from the main menu which opened up when you clicked on the Start button. It is a good idea to explore and find out what is hiding in which sub-menu by holding your mouse pointer over different items. This way, you will familiarize yourself quickly with your computer and know where to find what you are looking for. By the way, this series of sub-menus that emerge from the main start menu is known as cascading menus.

Cascading menus.
Cascading menus.

During a typical computer session you will open one or more programs (also called applications), work or play with it, save the work if necessary, then assuming, that is all you wanted to do in that session, you will close the program(s), and then shut down the computer properly.

A program or application is a software that lets you do something with your computer, such as write a resume, create a spreadsheet, edit a picture, play a game, surf the Net, or send/receive e-mails. All programs (and other things) open up in rectangular boxes called windows, over your desktop. We will learn more about the desktop, how to open a program, and the different parts of windows and how to use them, in the next sections of these tutorials.

You will find a little more detailed explanation of the meaning of some of the terms I have used above in my other computer tutorials listed below. But if you are an absolute beginner, please keep reading these tutorials first. Things will slowly but surely become clearer by the time you finish these tutorials.

Funny Computer Terms:

GUI = Graphic User Interface
GIGO = Garbage In Garbage Out
WYSIWYG = What You See Is What You Get
TWAIN = Technology Without An Impressive Name

Welcome to computing!


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