Checking Out the “Wares”

Data In, Data Out

Checking Out the “Wares”
by Bill O’Kane, Alternative Business Systems

Personally, I blame Hollywood. For many, using a computer for the first time is a terrifying experience. In reality the computer is nothing more than another household appliance, something to help us live and work more comfortably and efficiently. Hopefully in this series of articles I can remove some of those fears by explaining in simple terms how they work and just what these machines can and cannot do.

At the most basic level computer systems consist of three types of “wares” — hardware, software and firmware. In this article I will be introducing you to the actual physical hardware and explaining some terms, that although not necessary to fully understand their function, by understanding their definition will make both your buying and using of the system a more pleasant experience.

First, I will get firmware out of the way as most users will never have any need to concern themselves with it in their everyday use of a computer. Firmware is the software that is used by particular chips in your computer. Firmware is not something the average user should ever have to be concerned with and if the situation arises where a firmware upgrade is necessary should be taken to a technician.

The physical hardware of a computer system can be broken down into three categories that all devices will fall into.

“INPUT” devices are used to enter data into the computer for processing, these devices consist of keyboards, mice, joysticks, game pads, scanners, microphones, digital cameras, and digital video capture devices, or anything used to get data into the computer so it can be worked with.

“PROCESSING” devices are used to process the data. This is the “system unit” commonly and incorrectly referred to as the CPU, which controls all the data processes as well as the operation of the computer itself. It also contains other devices such as video cards, sound cards, network cards and modems that assist in all three categories.

“OUTPUT” devices are used to display or save the results of the processing. These can be monitors, printers, speakers, headphones, plotters, or fixed and removable disks. The average user does not need to understand how these things work, but understanding their basic function can be useful.

A computer is nothing without its data; unfortunately computers are very dumb machines, the data we use and they use are of two different types. Humans communicate with analog signals. Think of analog as a wave in the water, a smooth constantly varying curve.

Computers use digital data, square waves that are on or off, like looking at the front of a row of children’s blocks, the top of the block representing on or 1 and the space between them representing off or 0. All the input and output on a computer has to be translated in this way. When you strike the ‘W’ key on your keyboard, the computer does not see the letter; it sees a keystroke representing 1010111. This conversion also takes place in reverse allowing us to hear music or see pictures that the computer has converted from digital data.

The keyboard and mouse are the most common input devices in use. The keyboard allows us to type commands or enter text and numerical data into an application for processing. A mouse allows us to move files using “drag and drop” and execute applications by the use of mouse button clicks.

Input devices have changed very little since the early days of computing but there are many new devices in development that may allow us to control our computers in the future by other means. One recent development that is in use and becoming better with every new release is voice control. Some types are better than others and none is as accurate and trouble free as the keyboard and mouse.

The most common output devices used today are the monitor and printer. Monitors have improved from the basic black and white that could display only text or numeric characters on the screen to large flat screen displays with high resolutions and the ability to display millions of colours. Printers have also come a long way from the days of the dot matrix to today’s high-resolution laser and ink-jet, which are capable of printing photographic quality images.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at the email below, and I will be happy to see what I can do to help.

Contact Bill O’Kane at: Alternative Business Systems
680 Water Street
Miramichi, New Brunswick  E1N 4B8
Phone: 506-622-7469
Fax: 506-622-6705