Usually I spend my research and support time these days hanging out in many of the smaller, more specialized software user groups. But recently, I went back and hit the huge Microsoft Newsgroups to check a few things out. There is such a wide user base in those groups that just about anything goes. While there, I answered a few user questions. Reading some of the very basic questions reminded me that we're not all experienced computer users. Every day more and more newbies get their mitts on that new computer and begin stumbling their way around trying to figure out...through screams of frustration...how it all works.
In this article, I'll point at stuff and explain some of the raw basics of computers, and I'll also show you a few mouse tricks, as well as provide links to lots of other terrific learning articles. If you're somewhat new to all this technobabble, allow me to provide you with a few pieces of information about things you may have been afraid to ask.
The Parts List
Below is an image of a standard desktop computer with some basic components, as well as a server.
Let's take a closer look at these items. For the benefit of our many friends who might not be able to read the image content, I'll also reiterate the captions from the picture above.
The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is the heart of your PC (Personal Computer). Most people refer to the CPU as the main case containing the internal workings of the computer system. Although this isn't technically accurate, it's a common use of the term and most people understand what is meant when this term is somewhat misused.
The CPU is actually the processor itself, which is located on the motherboard inside the computer case. But no one will be arrested for the misuse of this term and your friends (probably) won't giggle behind your back. So rather than getting too technical, you can get away with calling the desktop or tower case, the CPU.
Below is an image of a CPU.
Besides the CPU being contained inside the computer case, you may also find an internal modem, network cards, or other additional components.
Here are images of an internal modem and network card. Easy to tell apart, right?<smirk>
You will find a video card, which is programmed to operate through the video drivers. The hard drive is also located inside the computer case, as well as the RAM chips.
The images below are of a video card, hard drive and some ram chips, respectively.
This is an output device. It puts out the display of information. The monitor is the video output device that allows users to see what is happening within the computer. This is also called the display screen or simply the computer screen.
However, the monitor is actually the entire device, whereas the screen is only the front side of the monitor where the graphic images are shown.
There are many types of monitors. Monitors have their own display preference settings; so you can change—depending on your video driver software capabilities—the resolution to display at a different value. This can be done via the Display icon within the Windows Control Panel.
The lowest value is 640 x 480. This means that the display will show 640 pixels wide and 480 pixels high. This was once the standard for most monitors.
However, with greater technology and lower monitor prices, most users today consider the standard low to be 800 x 600. But the majority of users seem to be moving more and more to a standard of 1024 x 768...which is the next step up from 800 x 600.
Speakers and other devices that are attached to your system are peripherals. A peripheral is any device that connects to your computer. Speakers are peripherals, as they are connected to a computer. However, even standard items (which are usually needed to operate a computer) are also considered add-ons or peripherals, such as a keyboard and a mouse. Printers are also peripherals.
The keyboard is an input device and it is also a peripheral, because it is attached to the CPU.
A keyboard is a peripheral, however, it's also a fairly essential part of a computer. This is because it is an input device, meaning it is used to input data for the computer to decipher.
Other input devices are mice, pen tablets and even voice recognition devices. A computer can be operated without a keyboard, although a keyboard is the most common and widely used input device.
Keyboards also have their own drivers that tell the computer how to interpret the information being entered from the keyboard. Some keyboards have special software that allows them to be reprogrammed by the user to customize them for special uses.
Once such type is the Microsoft Office keyboard (pictured below). Special, additional buttons on the keyboard allow you to open Office applications with just a click of a button.
A mouse is an input device, because you can input information with it. And because it is attached, it is also a peripheral. A mouse, when referring to computers, is a hand-held device that allows you to move your cursor around the computer screen to input information.
Because the mouse has so many features of its own, we'll take a closer look at the details of a mouse in the next section..
Servers are groups of CPUs, which are generally faster, more powerful and can store more information than the average PC. Servers can push or pull information back and forth to/from computers that are connected to them through a network.
A server is actually just a powerful computer. However, special software installed on this powerful computer allows it to handle more specialized operations.
A server, along with routers and switches, will act like traffic cops by, not only directing traffic, but keeping everyone in line and making sure that all members of the network stay within the laws (policies) set by the company running the network.
Here are images of a router and a switch. More vastly different looking equipment, eh?<smile>
Eek! A Mouse!
There are many types of mice available for computer use...from trackballs and special larger devices, which allow children and users with physical issues to use the larger device more easily, to laser and wireless mice.
Most mice these days have these basic parts.
- Left Mouse Button
This is the typical button to press to activate most actions.
- Right Mouse Button
This is the button to press to activate more non-standard functions, such as shortcut menus.
More modern mice now have wheels. These allow you to more quickly scroll down pages, particularly long web pages, by either rolling or by clicking to set the scroll. Once the scroll is set, you can just move your mouse and the page will move up/down...or even diagonally, depending on how you set the scroll.
On many laptops, although you can attach a mouse, separately, you will find a touch pad rather than a mouse. The touch pad is used to manipulate the cursor in the same way as a mouse, but it is operated by your finger with just a roll or touch to a sensitive pad located on the laptop keyboard area.
The mouse is operated via the mouse driver software that is installed into the computer. Many mice come with special software that allows for custom settings to be selected, just as do those special keyboards.
Although the average mouse has only a left and right button, many have additional buttons that can be programmed for the user’s convenience.
Customizing Your Mouse
To customize your mouse, you can access the mouse driver software via the Windows Control Panel (found under Start > Settings > Control Panel). There you’ll find a Mouse icon that, when clicked, will open a dialog box where you can set customization for your mouse.
In the image below, you can see the properties dialog box for the Microsoft Wireless Mouse drivers. Here, a user of this device can program all the mouse buttons as they choose.
Left Handed users should be aware of the fact that mice can easily be reset to operate for your use—swapping the left and right basic operations of the mouse buttons.
Left Mouse Button
The Left mouse button is the most common button to click and is use to activate most commands on a computer.
When reading computer instructions, if the text says that you should click an item, you will always default to click with the left mouse button. When the right button is called for, the instructions will always (or should) always specify the right mouse button.
Double clicking is also always done with the default button—which would be the left button on a right-handed mouse.
The Right Button
The Right mouse button is used for special features. One of the most useful functions of the right mouse button is to help users with shortcuts!
When you are using a software application, most all have been programmed so that, when the user clicks the right mouse button, a content sensitive shortcut menu will appear. This menu generally displays the most common actions that a user would want to take in any specific area of the software application...sensitive to the type of content with which they are currently working.
In other words, if you are typing a document and click the right mouse button, you will see many common text manipulation shortcuts. These menu choices will be the most likely choices, when you consider the type of work you are currently doing. When working with text, you will see the most likely text manipulation features.
See the image below for the right click paragraph menu from Word.
If you wanted to set a hyperlink to a word while working in Word, rather than clicking several menu and submenu options, a right click will give you instant access to the Hyperlink command—a common text command.
Different Content (Shortcut) Menus for Different Options
Note in the two images below, when working in Excel, the shortcut menus are different, depending on whether you have selected the text within the cell or whether you are simply clicked within a cell.
This first image is displayed when you select cell text…
This second image shows a different list of shortcuts when the text is not selected in a cell…
When in doubt about how to do something, give that right mouse button a click! There's a very good chance that what you want to do will be listed on the shortcut menu that appears.
The Mouse Wheel
Most new computers now offer a mouse that has an additional device within it—a wheel.
The wheel came along, mostly, as a helpful device to allow users to surf long pages of the Internet and the World Wide Web, with more ease. The wheel allows you to roll down a page, rather than having to click over and over to move down a page.
These days, more and more software applications are programming features that take advantage of the wheel technology.
Internet Explorer and the Wheel
When you are within Internet Explorer, or most other browsers, you can take full advantage of the added mouse wheel.
If you press on the wheel, it will lock into the scroll mode.
If you look closely at the image below, notice the circle with four directional arrows. This is the center of the scroll-locking icon once the wheel on a mouse has been pushed.
At this point, the user can now simply move the cursor around the screen by moving the mouse and the page will move the view in whichever direction the mouse is moved—up, down, left, right or even on an angle.
And the further the cursor moves from that center point of the scroll, the faster the scroll will accelerate!
Besides being able to move down a page faster, this scroll lock feature helps users alleviate the effects of carpel tunnel syndrome by allowing them to move their hands and wrists more freely, versus the immobile continual clicking.
Larger and Smaller Text/Pages
Another advantage (that few folks know about) is that you can hold down the Ctrl key while scrolling to cause the page or text to become larger or smaller!
In Office applications, this move causes the view to either zoom in or zoom out, thus causing the display to become larger or smaller on the screen.
On the Internet, this zooming will allow the text on the page to become larger or smaller—if the web site has that capability to recognize the larger/smaller font sizes.
If you don’t have a wheel mouse, you can still activate Internet Explorer’s text resizing feature by clicking View > Text Size and making a selection.
Now don't you feel smart?
Here are links to some of the other beginner training lessons in TechTrax that will help you add to your new found smarts!