BY DIANE McCARGAR
Once people have a basic understanding of the main parts of a computer system the next large hurdle they face is becoming familiar with computer software. This is no small hurdle given the fact that software is continually evolving. Just when you've mastered one piece of software they come out with a new and improved version. It might even seem to some people that software companies are conspiring against us. But I digress.
Software, or programs as they are more commonly called, consists of a set of instructions that tell the computer what to do. You could think of a computer as a very young child who needs to be told how to do everything. Just like computer hardware, there are some fundamental types of software that have remained constant throughout the evolution of computers. A basic understanding of these types of software will take you a long way.
In the last issue, I mentioned that every computer must have a main program called an operating system. Mac OS, DOS and Windows are operating systems. The operating system starts as soon as the computer is turned on and stays running until just before you turn off your computer. It displays and helps you manage the programs and other things stored on the disks in your computer.
Operating systems sometimes get help from programs called utility programs. Virus protection programs are utility programs that check to make sure none of the programs in your computer contain destructive programs called viruses. File compression programs are utility programs that allow you to store information in a way that uses up less space on a disk.
The programs that you will probably be most familiar with are the programs that allow you to use your computer for specific tasks. These programs are sometimes called applications. Applications fall into general categories and word processing, spreadsheet and database are the fundamental ones.
Word processing programs are the most widely used computer programs. As the title suggests, these programs allow you to use the computer to "process words" into list, letters, memos, stories, etc. A variety of word processing programs are available, from the very simple to the very complex. Operating systems often come with a simple word processing program. The more complex programs commonly used in the business world include Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect. Educators often use the word processing part of Microsoft Works or Claris Works because of their simplicity and price. (Microsoft Works and Claris Works are integrated programs that group together a word processing program, a spreadsheet program and a database program in one large program.)
Spreadsheet programs are used to display and do calculations with numerical data. A spreadsheet is divided into rows and columns, creating boxes called cells.
Because of this, people sometimes use spreadsheet documents to quickly display information in tables, but the real purpose of a spreadsheet program is to do calculations with numerical data. Budgets, and other financial or statistical reports are often done in spreadsheet programs such as Microsoft Excel, Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro Pro. Programs so as these will also graph data stored in a spreadsheet. Recently, specialized financial programs have started to take the place of spreadsheet programs. These programs he to automate tasks such as do your taxes, keep track of your finances, etc.
| BACK | CONTENTS | NEXT |