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Basic Computer

  Computer Basics Are you new to using computers? Do you wonder what people mean when they say the Cloud, Windows, Blackberry, Lion, etc.? Perhaps you would just like to know more about how computers work? When it comes to learning today’s technology, Computer Basics has all the basic concepts covered.

Basic Computer Terminology

Here are a few terms you’ll run into:

Application Files

Program files environment where you can create and edit the kind of document that application makes.


To select an object by pressing the mouse button when the cursor is pointing to the required menu option, icon or hypertext link.


To close a window that has been opened for viewing and / or editing.


A general-purpose machine that processes data according to a set of instructions that are stored internally either temporarily or permanently.

Central Processor Unit (CPU)

This term has two meanings (just to confound beginners, you understand)

1) Central Processor Unit–the main chip on the computer that makes everything go.

2) The box that holds the guts of the computer.

A faster CPU is always better than a slower one. You can never have too fast of a CPU.


Your computer or application no longer works correctly and so you “loose” all the work you’ve done since the last time you saved.

Creating A File

Storing data as a file with an assigned file name that is unique within the directory it resides in.


To remove an item of data from a file or to remove a file from the disk.


An on-screen representation of a desktop such as used in the Macintosh and Windows operating systems.

Dialog Boxes

Takes over your screen and allows you to “dialog” with the computer.

Directory (AKA Folder, sub-directory)

Allows you to organize files and other folders.

Disk Space

This is the place where your files live. The greater the disk space the more files you can keep. (See also Megabytes)

More disk space is always better than less. You can never have much disk space.


Files you create and edit.

Document Files

Files we care about (memos, letters, pictures, etc.)

Double Click

To press the mouse button twice in rapid succession without moving the mouse between clicks.


To move an object on screen in which its complete movement is visible from starting location to destination.


To make a change to existing data.

File Cabinet

Metaphorically, the hard drive (and other kinds of storage media like floppy disks) which store files and folders.

Folder (AKA Directory, Sub-Directory)

Allows you to organize files and other folders.

Folder Icons

Collections of documents and other folders.


In a graphical user interface (GUI), a small, pictorial, on screen representation of an object, such as a document, program, folder or disk drive.

Icon View

Allows you to see icons of folders and files primarily as icons with little information.


This if the primary text input device. It also contains certain standard function keys, such as the Escape key, tab, and arrow keys, shift and control keys, and sometimes other manufacturer-customized keys.

Kilo (K)

This is a unit of measure = 1,000.  So 1,000 bytes is a KiloByte.

List View

Shows the icons but also orders the icons (often by name, but can sort the list in other ways) and shows more information about them.


The brand name of a family of personal computers (hardware) and an operating system (software) from Apple, introduced in 1984.

Megabytes (Mb)

Mega = million so Mb is 1,000,000 bytes.  It’s enough information for the computer to store one character (e.g. “h”), so 1mb text file = 1,000,000 keystrokes in that file. Just to confound the masses, although RAM and Disk Space do something completely different we measure both in megabytes. This leads to confusion.

MegaHertz (Mhz)

This stands for MegaHertz. A hertz is an electronics term. 1 hz = one cycle (or wavelength) per second. 1 megahertz = 1,000,000 cycles per second.

In computer jargon, Mhz measures how *fast* your CPU chip runs. Although it’s more important to know the chip than the speed, if you’re comparing the same kind of CPU chip then a higher / faster CPU speed (measured in MHz) is better than a slower speed.


Displays a list of commands, some with images next to them.

Modifier Keys

Keys that change the meaning of what you type.


Pointing device that allows you to tell the computer what to do.

Operating System (OS)

System software that allows your computer to work.

Pointer (AKA Cursor)

The name of the arrow (or other shape) that tracks across the screen as you move the mouse (or other pointing device) around.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

This stands for Random Access Memory. You can think of this as the “space” where you computer does its processing. The more space you have the more processes you can run at the same time. More RAM is always better than less. You can never have much RAM.

Recycle Bin

Place where you put files and folders that you may later want to delete or get rid of. Compare Trash.

Resize Box

Allows you to change the size and shape of a window.

Right click

To press the right button on the mouse. (This is Windows specific. On a Mac running System 8 or higher, you hold down the Control key and then click to get the same effect.)


Tell the computer to create a file on disk that has the information you’ve put into the document (usually typing).

Save As

Give the file a name and/or store the file in a certain place.

Scroll bar

Allows you to move around through your document.

Shut down

To quit all applications and turn off the computer.


Instructions that tell the computer what to do.

System files

Allows our computer to work.


Place where you put files and folders that you want to delete or get rid of.

Volume Icons

Devices that hold files and folders.


1) The most widely used operating system for personal computers from Microsoft. (Software only. Other companies manufacture the hardware that runs the Windows Operating System.) Compare Macintosh. (Windows with a large “W”.)

2) The thing you see on screen that contains a directory listing or the contents of a document. (Window with a small “w”.)


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