Understanding Computers
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  What's the most important part of your computer?
Every part of your computer is the result of years of research and development. Parts that were once handmade at a cost thousands of hours are now mass produced for pennies apiece. Which of your amazingly evolved computer parts is the most important?
I was taught to tackle big questions by dividing them into smaller questions for consideration. Computer parts divide into two groups, hardware and software.
Hardware is any part that you can touch. The case that contains the computer, the stuff inside the case, the CD spinner, the seeming miles of wires that clutter your desk are hardware. Software is the operating instructions for the hardware. Windows is software, as are Word Perfect, Netscape, Quake, and any other program that runs on your computer.
The big division in hardware is between those things that are part of the computer and those that are attached to it. The things inside the box are called components. They include the power supply, main board, Central Processing Unit (CPU) Random Access Memory (RAM) and Hard Disk Drive (HDD). The things outside the computer are called peripherals. The peripherals include the keyboard, monitor, mouse, printer, and scanner.
The big division in software is between the Operating System (O/S) and the applications. The O/S does two things. The first is to tell the computer hardware how to run. The second is to give the user a way to interact with the computer. Windows, Linux and Mac O/S are all operating systems. Word Perfect, Netscape and Quake are applications. Windows and Mac are popular because they use a Graphical User Interface (GUI). You point and click to issue commands, instead of typing instructions. Incidentally, the GUI was invented by Xerox, which immediately discarded it because it had nothing to do with making photocopies.
So, what is the most important part of the computer? It couldn't be the peripherals, could it? Well, most home computers won't even start without a keyboard, and where would you be without a monitor or printer for output? Early computers didn't have an HDD or a CD spinner, so it must be the CPU or RAM. But wait, without a mainboard to connect them, they're useless as well. And without a power supply, the mainboard is a rectangular Frisbee. Maybe the most important piece of hardware is the plug.
How about software? Obviously the O/S is the most important part, since it runs the hardware and we need all the hardware. But why have hardware if you can't use it for anything cool, like writing articles for Newswest, or surfing the World Wide Web (WWW)? You need applications to do all that. It seems that all the software is just as important as all the hardware.
Have you guessed the answer, gentle reader? The most important part of your computer is you. The poinsettia can't use it. For better or worse, the kids can. Be it tool or toy, your computer is pointless without you. Enjoy it.
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