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Parts of a Computer - Software

Computer Anatomy - Digital Components

In the last lesson, we covered the hardware of your computer, both inside and out. Now we'll cover the internal parts of your computer in the form of software.

We've mentioned the Operating System, which is the software that supports a computer's basic functions, such as scheduling tasks, executing applications, and controlling peripherals. Let's go over some other basic software you may find inside your machine.

There are three types of software:

System software is the connection between hardware and applications. Operating systems like Windows, macOS, Android and iOS are examples of system software.

Utility software is part of the system software. It performs specific tasks to keep the computer running. Utility software is always running in the background. Examples are security and optimization programs, which can include tools for system clean-up, disk defragmentation, and file compression.

Application software is everything else! Anything that is not an operating system or a utility is an application or app. So a word processor, spreadsheet, web browser, and graphics software are all examples of application software, and they can do many specific tasks.

When you power on your computer, you'll usually be greeted by a Boot Sequence or Start-up Screen. These are just indicators that your machine is starting up as normal. Some computers will have a lock screen or login screen before you can access the desktop or home screen.

On the home screen, we have the Taskbar, desktop, and maybe some application icons. The Taskbar is the strip that runs along the bottom or side of your screen that acts as a hub for your applications. Any active applications will be highlighted in some way, and you can pin inactive apps to the taskbar at any time by right clicking any application and selecting "Pin to taskbar". The desktop is an open space where you can place and arrange applications and files - this space is great for keeping your current project file folders, game applications, word processors and more!

Now, as for what's preinstalled on your device, it really depends on the OS, the actual computer itself, and where you bought it from. Most computers will have a calculator, a clock, a calendar, a music and video player, an internet browser, and driver software. A driver is a software component that lets the operating system and a device communicate with each other, so keeping these up to date is key to your machine running smoothly.

Your device could have many other pre-installed software. Maps, Pinball and Solitaire, mail, app store, weather - there's a lot of extras that can be attached to an OS. While most of it is useful, some of it could be considered bloatware, also known as Junkware or Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP), which are third-party programs that slow down the performance of your device and lay it bare to cybersecurity risks. 

Not all bloatware is bad, but we need to be mindful about the software we use if we want our machines to run in an optimal way. These unnecessary applications take up memory space and slow down our computer at times. Why do manufacturers allow bloatware? It’s revenue, sadly. Turns out, what users don’t pay for in the purchase price, they pay for by potentially compromising their privacy and security. Not to mention, the headache of dealing with bloatware types that are unremovable. The good news is that most bloatware can be removed and it's easily avoided once it's gone.

We'll go over removing bloatware in the "Setting up a computer for the first time section". For now, just know that some apps that are pre-installed may be just as useless as they seem.

Farther into your system is the file directory. It looks like a little manila folder on your taskbar in WindowsOS (or it'll be a face called Finder on MacOS). In most phones, a file folder app will exist for you to access internal data. First, let's look at a desktop and how to navigate through your folders.

What is File Explorer - javatpoint

(Pictured: WindowsOS' file explorer and taskbar)

When you access your files, there is a directory to the left. This will be similar on MacOS as well. This directory will take you places attached to the Local Disk (C:), also known as the C Drive. This drive is your HDD (hard disc drive) and long-term storage, and is labeled C because A & B used to be reserved for floppy disc drives. Nowadays, it's just standard practice. If you were to add an additional SSD (solid state drive), it would be filed under D: and another would be E: - this system helps us navigate through our storage.

Always show full path in Explorer Address Bar in Windows 11/10

(Pictured: the address bar, showing the file path shortcuts)

The bar at the top is known as the address bar, which is the path to get to your file. This file path always starts at the Root, or storage system you're accessing. In this case, the Root is the Local Disk (C:), and we're looking into the folder inside the root called Program Files. When we click on a blank space of the address bar, the folders will turn into a file pathway (In this case, it'll be C:\Downloads) which will start with the Root (C:) followed by a backslash (\) followed by the folder name you wish to open. If you were to go a folder deeper, let's say to a folder called Music, it would add an additional piece of the pathway.

With folders within folders, you just add another backslash and the name of the file folder like so, C:\Downloads\Music\Fav Bands

This filing system is the main way your computer will store data, programs, and files of all types. You can organize the folders as you'd like, but BE CAREFUL! Some folders need to remain where they are (like program files) because your computer needs the address to be able to access them. Your computer will sometimes hold onto a file pathway and it will need it to navigate to the information to launch a program. Exercise caution when rearranging your folders, but don't be scared to create new folders to store photos, word documents, shortcuts, and more.

We'll cover files and file folders more in-depth in the "File Types and What They Mean" lesson.

These basic concepts of software and hardware should now give you a better picture of how a computer functions. Knowing how your system is laid out, digitally and physically, will give you the upper hand in learning the rest of this course.

In the next lesson, we'll go over the types of computers, their differences, and the pros and cons of each major OS.

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