WHAT IS A COMPUTER?
A computer can be defined as
an electronic device that manipulates information, or data. It has the ability to store, retrieve, and process data. You may already know that you can use a computer to type documents, send email, play games, and browse the Web. You can also use it to edit or create spreadsheets, presentations, and even videos.
What are the types of computers?
When most people hear the word computer, they think of a personal computer such as a desktop or laptop. However, computers are of different types and shapes, and they perform many different functions in our daily lives. When you withdraw cash from an ATM, scan groceries at the store, or use a calculator, you’re using a type of computer.
Many people use desktop computers at work, home, and school. Desktop computers are designed to be placed on a desk, and they’re typically made up of a few different parts, including the computer case, monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
The second type of computer you may be familiar with is a laptop computer, commonly called a laptop. Laptops are battery-powered computers that are more portable than desktops, allowing you to use them almost anywhere.
Tablet computers—or tablets—are handheld computers that are even more portable than laptops. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, tablets use a touch-sensitive screen for typing and navigation. The iPad is an example of a tablet.
A server is a computer that serves up information to other computers on a network. For example, whenever you use the Internet, you’re looking at something that’s stored on a server. Many businesses also use local file servers to store and share files internally.
Other types of computers
Many of today’s electronics are basically specialized computers, though we don’t always think of them that way. Here are a few common examples.
- Smartphones: Many cell phones can do a lot of things computers can do, including browsing the Internet and playing games. They are often called smartphones.
- Wearables: Wearable technology is a general term for a group of devices—including fitness trackers and smartwatches—that are designed to be worn throughout the day. These devices are often called wearables for short.
- Game consoles:A game console is a specialized type of computer that is used for playing video games on your TV.
- TVs: Many TVs now include applications—or apps—that let you access various types of online content. For example, you can stream video from the Internet directly onto your TV.
PCs and Macs
Personal computers come in two main styles: PC and Mac. Both are fully functional, but they have a different look and feel, and many people prefer one or the other.
This type of computer began with the original IBM PC that was introduced in 1981. Other companies began creating similar computers, which were called IBM PC Compatible (often shortened to PC). Today, this is the most common type of personal computer, and it typically includes the Microsoft Windows operating system.
The Macintosh computer was introduced in 1984, and it was the first widely sold personal computer with a graphical user interface, or GUI (pronounced gooey). All Macs are made by one company (Apple), and they almost always use the Mac OS X operating system.
GENERATIONS OF COMPUTERS
There are specifically five generations of computers,these are as follows:
1940 – 1956: First Generation – Vacuum Tubes
These early computers used vacuum tubes as circuitry and magnetic drums for memory. As a result they were enormous, literally taking up entire rooms and costing a fortune to run. These were inefficient materials which generated a lot of heat, sucked huge electricity and subsequently generated a lot of heat which caused ongoing breakdowns.
These first generation computers relied on ‘machine language’ (which is the most basic programming language that can be understood by computers). These computers were limited to solving one problem at a time. Input was based on punched cards and paper tape. Output came out on print-outs. The two notable machines of this era were the UNIVAC and ENIAC machines – the UNIVAC is the first every commercial computer which was purchased in 1951 by a business – the US Census Bureau.
1956 – 1963: Second Generation – Transistors
The replacement of vacuum tubes by transistors saw the advent of the second generation of computing. Although first invented in 1947, transistors weren’t used significantly in computers until the end of the 1950s. They were a big improvement over the vacuum tube, despite still subjecting computers to damaging levels of heat. However they were hugely superior to the vacuum tubes, making computers smaller, faster, cheaper and less heavy on electricity use. They still relied on punched card for input/printouts.
The language evolved from cryptic binary language to symbolic (‘assembly’) languages. This meant programmers could create instructions in words. About the same time high level programming languages were being developed (early versions of COBOL and FORTRAN). Transistor-driven machines were the first computers to store instructions into their memories – moving from magnetic drum to magnetic core ‘technology’. The early versions of these machines were developed for the atomic energy industry.
1964 – 1971: Third Generation – Integrated Circuits
By this phase, transistors were now being miniaturised and put on silicon chips (called semiconductors). This led to a massive increase in speed and efficiency of these machines. These were the first computers where users interacted using keyboards and monitors which interfaced with an operating system, a significant leap up from the punch cards and printouts. This enabled these machines to run several applications at once using a central program which functioned to monitor memory.
As a result of these advances which again made machines cheaper and smaller, a new mass market of users emerged during the ‘60s.
1972 – 2010: Fourth Generation – Microprocessors
This revolution can be summed in one word: Intel. The chip-maker developed the Intel 4004 chip in 1971, which positioned all computer components (CPU, memory, input/output controls) onto a single chip. What filled a room in the 1940s now fit in the palm of the hand. The Intel chip housed thousands of integrated circuits. The year 1981 saw the first ever computer (IBM) specifically designed for home use and 1984 saw the MacIntosh introduced by Apple. Microprocessors even moved beyond the realm of computers and into an increasing number of everyday products.
The increased power of these small computers meant they could be linked, creating networks. Which ultimately led to the development, birth and rapid evolution of the Internet. Other major advances during this period have been the Graphical user interface (GUI), the mouse and more recently the astounding advances in lap-top capability and hand-held devices.
2010- : Fifth Generation – Artificial Intelligence
Computer devices with artificial intelligence are still in development, but some of these technologies are beginning to emerge and be used such as voice recognition.
AI is a reality made possible by using parallel processing and superconductors. Leaning to the future, computers will be radically transformed again by quantum computation, molecular and nano technology.
The essence of fifth generation will be using these technologies to ultimately create machines which can process and respond to natural language, and have capability to learn and organise themselves.
BENEFITS OF USING COMPUTERS
There’s no doubt that computers and computer networks have had a significant effect on the world of business. It’s difficult to imagine a time when file folders, phone calls and face-to-face meetings were the only ways to conduct business. The truth is, an entire generation of employees doesn’t remember days without the benefits of computers, cell phones and the internet as part of their business experience.
There will always be those who feel the world has become a bit less personal and a tad more distracting due to the introduction of computers to the workplace. Then again, the reality is that business people enjoy the advantages of computer application technology to make work easier and more efficient than ever.
Speed and Accuracy
Anything and everything accomplished in the hustle and bustle of today’s business world owes its speed to the computer. Whether it’s accounting for or transferring large sums of money, conducting transactions and accepting payments for online goods and services, mammoth calculations, research or communications, one of the biggest benefits of computers is that everything takes less time than ever before. What once had to be done in person now can be done via text message, email or social media.
Gone also are the days of having to dig out a dictionary to check the spelling of a word, hire an accountant to check the math on balance sheets or employ a librarian to maintain a room full of files. Then too, the number of problems from human error is significantly reduced through the advantages of computer systems – once degubbed.
The Ability to Forecast
Powerful computers and software algorithms make it possible for businesses to conduct complex financial projections to help them make important business decisions that will affect long-term growth and sustainability. Computers help project how certain variables – increased sales, a downturn in the economy, a new product line, for instance – might affect the bottom line a year or so in the future.
Before computers, determining the best- and worst-case scenarios in business was tedious at best. Imagine the work required to forecast the outcome for a company like Microsoft taking a risk on a new software program or Apple building its new $5 billion headquarters in California.
Computers have connected people in the modern world in ways never before imagined. No longer is it necessary to hop on an airplane to conduct a business meeting with a client in another part of the world – a simple video conference will do the trick. There is no longer an excuse for employees not to be involved in important business functions because they’re out of the office.
Mobile computers allow business associates to stay connected almost constantly, allowing business decisions and transactions to be easily completed wherever they happen to be. A swipe on a telephone app can be used to transfer money while traveling and wifi can ensure that an employee working from home (or on vacation) can be available to review a file, take part in a business meeting or listen in on a webinar. Email ensures that important messages can be sent and received quickly, while online servers make shared files available to all employees, no matter where they are working.
Computers in the workplace make it easier than ever to share ideas and to collaborate. Teams of workers can be connected through networks that span the globe, allowing them to share and edit documents, work on designs and send emails to stay in touch. Some of the advantages of computer application technology include easily scheduling meetings and booking conference rooms, sharing files instantly and conducting meetings through videoconferencing. When multiple devices are connected to the same network, employees can collaborate from different parts of the world at once, eliminating the need for any one person to be in the office.
The benefits of computers make it much easier to keep private information secure through the use of password-protected servers and virus elimination software. While even today’s high-tech security solutions aren’t always foolproof against society’s best hackers, most information on computers is much safer than in the days of file cabinets, when the right pair of eyes with the right set of keys could go snooping.
Even a single computer is safer because when the single unit is shut down, there is no way to gain access to the files within unless it’s turned on and the interloper has the password. By connecting to a network of computers, entire groups of computers and the servers they are connected to can remain protected from the wrong eyes. One of the major advantages of a computer system is that it’s more difficult to lose information as well, as files can be saved and backed up, eliminating the likelihood that a file will be lost forever or stolen.
Computers have made it much easier for people to start their own businesses online, and given rise to a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. With the advent of the internet, as well as online sales apps and point-of-sale software, it’s become mostly unnecessary to have a brick-and-mortar location to be in business.
Websites such as Fiverr and Upwork have given rise to the gig economy. This makes it much easier for businesses to save money by eliminating the need to hire full-time employees, while also allowing freelancers to make a decent living, either on the side or as a full-time job.
Hiring and Managing Employees
Job-seeking websites and social media outlets such as LinkedIn and Indeed make it easier to advertise the need for employees with specific skills. Online job applications, as well as resume-scanning software, are some advantages of a computer system that can help screen potential matches, as well as eliminate the time-consuming task of interviewing those who aren’t qualified.
Computers have also streamlined human resource functions – including employee recordkeeping, payroll and benefits administration and preparation of tax forms such as I-9 and W-2 forms. Results of annual appraisals, disciplinary actions and performance management are all advantages of a computer system that can create electronic records and take the burden off busy HR administrators. Self-serve HR systems now allow employees to elect benefits, sign forms and get electronic copies of important documents such as pay stubs and tax forms.
Education and Training
Education used to be limited to those who could physically and financially get to a school or college. Today, online education enables information to be passed down easily – and in many cases, for free. Distance learning allows a person who is working during the day to go to school at night or at another time that is convenient for them. This makes for a better-educated workforce with many opportunities for people who may not otherwise be able to go to school.
Online education modules make onboarding much easier, eliminating the need for an in-person orientation. In-service training can be done on breaks and remotely. Computerized testing has made it much easier – and more accurate – to assess and maintain worker skills and certifications.
All of these forms of time-saving and new possibilities have been brought about by taking advantage of computer application technology.
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