Computers are complicated. If you don’t keep up with all of the latest trends in technology it’s easy to fall behind the curve. There are, however, a few telling signs that a user is closer to the novice end of the scale than the expert one. These tips may not have you “hacking into the mainframe” or creating the next Facebook, but at the very least it will give you a brief education and could keep your kids from laughing at you behind your back when you try to explain how “the lights on the PC box won’t turn on.” This might be review for some people, but these issues can come up surprisingly often in the tech field. Knowing these common pitfalls will help you explain exactly what it is that is happening to your computer so that you can get the right help quickly.
1) Parts of the Computer: The keyboard and mouse are easy. The confusion happens more often regarding the monitor and the computer. When you try to explain to someone who isn’t with you in the room that your computer won’t turn on, it’s important that you’re using the correct lingo. The computer is the box that holds your hard drive, motherboard, disc drives, and all of the guts that let you do what you want to do. The monitor is merely the screen that you’re reading this from.
2) Microsoft Office is not your operating system: Often when we ask someone which operating system (OS) they’re using we get the reply “2010” or “2007.” Conversely, when we ask which version of Office they have, they tell us “Windows 7” or “XP.” This kind of confusion can be avoided by understanding the difference between the two questions. An operating system is the “master” program that runs when you first turn on your computer. It tells all of your other programs how to run. Examples of an OS are Windows XP, Vista, or 7. Microsoft Office is just a group of related programs (such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) that allow you to make documents and spreadsheets. The latest versions of Microsoft Office are 2003, 2007, and 2010.
3) Browsers vs. “The Internet” : This one might sound nitpicky, but it’s another helpful bit of terminology to learn before telling someone you can’t find the internet when really it’s the browser that you’re having trouble with. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and AOL are all examples of web browsers. These are basically just programs which let you access the World Wide Web. The internet is the actual network that lets people connect with each other and their favorite websites.
4) Toolbars, Toolbars Toolbars: Every once and a while we see that someone has (probably accidentally) installed a dozen unnecessary search toolbars to their web browser. One or two should be plenty, and any more that that will slow down your computer and take up valuable real estate on your monitor (remember this one?). Usually there is a right click option to remove the toolbar, but if this doesn’t work try Googling “remove _________ toolbar,” filling in the blank with the unwanted search engine.
5) Memory vs. Hard Drive: This one is a bit more technical. Memory, or RAM (Random Access Memory), is the temporary storage used by your computer when it is on. Your operating system (more review words!) and applications will store data in memory that it might need to retrieve again soon. The hard drive is where you save your pictures and documents so that you can pull them up tomorrow or in two years. If you aren’t able to store any more documents on your computer, you probably need more hard drive space, not more memory. If your computer is running really slowly, you might need more memory.