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Other Parts of Your Computer System

The computer hardware itself is only part of your overall computer system. A typical PC has additional devices—such as printers—connected to it, and it runs various programs and applications to perform specific tasks.

Providing Additional Functionality with Peripherals

There are lots of other devices, called peripherals, you can connect to your computer, including the following:

  • Printers: A printer enables you to make hardcopy printouts of documents and pictures—and some including copying, scanning, and even faxing capability.

  • Webcams: These are small cameras (typically with built-in microphones) that enable you to send live video of yourself to friends and family. Many laptops and some all-in-ones include built-in webcams.

  • Joysticks and gamepads: These are alternatives to mice that enable you to play the most challenging computer games.

  • External storage: These are just like the hard disk or solid state drives inside your computer, but they connect externally to help you back up your precious data.

You also can hook up all manner of portable devices to your PC, including smartphones, digital cameras, and camcorders. You can even add the appropriate devices to connect multiple PCs in a network, which is useful if you have more than one computer in your house.

Fortunately, connecting a new device is as easy as plugging in a single cable. Whether you have a desktop or laptop PC, or even a tablet, most printers and other devices connect using a special type of cable called a USB cable. Almost all computers have multiple USB connections (sometimes called ports), so you can connect multiple peripherals via USB at the same time.

Doing What You Need to Do with Software and Apps

By themselves, the black or white boxes that comprise a typical computer system aren’t that useful. You can connect them and set them in place, but they won’t do anything until you have some software to make things work.

As discussed earlier, computer hardware refers to those things you can touch—the keyboard, monitor, system unit, and the like. Computer software, however, is something you can’t touch because it’s nothing more than a bunch of electronic bits and bytes. These bits and bytes, however, combine into computer programs—sometimes called applications or just apps—that provide specific functionality to your system.

For example, if you want to crunch some numbers, you need a piece of software called a spreadsheet program. If you want to write a letter, you need a word processing program. If you want to make changes to some pictures you took with your digital camera, you need photo-editing software. And if you want to surf the Internet, you need a web browser.

In other words, you need separate software for each task you want to do with your computer. Fortunately, most new computer systems come with a lot of this software already installed. You might have to buy a few specific programs, but it shouldn’t set you back a lot of money.

Making Everything Work—with Windows

Whatever program or app you’re using at any time, you interface with your computer via a special piece of software called an operating system. As the name implies, this program makes your system operate; it’s your gateway to the hardware part of your system.

The operating system is also how your application software interfaces with your computer hardware. When you want to print a document from your word processor, that software works with the operating system to send the document to your printer.

Most computers today ship with an operating system called Microsoft Windows. This operating system has been around in one form or another for more than 35 years and is published by Microsoft Corporation.

Windows isn’t the only operating system around, however. Computers manufactured by Apple Computing use a different operating system, called macOS. Therefore, computers running Windows and computers by Apple aren’t totally compatible with each other. Google’s Chrome OS runs on many low-cost Chromebook computers, which are popular with schools across the country. Then there’s Linux, which is compatible with most PCs sold today, but it’s used primarily by über-techie types; it’s not an operating system I would recommend for general users.

But let’s get back to Windows and its various versions. The most current version is called Microsoft Windows 11. If you’ve just purchased a brand-new PC, this is the version you’re using. If your PC is somewhat older, you might be running Windows 10, the immediate predecessor to Windows 11, which was the default OS from July 2015 to October 2021, when Windows 11 was released. If you have an even older computer, it could be running an even older version of Windows.

To some degree, Windows is Windows is Windows; all the different versions do pretty much the same things. Windows 11, however, is much improved over the previous versions, which is why many users have upgraded their older computers to this version.

In any case, you use Windows—whichever version you have installed—to launch specific programs and to perform various system maintenance functions, such as copying files and turning off your computer.

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