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Guide to scary computer terms for technophobes

October 11, 2011

The first few years of starting up are a series of fast and comprehensive lessons. Get them right and you won’t just have built your own income, but you’ll have learnt things that will help in other aspects of your life.

Computers are a great example of this. No matter what kind of business you start, you will probably have to use a computer in some way.

There are few businesses that don’t need to use email, run a website, or use accounts packages to ensure the business runs efficiently.

But if you have avoided buying a computer before, where do you start? Use this handy non-technical guide to understand what all those scary computer terms actually mean.

First off are the terms you will come across when you buy a computer. There are two main types of computer available – PC (which means Personal Computer, but no-one calls them that any more) and Apple Mac.

PCs are made by hundreds of different companies, whereas only Apple makes the Mac. This means that PCs are more widespread and cheaper.

Macs are no longer the specialist computer they used to be, but are still an expensive second choice for most people. If you are used to using a PC, you will find a Mac pretty different.

When you buy a computer you need to compare several aspects to find the one that best suits the jobs you will be using it for.

The trick is to decide how you will use the computer and decide which aspect is more important. Do you need it to be very fast? Will you be saving a lot of documents? Is it essential you can play the latest games in your lunch break?

The things to look at are:

CPU: The main chip or brain in your computer, also known as the processor. New ones are released practically weekly. CPUs are measured in gigahertz. The bigger the number, the faster your computer will perform tasks. Terms like dual core and quad core mean there are two or more CPUs working together.

Memory: The bigger the memory, the more space your computer has to work things out, and so the faster it will run. Memory is measured in gigabytes, and you should always get the biggest memory you can. On most computers you can get more memory fitted easily and cost-effectively.

Hard disc: This is where your computer stores documents and programs. They are huge and hard to fill. But if you do, it’s easy to buy a second external hard disc and just plug it in.

Operating system: This is the software that runs your computer – the best known one is Windows. Most computers sold on the High Street or on reputable websites come with an operating system already loaded.

There are also a number of other things that come with computers. Most of these are standard, but it’s worth knowing what they are:

DVD or CD drive: Most are also burners, meaning you can create your own CDs or DVDs as well as playing them.

USB: A really easy way to connect things to your computer. It’s a standard plug on many devices, including your mouse, keyboard, printer etc. USB uses something called plug and play technology, which means just that – you plug it in, and off you go. Your computer will know you’ve attached something and will tell you if it needs help getting the device to work. USB theoretically allows you to connect well over a hundred devices at once. You use something called a USB hub to give you more USB ports.

Firewire: Another way of connecting devices to your computer, normally only used on Apple Macs.

WiFi: This is wireless internet and is virtually standard on new laptops. It allows you to connect to the internet without having to plug a cable in.

Once you’ve picked your computer, you need to run things on it:

Software: These are the programs that you run on the computer. For example if you need to write documents you might buy Microsoft Word. The internet has made it cheap and easy to get hold of software, including legal free software that does most things your business needs.

Browser: You are reading this website on a browser. The two main ones used are Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. A browser is normally pre-loaded on a new computer.

And finally, a few more computing terms that may be thrown at you when you start your business:

Broadband: This is internet access. You will pay a broadband provider (sometimes known as an ISP, or Internet Service Provider) to give you internet, which they do down your phone line. Broadband is “always on”, meaning you don’t have to dial up the internet, it’s just there. Your provider will give you any kit and all the help you need to get online.

Download and upload: Download is when you get something from the internet and make a copy on your computer. Upload is the reverse, where you send something to the internet.

Bandwidth: The amount of bandwidth dictates how much information you are allowed to upload or download on your broadband connection. It’s quite hard to hit the limit with everyday use on most internet providers.

IP address: IP stands for Internet Protocol. This is a unique number that your computer will have when it connects to the internet. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know what it is!

Server: This is a type of computer you may need if you have two or more computers in your business. The idea is that everyone can store their work in one place and access it from any computer. You will probably need a local IT support company to help you set one of these up for you.