I.T. Basics: what is a computer?

If you are new to computing this article introduces you to some common computing terms and explains the differences between hardware and software in an easy to understand way.

Article - What is a Computer

A computer is an electronic device which manipulates information and data. It can store, retrieve and process this data.

Computers have been in use for over half a century and whether you are aware of it or not, they play an important part in our everyday lives.

Examples include using a cash point, scanning groceries and even using a calculator.

During the last 25 years personal computers (PCs) have become increasingly available. They can be used to type letters and documents, send email, browse the internet, play games and a whole lot more.


All types of computers consist of two basic parts: hardware and software. Anything you buy for your computer can be classed as either hardware or software.

Hardware is any part of your computer which has a physical structure such as the case, monitor, keyboard and mouse. If you can touch it and it is solid, you can be sure it is hardware.

Software is the collection of programs, data and platforms which instructs your hardware to perform certain activities. Software does not have a physical form (so far) and it is generally not solid.

As you learn more about these items you will see computers are really quite straightforward.


Two common types of personal computer are the IBM Compatible or ‘clone’ and the Macintosh.

The first Macintosh computer was created in 1976. This was later known as the Apple 1.

The first personal computer, a desktop, was produced by IBM in 1981 and was called the IBM PC.

Although both the Apple and IBM products were personal computers, the term PC (Personal Computer) is now used exclusively to describe them all.


Are you interested in creating a letterhead, shopping online or making photo albums? How about learning to share photographs or set up a facebook site?

Learning to use your computer does not mean having to learn complicated technical things.

Much of it is easy and can lead to you doing many exciting things. The key is to learn at your own pace, experiment and enjoy the challenge.

Jargon buster

  • Internet - a global network of websites
  • Website - a page on the internet built to provide a service, information or amusement
  • Hardware - the physical components of your personal computer
  • Software - the programs which are installed on your computer