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What is Hardware and Software?

A computer, also called a PC,  by definition is a device that allows us to process information .

Through this device, both portable and desktop, we can draw, write, play and communicate with other people around the world regardless of distance.

The computer itself is a magical conjunction of hardware (the physical, what you can touch) and software (the intangible, the programs). This post is dedicated to these two elements!

What will you find here? Definitions about what is Hardware and Software. Types, classes and examples of hardware and software.

Both hardware and software depend on each other in order to exist. By themselves they wouldn’t make sense.

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What is a computer?

Basically a computer consists of two parts: the hardware and the software.

Hardware is a generic term used to designate all the physical elements that compose it , that is, cabinet, monitor, motherboard, RAM memory and others.

The  software is all that gives the computer instructions for performing a specific function . These include the operating system, games, device drivers, user programs, and more.

What is hardware?

Just as the computer is subdivided into two parts, the hardware that composes it as well, in this way we can find the so-called:

  • basic hardware
  • complementary hardware .

The basic hardware

It includes all the essential components for the PC’s operation such  as the motherboard, monitor, keyboard and mouse, with the motherboard, RAM memory, ROM memory and CPU being the most important components of the set.

Complementary hardware

On the other hand we have  the complementary hardware, which is all that non-essential component for the operation of a PC such  as printers, cameras, pendrives and others.

How is the hardware made up?

We can also find an additional differentiation between the components of the PC , and it is given by the function that they fulfill within it.

The function of these components is usually divided into three main categories: data input, output, and storage . The components of these categories are related through a set of cables or circuits called the bus with the central processing unit (CPU), the microprocessor that drives the computer and provides it with computing power.

In the following paragraphs we will be able to know in detail some of them:

Cabinet

The cabinet is the container where all the internal components of the computers are housed : motherboard, processor, coolers, power supply, audio card, graphic and network cards, hard disk, optical storage units, RAM and ROM memories, and other internal parts.

To the cabinet, the input and output peripherals are usually connected using ports and connectors of the type: VGA, HDMI, Serial, USB, PS2, RJ11, etc.

Chipset

Integrated into the motherboard ,  the chipset allows information traffic between the microprocessor and the rest of the components that make up the PC.

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CPU

This device has the task of interpreting and executing the instructions received from the operating system, as well as managing the requests made by users through programs.

RAM

The  RAM  or Random Access Memory (Random Access Memory)  is where your computer stores programs, data and results processed by the CPU, allowing quick retrieval by the system and provided better performance.

ROM memory

It is a type of non-volatile memory that “remembers” everything necessary for the PC to start up even if it has been disconnected from the power. See more about ROM

Storage units

They are all those devices intended for the storage of system or user data, that is, the physical place where the operating system, programs and user documents are located. These can be hard drives (or SSD disk), CD, DVD or Blu Ray drives, USB sticks or removable external drives.

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Output devices

They are the devices in charge of showing the user the results of their operations . This group includes monitors, printers and everything that serves the purpose of offering the user the possibility of seeing the result of their work.

The screen

The screen changes the information generated by the computer into visual information. Displays usually take one of the following forms: a liquid crystal display (LCD) or LED display, although today the options have multiplied. These monitors connect to the computer case through a connector on the video card (GPU).

The printer

Dot matrix:  Printers take text and images from the computer and print them on paper. Dot-matrix printers use tiny wires that strike an ink ribbon creating characters.

Lasers: Laser  printers use  beams of light to trace images onto a drum and then pick up tiny particles of a black pigment, called toner.

Ink Jet:  There is also a third type, called Ink Jet or Ink Jet printer, which is the most used printer today due to price and performance,  its operation being based on transferring ink at high pressure from cartridges located in the herself.

Input devices

Devices that allow the entry of information to the PC . Examples of this are keyboards, mice and other devices:

The stylus

Among the physical elements we have, for example, a stylus , which is a pointer with a photosensitive end that is used to draw on the monitor or to select information on the screen by pressing a button on the stylus or by pressing the stylus against the surface. from the screen. The pen has optical sensors that identify the fraction of the screen that is being passed through.

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The mouse

A mouse or mouse is a pointing device designed to be held like a hand.  It has in its lower part a detector device (generally a ball or laser) that allows the user to control the movement of the cursor on the screen by sliding the mouse across a flat surface or pad. To select objects or choose directions on the screen, the user presses a mouse button, either the left or right.

Joystick

A joystick is a device consisting of a lever that moves in various directions and directs a cursor or other graphic object across the computer screen.

Keyboard

A keyboard is a device similar to a typewriter,  which allows the user to enter text and instructions.  Some keyboards have special function keys or built-in pointing devices, such as trackballs or touch-sensitive areas that allow the user’s finger movements to direct the cursor on the screen.

Mixed devices

These are components that deliver and receive information, and in this group we can mention network cards or cards, modems, and communications ports, among others.

We recommend you read all about the history of hardware in a great post dedicated to Generations of computers.

What is software?

Computer software  is all that code arranged in such a way that allows the user to order it to perform a task . They must also be subdivided into various categories based on the functions they perform in the system.

Software Concepts

Software is a sequence of instructions that are interpreted and / or executed for the management, redirection or modification of a data / information or event.

Software is also a product, which is developed by software engineering, and includes not only the program for the computer, but also manuals and technical documentation.

Computer software is made up of a sequence of instructions, which is interpreted and executed by a processor or a virtual machine. In functional software, that sequence follows specific standards that result in a certain behavior.

On our computer, all the programs we use are software: Windows, Outlook, Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and antivirus, among others. Even viruses can be categorized as software.

A software can be executed by any device capable of interpreting and executing the instructions for which it is created. When software is represented as instructions that can be executed directly by a processor, we say that it is written in machine language. The execution of a software can also be carried out by means of an interpreter program, responsible for understanding and executing each of its instructions. A special and notable category of interpreters are virtual machines, such as the Java Virtual Machine (JVM).

The best known device with a processor is the computer. There are other programmable machines, such as cell phones and industrial automation machines, among many other devices.

Software classification

The software can be classified into:

  • System Software
  • App software

System Software

This group includes the operating system, device drivers, system utilities and all those tools that are used for the specific control of the characteristics of the computer.

App software

 It is called  application software to those programs used by users to the completion of a task , and in this group we can find  software to the ofimático type,  graphic design applications such as Photoshop ,  accounting and electronic, just to mention a small fraction of all categories of applications that we can find in the market.

Software types

Software, also called a program or application, in addition to hardware, is one of the fundamental pieces of any computer or computing system such as desktop PCs, netbooks, smartphones, notebooks or tablets. Without these programs, the computer would be nothing more than a device that is not capable of doing anything by itself, except decorating a desk.

From this point on, we will try to review the different types of programs and applications that can be found on the market:

  • Operating systems
  • Word processors (see: What is a word processor for? )
  • Spreadsheets (see: What is a spreadsheet for? )
  • Databases
  • CAD programs
  • Graphic design
  • Suites
  • Browsers

There are many types of software,  each developed for a specific purpose , and over the years a categorization has been established that defines the task it performs. From here we will know how the different types of programs differ and some examples of the most popular applications.

Operating systems

This type of software controls the computer, and without it, the PC is not able to interpret the actions we ask of it , for example cut or paste. The most important examples of operating systems are Microsoft Windows,  in any of its versions, that is,  Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8, Windows 10, Apple MacOS or Linux  in their  Mandriva, Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Debian distributions , for cite only the most important ones.

But there are also other types of exclusive operating systems for other devices such as smartphones and tablets. The best examples of them are  Symbian, Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry OS , among others.

Text processors

They replace, with many advantages, the already very obsolete typewriter, being able to write texts, memoranda, letters, contracts, reports, correspondence in general, and any other document that needs to be shown on paper or sent via email.

With a word processor, various resources can be used to compose a document such as: underlining, bold, fonts of various types, colors, spell checking, inserting texts, images, tables and many other options that will achieve a professional look for our brief. The most cited examples of word processing are  Microsoft Word, Libre Writer, WordPad, Abiword or Kword .

Spreadsheets

These types of applications are used  to do all kinds of calculations and mathematical operations , being quite useful for various applications such as pay sheets, accounting, accounts payable and receivable, statistical calculations, balance sheets, statistical graphics and many other possibilities for the field of accounting in the business or home. Examples of them are  Microsoft Excel, Lotus, and Office Calc .

Databases

These programs are used to store information such as registration of customers, suppliers, materials, products, in order to be able to have an effective monitoring of stocks or movements of any kind. The most important applications in this area are Microsoft Access, FoxPro, and Office Base.

CAD programs

CAD (Computer Aided Design) , refers to computer-aided design programs that are widely used by architects, engineers, designers and any professional who is dedicated to drawing plans of any kind. Widely used in architecture, engineering and electronics among others. The most significant example of this category is  AutoCAD from Autodesk , but we can also count on Blender, open source and free.

Graphic design

These types of programs are regularly used in any graphic design studio where magazines, books, and all kinds of printed material are composed.

They can basically be divided into two types:  Composition  and  retouching and manipulation of images , with other programs that complement these actions. The most used programs in this area are  Adobe Illutrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop , being also used, but to a lesser extent,  CorelDraw!  and  Corel Photo Paint , among others.

Suites

These types of programs  usually integrate several applications that fulfill a different function in the same package . The best known suites are  Microsoft Office, Open Office  or  Adobe Suite . The first two include software focused on office work, with a word processor, spreadsheet and others, while the third is aimed at professionals in the graphic arts field.

Browsers

Perhaps one of the most used programs today, given the unstoppable fury of the Internet and social networks. These programs help us to connect and navigate through the Internet. The most popular browsers are Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera. It should be noted that all of them are free programs.

Types of software according to your license

As we saw, there are several ways to classify software by its usefulness. However, there is one more way to catalog it, and it is perhaps even a little more important. It is the type of license that said software has , on which the functions of the program that we want to access will depend.

  • Proprietary or paid software
  • Free software
  • Free or open source software

At this point, we can say that several types of software licenses coexist, from the most restrictive, within the world of proprietary software, to those that allow us to even modify it so that we can adapt it to our needs, like many open source programs .

But before starting to list the different types of software licenses that exist, it is best to remember that basically a software license is a contract between the developer and the client , in which all the conditions and restrictions that we must have are set out in writing. respect when using such software. All software programs have them, regardless of whether they are commercial or free and free applications.

From this point on, in this article we will focus on the three best known, which include both free apps such as Gimp or Spotify and commercial ones, such as Windows or Photoshop.

Proprietary or paid software

It’s called proprietary software to all software that or computer program which is marketed under licenses restricting its use in any way, such as to install it on more than one computer, modify it or to even store it on media are not the originals. In addition to this, the developer does not make the source code of his application public.

Besides Windows or Photoshop, other examples of proprietary software are Acrobat Reader and Microsoft Edge . As we noted, some programs may be free despite having a restrictive license, making it basically freeware.

Free software

Basically, the concept of freeware software refers to any computer program that is distributed without the user having to pay for its license, that is, the possibility of being able to use it for as long as the user wants without having to pay a fee. penny.

However, the fact that it is free does not mean that we can do what we want with the program, since the author has made it clear in the license of use what are the obligations, restrictions and rights of use of this piece of software in particular.

Clear examples of freeware are the Avast Antivirus and the Chrome browser, among many others.

Free or open source software

According to the foundations of the Free Software Foundation, all software that can be executed, copied, distributed, studied and modified to improve its uses or characteristics is called free software .

These types of applications may be available for free on many websites, however, this does not mean that it cannot be priced. While we may come to pay for some piece of free software , we will always maintain the freedoms promulgated by the FSF with respect to the user’s rights to modify or use the software as they see fit.

In short, free software offers users the possibility of being able to use the software in the way that best suits their needs, without this being the obligation of having to pay or inform any competent authority on the subject.

Applications for Smartphones

A special category of software are programs  exclusively designed for the operating systems included in  today’s smartphones .

In the market there are several  operating systems for mobile phones,  as we could see above, applications designed for Android are not compatible   with  Windows Phone , for example.

These apps, as cell phone software is also known  , offer the user a very important range of possibilities, since with them they can have help for any type of task they want to undertake with their phone. For this, there are applications for office, mail readers, games and many others on the market , it is only a matter of searching in the official stores of each operating system and selecting the one that suits us best.

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Firmware: An intermediary between hardware and software

Those of us who usually use different electronic devices made up of  hardware and software have surely heard the term Firmware mentioned more than once  , and the importance that this element has within the operation of the equipment, as well as the need to update this tool with the new ones. versions available.

In principle, it should be noted that the term Firmware began to spread at the end of the sixties, and that it  basically defined the microcode resident in RAM memory, responsible for implementing different computer instructions. 

Thanks to the characteristics of this element, it could be modified with the necessary changes to establish new instructions that would later be executed by the CPU. 

Over the years, Firmware has become an everyday element, which is available to most digital electronic devices,  since it allows it to be possible to send different series of instructions to the different electronic components of a computer , such as This is the case of the PC, in which the Firmware can be in charge of endless specific instructions for the processor, the  BIOS ( Basic Input Output System ), various applications and others.

Because Firmware, which, as its name indicates, is about firm  programming  , and is characterized by being a block of instructions for certain purposes, it is  usually defined as a piece of equipment software .

However, since it is incorporated into the electronics of the devices, it is also correct to ensure that it is a hardware component of the same.

In reality, the Firmware, which resides in non-volatile memories such as ROM, EEPROM or Flash,  is the intermediary between the device and its electronics , which is responsible for controlling and sending the external instructions of the equipment and ensuring that these are carried out correctly.

Currently, due to the urgent need for the existence of Firmware in practically all devices that have an integrated circuit, it  is possible to find this type of programming in countless equipment , such as printers, monitors, players, optical units, peripherals, and of course also in components such as microprocessors, memories and others.

Even the BIOS of the computer itself is considered a Firmware , since it is in charge of activating the different instructions for turning on the PC and executing the commands to start the operating system environments.

Another is the case of the peripherals that accompany our PC, since each one of them works with a special Firmware for specific tasks, which usually does not come included within the device , but is loaded at the time it is connected and receives the boot command through the computer’s operating system.  Many times this Firmware is included in the drivers that accompany these accessories. 

Disadvantages and problems with the Firmware

The biggest drawback of most of the Firmware that the different electronic equipment includes is the  lack of automatic update , which can cause certain failures in its normal operation.

That is why new versions of different Firmware are constantly being released, which in general must be updated manually by the user.

Such is the case of what happens with many Divx players on the market, that to achieve modifications in its various functions, such as the display of subtitles with larger fonts than with the factory-supplied configuration or greater codec support  For multimedia files, it is necessary to download the new updated Firmware from different Internet sites, and to manually install this new programming system.

The same is true of firmware updates for other equipment, such as cell phones, on-board car computers, music players, and so on.

Firmware updates

Firmware updates can come from the equipment manufacturing companies,  as happens for example with those published by the Apple company for your iPhone, or they can even be developed by common users, an activity called “Hacking “Firmware, which in recent years has focused mostly on modifying firmware for low-end video and music players.

The Effects of Firmware Update

In general, Firmware undergoes modifications that respond to improve its functionality, and in this way  offer a superior performance of the equipment that contains it. 

Despite the fact that  many current devices include the Firmware update function automatically,  the truth is that a large number of computers have not incorporated this functionality, so many times it  is the user who will have to be in charge of carrying out this task in an efficient manner. manual , but extremely simple.

Fundamental Firmware Updates

Firmware update represents a drastic and beneficial change for the team , since it not only allows the device itself to be updated, but it can also  expand its characteristics, offering greater functionality.

In general, when manufacturers release a new updated Firmware for any of their equipment, the update must be done without a doubt, since in most cases  it is modified Firmware that includes the correction of errors that the device may present. in its normal operation.

Sometimes it is the users themselves who develop the necessary modifications of the Firmware, as is the case of the repeated Firmware updates of low-end tabletop Divx players, which through the update offers the possibility of playing compressed files with codecs that previously the equipment did not support. 

Sometimes  the new version of the Firmware can add functions and improve the pre-established ones,  offering us more modern features for the use of the device.

This is usually one of the most important reasons why users decide to update the Firmware of their devices, since through this technique, various aspects are modernized, these can vary  from the simple cosmetic change of its graphical interface to complex configuration values ​​of its operation.

We recommend you read: What is an interface? >>

How to Update Firmware: The Fear of Many

Despite the great advantages of updating the Firmware,  many users prefer not to carry out this operation , for fear of causing irreversible damage to the device.

The only way in which we can cause irreversible damage to the device during the firmware update is by using an incorrect version of it, or if  the installation of the new Firmware is interrupted for any reason. 

Although it is a delicate operation, which can lead to permanent damage to the equipment, the truth is that by taking the necessary precautions, using the appropriate Firmware and carrying out the detailed steps to carry out the update, through this operation we will be able to update our equipment , add more functions and improve the compatibility of formats.

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