Introduction to Computer Information Systems/What is a Computer?
Data vs. Information
Data is calculated and processed on a daily basis through computers. Data is essentially facts that are usually typed into a computer. The computer calculates the data and spits out the information. Data can come in many forms including numbers, figures, experiments, and surveys.  Information is produced by the data; it is form of knowledge, and computers calculate detailed information.  When most people think of information, the first source that comes to mind is Google. Many online sources provide endless amounts of information. Without information, people will not have reliable sources for school and their career. Data and information are very valuable, and is most certainly the backbone of a computer.
Computers Then and Now
It is difficult for a college student to imagine life without a computer. However, computers have only been around since the mid 1900's. The computer industry went from making computers that took up an entire classroom to currently being able to fit into a student's backpack. Also, computers used to be much more expensive and required a numerous amount of energy than computers of today. Finally, in the 1900's, people began placing these foreign objects into their home. During this time, people had to really study and be patient with this handy device.  People have seen the drastic changes that have been made to computers in a span of only forty years. Computers are much smaller, lighter, require less energy, and cheaper. However, in today's generation, computers are second nature to most people, and one could not imagine life without computers!
The term hardware refers to the components used to build a computer. Breaking down the components into categories, you will find four main groups:
Although these are the four main categories, there are three more components to consider that do not fit into those main four:
- Power Supply
- Expansion Cards
A computer case is used to put the essential components of a computer in. This provides an enclosed space and easier organization for the components to go.
A power supply unit (PSU) is used to power all components inside the case. It does this by converting AC power to DC power that is regulated by the PSU. What this means is that each component needs a certain amount of volts to work and the power supply will regulate the volts accordingly.
An expansion card is used to enhance certain attributes of the system. For example, a sound card can enhance sound by giving you surround sound capability. Another example is a video card, this will enhance the graphics of your system.
This category refers to the components a computer uses that receive data and send information. Input devices do the receiving and the output devices do the sending. Some examples of input devices are a keyboard, mouse, and a gaming controller. Examples of output devices are a printer, monitor, and speakers.
The memory within a computer can be broken down into two categories: short term memory and long term memory. Short term memory is the random access memory (RAM) while the long term is either your hard disk drive (HDD) or compact disk drive (CDD). RAM can be tapped into immediately by programs on a computer allowing it to compute faster, but if the user needs to save information for later use, using the HDD or CDD is required.
The central processing unit (CPU) is used to calculate the commands sent to it by the programs used on the system. It performs all the arithmetic and logical operations. This comes in the form of a small chip that is connected into the computer motherboard. The motherboard is where all other devices are connected so they can speak with each other.
Computer software is used to communicate with the computer processor to direct certain operations to be performed. This is done through computer programming languages. Software can be broken into two parts: System Software and Application Software.
System software refers to the software used to operate the computer components. This also provides a foundation for application software, giving it the ability to carry out the desired functions. System software commonly comes on a system CD, for example a Windows 7 CD. This CD provides the operating system, drivers, Windows system, and utility software. The operating system allows the parts of the computer to communicate. This is done by transferring data. This is also the specific component of system software that allows for the running of application software. Utility software maintain the computer systems. Device drivers set up the ability for the hardware connected to the computer to function. Windows systems is the part that gives you a graphical interface on your monitor and allows the user to configure all connected devices.
Application software are the programs and applications that are developed to carry out desired functions by the user. The way an application works is through programming software. Programming software is the middle man between the system and the actual application the user wants to run. Some examples of programming languages are Java, C++, and Visual Basic. Some examples of application software are web browsers and video games.
Computer Users and Professionals
Computers are nothing without the people that use them, the common user and the professional. The common user is anyone that uses the computer for general purposes. This includes checking emails, playing computer games, typing up a paper, and the list goes on. What distinguishes a common user from a professional is that a professional works in the field of computer information technology. Examples of professions in this field are a computer programmer, web designer, network administrator, and software engineer. These are but a few of the many jobs involved in the field of computer information technology. These are the people that design the hardware to build computers, they keep business networks secure, they program software to communicate effectively with the user and hardware, and develop the latest and greatest software for the common user to enjoy.