Your Most Embarrassing IT Questions Answered – Part 1

Your Most Embarrassing IT Questions Answered – Part 1


One of my favorite TV shows right now is The IT Crowd, a British comedy about three IT workers stuck in the basement office of a big company answering IT questions. And while I can relate to a lot of what the characters do in their jobs, it’s the stupid situations they get into that I love the most.

For example, the IT department’s manager Jen knows nothing about computers or anything IT related. It’s a running joke through the whole show. In one scene, she has an interview with another company and is bragging about her IT knowledge. The hiring manager asks her what the letters IT stand for because she always wanted to know but was too afraid to ask. Jen, of course, doesn’t know either, but she’s too embarrassed to admit it. And her coworkers aren’t very helpful:

I don’t think anyone should ever feel embarrassed for needing clarification on computer basics. After all, technology changes are happening so fast these days, it can really be hard to keep up. And while you may feel tempted to assume you know what IT is all about, it can also get you into some tough situations down the line.

So, here’s a quick list of IT terms and new technologies with their definitions.

IT stands for information technology, Jen. Basically, IT is about using computers, software, applications and networks to store and share information – something we all do on a daily basis. It’s widely known that we live in the ‘information age’ because we are so dependent on information technology. An IT Department, like the one in The IT Crowd, is responsible for managing the computers, networks and other technical areas of the business. Smaller companies may choose to outsource these functions.

Cloud computing is an example of information technology. It refers to storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet rather than your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is just metaphor for the Internet. Although it’s nice to think of, your data does not live in the clouds in the sky, but rather server space in a data warehouse. With an online connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, anytime. These days, data storage via the Internet is available for both consumers and businesses, for free and at a range of costs depending on storage needs.

PC stands for personal computer used by a single person. Many people may see a distinction between PCs and MAC computers, though they are essentially the same. In the early days of the ‘80’s when PCs where first made available, IBM and Macintosh were the two big competitors in the personal computer market. PC described an IBM-compatible computer in contrast to an Apple Macintosh computer. Again, these days they are the same. They both use the same hardware components and Intel processing chips. Although Apple has its own operating system (see below), you can install the Microsoft Windows operating system and the Office software suite in an Apple computer – and vice versa with the Apple OS and programs.

An operating system (or OS) manages computer hardware and provides common services for other computer programs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a computer is useless without an operating system. The OS performs basic tasks like input from a keyboard, output to the screen and memory allocation. Most desktop PCs come preloaded with Microsoft Windows. Macintosh computers come pre-loaded with Mac OS. Large corporate servers may use Linux. Smartphones and tablet PCs also have operating systems to run applications and programs. Examples of a mobile OS include Apple iOS, Google Android, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS, Nokia’s Symbian and Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS.

A processor or CPU (central processing unit) is the central component of computer hardware used to perform calculations and run programs. All the “computing” in a computer happens in the CPU, interpreting and executing instructions and data contained in software programs. The power and performance of the CPU determines a computer’s overall performance. Computers running on Windows and Linux operating systems use Intel processors, and now Macintosh computers do as well. The other largest manufacturer of processors is AMD that also work well with Windows and Linux.

Feel free to comment or send me an email at if you’d like any more explanation on these technology terms. Again, don’t be embarrassed! Each month I’ll continue this series with most frequently asked basics or how-to posts.

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