As with any technology, things will go wrong and usually at the worst possible time. You get a flat tire while on the way to the most important meeting of your career, the cable goes out with thirty seconds left in a tie game on which you bet the mortgage, or your computer decides to lock up just as you hit your client’s deadline on that important (to them) report.
At this moment, solid communication with your IT peeps becomes critical. The better you are able to describe the problem as well as the conditions immediately preceding the problem, the faster your IT staff will be able to diagnose and correct the same. This is where vocabulary and precision become critical. With that in mind, this is the beginning of a multi-part post that will provide you with the vocabulary to most effectively communicate with IT professionals.
But, before we get to the vocabulary, let’s start with the most basic and powerful diagnostic and corrective technology tool.
THE COMPUTER RESTART AND/OR POWER BUTTON
Every technology professional will tell you that restarting a computer has solved more issues than all of the other corrective and diagnostic tools combined. In my offices, we had two absolute technology rules.
Note that restarting the system does not mean turning the monitor off and on or putting your laptop into sleep mode. It means either using Windows to restart your computer or pressing and holding the physical power button until the computer has restarted.
With that in mind, let’s talk about hardware.
HARDWARE PART I: The box under your desk.
Computer Case: This is the beige or black box that sits either under your monitor or under your desk. THIS IS NOT THE CPU (see below). The computer case holds all the hardware that makes your computer work. It is just a box, nothing more.
CPU: This is NOT the box that sits under your monitor or next to your desk. Rather, the CPU is the brains of your computer. CPU stands for the ‘Central Processing Unit’. It is a chip (about one square inch) that contains around 3.7 bazillion tiny transistors that is plugged into your motherboard (see below). Pretty much anything that happens on your computer starts and ends with the CPU. Users infrequently need to know much about their CPU other than the type (eg. Intel Core I5-6300U or AMD Athlon X4). That said, just remember that it’s not the black box but rather a chip inside the black box.
Note that you can determine your CPU type in Windows 10 by going to the Start Menu, Settings and About.
BIOS: Basic Input/Output System. Once again, you really don’t need to know much about this other than that it is the basic set of instructions that tells your computer how to start up and talk to everything else on your computer. It is stored on a small chip attached to your motherboard. On some computers, when you first start up, you will see a screen that allows you to access your BIOS before continuing to start Windows. Unless your IT person tells you to access your BIOS, LEAVE IT ALONE.
Motherboard: OK, mavbe I should have started with this but I like to put brains before the skeleton. And that is basically a good description of the motherboard. A motherboard is a large circuit board that is located within the black box (called the computer case). Everything, and I mean everything, on your computer is attached to the motherboard. So, if something goes wrong with your motherboard, you’re pretty much out of business. Motherboard failures are somewhat unusual but when they happen, the most common result is that the computer won’t even start up at all.
Power Supply: The power supply takes AC current, converts it to DC current and then feeds that current to everything located within the computer case. If your computer does absolutely nothing when you press the power button (and you’ve made sure that it is plugged into a powered wall outlet…too many stories here), there’s a good chance your power supply is shot. This is often an easy and cheap fix for a desktop computer.
Graphics Card/GPU: Most business computers do not have a separate graphics card (unless they are frequently used for image processing). Rather, the graphics processing is integrated with the CPU. So, unless you are a graphics designer or a gamer, don’t worry about it.
Sound Card: Most mother boards incorporate a sound card. Anything you hear from your computer is generated by the sound card. While generally problem free, your audio card can occasionally conflict with things like microphones so, if there’s a problem with sound or recording, check for this issue.
Random Access Memory/RAM: RAM is what you might think of as your short term memory. If I tell you my name at a conference, it will first be stored in your RAM. If you’re pretty sure you’ll never see me again, my name will never get any further than the first conversation and you’ll forget me. In a computer, RAM serves the same purpose. It remembers things that the computer will need immediately and then forgets it when the computer doesn’t need the information anymore. Most business computers will perform perfectly fine with 4 GB of RAM but these days, 8 GB has become much more common.
Hard Drive / HDD or Solid State Drive / SSD: Following the RAM theme, your hard drive is long term memory. Since you found me so fascinating, you decided to store my name in your long term memory so the next time we meet, you’ll remember my name. The most common type of hard drive is comprised of rotating magnetic disks read by an arm similar to a phonograph (for those old enough to remember vinyl). That said, computers are rapidly moving to solid state drives (SSD’s) because they are incredibly fast (think about your computer starting up in under 30 seconds). They also have no moving parts and thus, their failure rate tends to be lower than a traditional hard dricve.
There are many other doodads that are in your computer case, but if you know the above terms, you’ll be on your way to better communications with your IT staff.
Stay tuned for the next installment…PERIPHERALS.
In my last installment, we talked about the box that lives under your desk (no, not the one that eats lost files but rather, the one that contains all your computers bits and pieces). Today, we’ll discuss peripherals. So, what’s a peripheral??? It is literally anything that does not reside inside your computer case (yeah, the box under your desk again). Peripherals are to a computer what speakers are to a sound system. You can have the fastest CPU, loads of RAM, and a great SSD but if you have a lousy monitor, your experience will still be awful.
Monitor: Unless you are using an all-in-one computer or a laptop, your monitor is an interchangeable peripheral (meaning you’re not stuck with just one choice). Basically, it’s the screen you stare at all day. If you’ve read my earlier blog, in most cases you’re not even limited to a single monitor and in many cases, multiple monitors represent enormous efficiencies for an extremely modest investment. In most business settings, a 24” monitor represents the sweet spot for pricing and convenience.
Keyboard and Mouse: Your keyboard and mouse are the tools you use to talk to your computer. If you spend your day typing or doing data entry, a good keyboard and mouse can have a significant impact on productivity. This is kind of obvious so let’s move on.
Printers/Scanners/MFPs: This is where the real vocabulary lesson begins.
Printer: A printer does exactly what its name suggests. It takes your digital data and prints it on paper. But, there are a couple of different types of printers.
Inkjet: Inkjet printers use a variety of proprietary print heads that spray extremely fine droplets of ink onto the paper. They almost always are color printers and are generally very inexpensive. That said, when factoring in the costs of ink, they are inefficient and provide a poor ROI for higher volume printing. However, for small local print jobs or the occasional color print job, inkjets are the way to go.
Laser Printer: Laser printers lay down toner (usually black) on an electrically charged metal drum. When the drum is pressed against paper, it releases the ink generating thus printing your document. Black and white (ie. monochrome) laser printers are typically very efficient and are perfect for printing high volumes. Replacement toner can be a bit pricey but in almost every instance, far less expensive than replacement ink for inkjets. They can also be run at higher speeds than most injets.
Dot Matrix / Impact Printer: Dot matrix printers are the oldest currently used print technology. Similar to a typewriter, dot matrix printers have a number of ‘pins’ in the printhead. When printing, the pins strike a ribbon that contains ink. That ink is transferred to the paper based upon the pattern of striking pins. The only time you need a dot matrix printer in today’s environment is when you are using multipart (ie. NCR) paper. This is often required by government entities that have not converted to digital formats.
Scanner: A scanner takes an image of a document and stores it digitally. Flat bed scanners require that you place each document on the glass. Most modern scanners include some kind of automatic document feeder that allows you to scan multiple pages without loading each document onto the glass.
MFP / Multi-Function Printers: In their most basic configuration, MFPs combine a printer and a scanner into one machine. Most MFP’s include an auto document feeder, the ability to send faxes and to serve as a photocopier.
Duplex Scanning / Printing: This feature allows you to either scan or print two sided documents without further user intervention.
Single Pass Duplex Scanning: This feature allows you to scan both sides of a document on one pass (thus dramatically increasing the speed of scanning two sided documents).
Laptop Docks: If anyone in your office uses a laptop, a dock can be indispensable. Most modern laptops are extremely thin and light. One way they achieve this form factor is by reducing the number of included ports (things that peripherals plug into) and by using smaller screen sizes (typically around 15” or less). While great when you’re on the road, these limitations present a significant drag on efficiency when in the office. Enter the dock. A dock is typically a small (a little bigger than a deck of cards) box that plugs into one of your USB ports on your laptop. They often include a variety of ports for monitors, printers and other peripherals. Once all of the peripherals are plugged into the dock, you can turn your laptop into a full fledged desktop computer with a full keyboard, mouse, multiple monitors and a wired printer within seconds. For less than $100, docks provide enormous returns on investment.
Thumb Drive: A thumb drive is a really small Solid State Drive (basically a hard drive with no moving parts) that plugs into your USB port. It is a great way of moving files from one computer to another when downloading them from a web storage site would be inconvenient (no internet access) or unacceptably slow (large files).
Dongle: A dongle is small device that plugs into your USB port and is most often used when you need to adapt one type of port (eg. VGA) to a USB port.
Speaker/Earphone/Microphone: Most computers have a port for earphones, speakers and a microphone. For business purposes, the most important of these three is a good microphone if you are using your computer for communication purposes. A good quality computer microphone is inexpensive and for things like Skype calls, can make an enormous difference in the quality of the call.
Stay tuned for the next installment…Windows, the Next Generation.
As the elders of the IT community remember, Windows has been around since the mid 1980’s (1985 to be precise). It was Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s wildly successful Graphical User Interface (GUI). The early iterations of Windows were insecure, unreliable and just overall clunky. That said, if you were coming from an MS-DOS environment, it was a new world of user friendliness. Despite some fumbles over the years (Windows ME, Vista, etc.) Windows has now evolved into a highly stable, secure and reliable operating system and is run by about 90% of the world’s PC’s.
While Windows is relatively user friendly, it does engage its own, sometimes obtuse, vocabulary (as with just about anything tech related). So, the next time you are talking to your IT Peeps, here’s some Windows lingo that will make you look like an expert.
Start Button: What better place to start than the Start Button (yeah, I know, kind of obvious but I’m not going to look a gift transition sentence in the mouth)? Starting with Windows 95, and with the glaring and unfortunate exception of Vista and for a time, Windows 8, every version of Windows has incorporated the magic Start Button. It typically resides in the bottom left corner of the screen on the task bar (unless you move the task bar to another position on the screen, and yes, you can do that). The Start Button contains, among other things, a list of the user accessible programs on your computer such as word processing, spread sheets, image processing, etc. It is customizable and can include recently opened files, programs, and in the most recent versions, tiles of program icons that can actually contain additional information such as news feeds, recent emails, etc.
Desktop: The desktop is basically your home base. In actuality, it is just another folder on your hard drive but for the purposes of understanding Windows, think of it as a physical desk on which some files, tools (stapler, paperclips, etc.) lie. On most desktops, you will find shortcuts to your most frequently used programs and files.
Folder: Continuing with the Desktop analogy, a folder is a place on your hard drive to store files of any type similar to folders in your filing cabinet. They are a critical part of ensuring that your files are well organized and you should give significant thought with regard to how your folders are named.
File: For the purposes of most users, files are the most basic data storage unit on your computer. Files may contain data or programs. Think of them as the individual pieces of paper stored in your folders.
Task Bar: Typically found at the bottom of your screen, the task bar usually displays shortcuts to frequently used program, open programs and a variety of status information. You can drag and drop the task bar anywhere on your desktop and can change its characteristics (eg. changing its height, auto-hiding the bar when not in use, etc.).
Icon or Shortcut: Icons are small images that represent files. The most important thing to know about an icon is that IT IS NOT A PROGRAM. Rather, it is a pointer, or shortcut, to a file. These files can be anything from programs to data files. Double clicking on an icon can cause a variety of actions. It can launch a program, open a folder, take you to an internet site, etc. Note that right clicking on a icon will give you a menu of options that allow you to change the characteristics of the icon (including the image itself). But, deleting an icon will not uninstall a program to which it points.
Recycle Bin: The Recycle Bin (also known as OMG, I found that missing file folder) is a folder, typically on your desktop, that serves as an intermediate staging area for files you wish to delete. When you delete a file (unless it is truly enormous), the file is placed into your Recycle Bin. The file is not actually deleted until you empty the Recycle Bin and can be restore to its last location until that moment. If you ever ‘lose’ a file, the first place you should check is your Recycle Bin and you should always perform a quick review of files in your Recycle Bin before hitting that ‘empty’ button.
There are many other aspects of Windows that have not been addressed in this post, but it does provide you with a basic vocabulary when speaking with your IT Peeps.
Allen Friedman is the owner and CEO of Techaerus LLC, an office efficiency consulting firm. He is also a licensed attorney. Allen founded and managed one of the largest consumer collections law firms in the country and managed over 50 attorneys as well as hundreds of non-attorney staff. Prior to founding that firm, he opened and managed the New York and Michigan operations for the largest consumer collections firm in the United States. Throughout his career, Allen has always placed great emphasis on ensuring that investments in office technology provide the greatest possible returns. In order to achieve these returns, he focuses on three pillars of office management; asset management, training, and automation. His expertise includes document/image management, software and hardware integration, training, and process management and automation. Allen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Amy, his children Cassidy and Gideon, and two adorable dogs named Roxie (a labradoodle) and Bentley (an Old English Sheepdog).