Welcome relief for bewildered end users . . .

Demystifying Your Computer
Course PC-04 -- © 1994, 2000 Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago

Since the advent of "easy" user interfaces we've been running into more and more nontechnical computer users who find themselves in trouble and have no idea what to do. Based on these experiences, we decided in 1994 to depart from our long-standing focus on information systems professional skill development and to offer a short course for people who have no technical background. Such people include managers, administrative staff, writers, lawyers, and other end users from all areas. (But not dummies; see book review in IDI Newsletter, summer, 1994.)

Although modern system software makes many tasks easier for the nontechnical user, it can also obscure exactly what's happening in the computer. Users who learn to use a word processor or other software product through either a rote tutorial or trial-and-error seldom feel fully in control of their personal computer, especially when some new situation arises. Sometimes the computer's behavior seems like magic to them. When they get the expected result they're pleased, but when something unexpected happens they may feel frustrated and have little idea what to do.


Length:2 half-day sessions
Prerequisites:None; just familiarity with computers as a user
Class size:4-12
Objectives Our goal is to give the computer user a new sense of being in control. You should take this course if you regularly use a desktop computer but are unsure of exactly:
  • What an operating system is, what it does, how it relates to other software, and how to use its functions.
  • What memory (RAM) is, what sorts of things are in memory at a given time, and how much memory you need.
  • What the central processor (CPU) is and how it relates to other system components.
  • How a data item, such as a person's name, a date, or an amount of money is represented inside the computer.
  • Where the hard disk it, what kinds of things can be stored on it, and how much capacity yours has.
  • The difference between a data file and a program.
  • The difference between a data file and a database.
  • How to organize your files into directories and manage disk space.
  • When to store your files on removable diskettes.
  • What it means to install a software product on your computer and how to cope with new software releases.
  • How to assure adequate backup and recovery protection.
  • The role of communications software and modems in connecting your computer to the Internet and other external services.
  • The relationship between your desktop computer and your organization's internal computer network, how to log onto the network host, and how to store and retrieve files on network disks.
General Description We begin by examining data, emphasizing how it is represented on magnetic devices. We define in simple but rigorous language such basic terms as bit, byte, record, and file. We then present the stored program concept and the organization of a typical computer system.

We continue by describing the functions of software, carefully explaining the differences among the four main categories:

  • system software
  • application software
  • productivity tools
  • utility programs

In the second session we look at today's popularoperating systems We show various useful commands utility functions and explain the structure of file directories. We explore how users interact with both character-based programs and graphical user interfaces (GUI).


Custom versions

Although Demystifying Your Computer emphasizes concepts rather than specific current technology, we rely on an actual system for many of the examples. We currently offer versions customized to these platforms, both using Intel hardware:

We plan a Windows 2000 version whenever that system gains widespread use in organizations. Call Conrad Weisert, (773) 624-3670, to discuss any other platforms of interest to you.

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Last updated March, 2000