Using Software

6:54:00 PM |

 As stated earlier software is anything created and/or stored on a computer or computer storage device (like a disk). The work that is produced using an application or program is also software and is usually referred to as a file or a document.

Files & Documents

Once you have typed or created a new document or file on your computer, you will have to decide what to do with it. You could print it right away using a Print command and then Exit or Quit your program without saving it, but most of the time you will want to Save your document for future use.The computer saves its information on a disk, most often the hard disk, and the users determines where and when the file or document is saved.

Folders & Directories

On the disk are directories or collection of folders. These directories or folders could be compared to a filing cabinet. All files are stored in a directory. Most hard disks have many directories or folders and files can be stored in any of them.
Directories can have sub-directories and sub-sub-directories many levels down. The directory immediately below the current directory is called the child directory. The directory immediately above the current one is called the parent directory. The top of the directory structure is called the root directory.
When a user adds or installs a new program on the computer the installation process will usually create a new directory or folder to store the application's files.
Users can create and delete directories or folders as the need arises. Older operating systems require that the directory be emptied of files before it can be deleted. When removing a directory always check before deleting it to make sure that it doesn't contain files you need.
You can easily move files from one folder or directory to another using menu commands, drag & drop using the mouse or a file utility. It is important to understand your computer's directory structure as a file can be misplaced if it is saved in the wrong directory.
One of the main problems new users have is creating a filing system. Modern operating systems address the 'filing problem' by automatically creating a (My) Documents folder. By saving files or documents in this folder you will always know where to look for your files. Create sub-folders within this folder for your main projects. Examples could be a separate folder for your correspondence called Letters or a folder for images called Graphics or Pictures. The main Documents folder can also be renamed to what every name you want it to be called. If your operating system doesn't automatically create this folder simply create your own Documents folder to save your documents in.

Saving Files or Documents

In order to save a new document or file you must first choose the Save command. Most modern software place this command in a menu which you access with the mouse button or Alt key. Each file must be given a filename so it can be found easily the next time it is needed.
Computers using DOS 6.X or older followed the 8.3 rule: a filename can only be 1 to 8 characters long followed by a 1 to 3 character extension separated by a dot. Three character extensions are common because of this.
Modern operating systems allow computer users to use filenames up to 256 characters. Mac users, Windows 9X & NT/2000 and UNIX/LINUX (along with a few other) use long file names but names using over 32 characters get unwieldy. It is better to use a directory or folder to help describe them and keep common files together with shorter filenames.
Many modern software programs (applications) add their own extension to filenames. These extensions allow operating systems to recognize certain filenames and associate (match) them to the program that created it.
As well as choosing a filename, users must choose a directory and/or disk to store the file in. Make sure that you are consistent and use a logical structure. Once you are sure you know where the file is going to be stored press Enter on the keyboard or press the left mouse button over the word Save or Okay to store the document on a disk, in the directory with the filename you have chosen. Some software programs will automatically save files in specific directory that is created when the program is installed (default settings). You can easily changed these settings permanently using the applications Preferences or temporarily at the point of saving the file.
Some common rules are:
  • All files are saved on a disk or storage device.
  • A disk is usually broken up into directories and sometimes into partitions.
  • A directory or folder is a way of keeping like files in a common area.
A partitioned disk, though physically a single disk, is treated like separate disks and given a separate drive letter (and/or name).
It is possible to save or move files anywhere that your computer can access. This includes disk (or other storage devices) on your computer, to any directory or sub-directory on your computer or on a network that your computer is connected to. Always make sure that you have chosen the correct directory and filename before pressing Enter or choosing Save.

Printing

The promise of a paperless office has not happened though conservation is catching on and it is possible to reduce paper consumption by using your computer more effectively. Having said that many computers are attached to printers and there are many reasons to print out documents that you create on your computer. Most software programs and applications allow the user to print the information that is created in the program.
When choosing a printer consider the peripheral equipment that you will need as well as the actual printer. Peripherals include paper, ribbons or ink cartridges, toner and occasionally print heads.
You may have to adjust some of the settings for the printer to get the output you want. Density adjustments determine how much ink is placed on the paper or how many dots per inch (DPI). Draft quality will printer quicker but creates a fainter copy (less dense). Modern Software has a Preview option which show what the page will look like when it is printed. Portrait prints the document up and down. Landscape prints the document on it's side. Most software allows the user to adjust the margin width or the blank space at the top, bottom, left and right edge of the paper.

Exit or Quit

It is important to Exit or Quit a program, application and the operating system before shutting off the computer. It is a good idea to Quit a program when you are finished with it as it takes up memory. Exiting a program should free up the memory that the program was using. Having a number of programs running simply uses up resources that may be needed in another project.
Exiting properly also saves the program settings so that when you return to the application many changes that were made will still be active.

Menus

Menu
Menus are the most common way of interacting or controlling your software. Though each program has it's own menu, modern software developers have begun establishing some standardization in how they create their menus. Many programs have a menu called File which controls things like Opening, Saving and Printing your file and Exiting the program. Many also have an Edit menu which contains the main editing commands like Cut, Copy and Paste.
The items on the menu are Commands or the features of the program. You choose the command that you want with the keyboard, mouse, trackball or touchpad. Commands control the operation of the software.
Menu bars are usually positioned at the top of the screen and are accessed by moving the cursor to the menu and pressing the button (left button if there are two). This displays a pull down menu with a number of commands or features. Depending on how the program works either let go of the button and move to the command you want then press the button again to choose it or while holding down the button, move to the command and let go to choose it.
Menus can also be controlled through the keyboard. The most common way of accessing the menu through the keyboard is by pressing the Alt key and using the Arrow or Cursor Movement keys to move through the menu items, then pressing Enter to choose the item you want. Many menu items can also be accesses using Hot key combinations. One common keyboard combination is to first tap the Alt key and then press letter key for the command you want.
Menus are created in a hierarchy. Some menu items branch out to give even more choices. Some menu items open Dialog Boxes that allow you to choose from a number of different options.
Dialog boxes allow computer users to select different options. Some dialog boxes have 2 or more Tabs which can be clicked to choose more options. Once the options have been chosen press Okay to apply the options. Some dialog boxes have an Apply button which will apply the options that you have chosen without closing the dialog box. Choose Cancel to close the dialog box without applying the changes selected. Note that options set with the Apply button cannot be canceled this way.
Modern software places the most popular commands on a toolbar for easier access. Simply click the left mouse button over the menu item to access a particular command. These tool bars can usually be customized and often allow the user to move or Tear Off the menu and drag them to a preferred location or Dock on the screen. Menus can also be customized by adding or removing commands.
Windows has a context sensitive menu that is activated with the right button. When the right mouse button is click over an object on the screen or area of the screen, a specific menu with commands related to that object will be displayed. Click the left mouse button on the command to choose it.

Installing New Software

Most software sold today has an automated install sequence that is activated with the press of a button. The installation process will create a directory, if necessary, to store the files related to the new program, uncompress and copy the files to the directory and often adds itself the desktop (Start) menu. Many installation processes will also copy files to other parts of the computer and register itself with the operating system by updating the registry. Some programs will associate themselves to a certain filename extension.
Older software many not have this option. The installation procedure is the same though. First create a folder or drawer to store the program and it's related files in. This makes it easy to find them and minimizes file clutter in the main directory. Copy the files from the installation disk to the folder that you will be running the program from. A lot of Software is compressed and you may need to uncompress it before you can use it. You then can create a new item, create a short cut to the program or add it to your desktop menu or utility program.

Backing up Files

Computer errors and software failures happen ocasionally so it is important to backup your files and documents.
One simple way to backup your files is to copy them to a disk. If there are only a few small files a floppy disk will work but if you are backing up lots of large files a cd/dvd burner, a second hard drive or tape backup may be needed. You can use a software program to automate backups or do it manually. A manual backup usually involves dragging the files or folders to the backup disk or tape to create the duplicate backup.
Store your backup files in a safe place out of the sun and away from electro-magnetic devices such as speakers and wires with strong electrical currents.
Every file that you create and plan to keep should be backed up. This includes word processing documents, financial information, databases, photos, etc...
Some less obvious files that also need to be backed up are email, Internet Favorites or Bookmarks, and Address Books. Check the help files in your email program on how to back up email. Generally each folder name in your email program is a file containing the individual email messages and copying these files to the backup disk or tape will be sufficient. Software preferences such as customized menus and settings can also be backed up. Check your software's help files to find out where these files are located.
A newer software version may be installed on the computer before ever needing the backups so make sure that the newer programs can handle the older file format.
When to backup is an individual choice. A company should have a backup policy which explains how and when data should be backed up. It all depends on how important the information is and how difficult it would be to duplicate it in the event of a system failure. If the information is critical an automatic backup system that duplicates the documents immediately may be needed (a Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) system is an example). If the files are not critical a weekly backup may be all that is needed. It is impossible to determine when a system failure will occur so it is better be cautious.
The backed up data can then be used as an archive, to recover from a system failure or to transfer data to a new computer system. Simply copy the files to the correct folder to restore them. Backup software will have an automatic recovery feature that will restore the backed up file automatically.

Compression and Decompression

Most software you buy or get off the Internet is Compressed. Computers store information in bytes which are made up of on or off signals. The software applications that uses these files need to have all the on and off signals (bytes) in place but when the file is stored they can be modified to take up less space on the storage disk or tape.
There are commercial and shareware programs that will compress and decompressed files for you. The most popular form of data compression is called zip or stuffit but there are others available as well.
Programs are also available to compress and decompress your files as you or the application you are using requires them. This can be a way of making more space available on a hard drive. Windows comes with a program that will compress part of your hard disk. Be sure to read the documentation before embarking on a project like compressing a hard drive.