Computer Connections: Lesson 5 - Programs
By: Carol Welch
ProgrammingIn Lesson 3, you learned that all of the information that travels through your computer is stored on bits as either an on or off signal. Using bits and bytes in different combinations to represent a code is known as programming. These codes allow the computer to understand instructions. Computer programmers are people who write these codes to create programs. There are even programming languages that make it easier, so that these people don't have to remember all the bit or byte combinations. Programming allows people and computers to communicate more easily. See examples of some programming languages to the right.
Computer ProgramsA program is a set of instructions that tells the computer how to perform a specific task. For example, your favorite computer game is a program. In order for your computer to know how to play that game, you (or your parents) must first install the program from the game software - usually a CD. Installing the program means that you are copying the program or instructions that are stored on the CD on to your computer's hard drive. Programs can also be downloaded from the Internet directly to your hard drive.
Many programs (especially games) are very large and would take up lots of memory space on your hard drive. To keep that from happening, these programs are designed to only copy part of the program onto your computer. The rest of the program stays on the software disk. The program cannot be run from your computer unless you have the disk in the disk drive so that RAM can read the rest of the program from it.
Other programs install completely on your hard drive, so that they can be used without running the CD. This is very helpful with programs that are designed to help the user perform a specific task, such as typing a letter or creating a birthday card. Having the program run without the CD, frees up the CD-ROM drive in case you might need to run a clip art CD to add some pizzazz to your creation!
Types of ProgramsThere are many different types of programs for the computer. They are grouped according to the tasks that they perform. Here are some very common types of programs and some examples of their uses:
- Word processing - letter writing, essays, writing stories
- Database - address books, mailing lists
- Spreadsheets - storing financial information
- Research - encyclopedias, informational programs
- Entertainment - games, music/video programs
- Education - skill practice games, tutorials, how-to programs
- Desktop Publishing - creating birthday cards, newsletters, etc.
Programs do much of the work for us, when we perform tasks on the computer. The program instructs the computer in a language that it understands. Think of how hard it would be to dictate a story for someone else to type if that other person spoke a foreign language! You could learn that person's language, but that could take years. The easiest way would be to have a translator. Programs are like translators that allow people to work with computers without learning the computer's language.