PCs vs laptops vs computers vs…

By | April 1, 2014
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I thought I’d clear something up that has confused people for years… and I’m not quite sure why I’ve never done it before.
But first:

Windows XP no longer supported from this month…
First of all, a quick reminder that official support for Windows XP from Microsoft is ending on the 8th of this month. Even if you don’t think you use Microsoft support, this is important as it means Microsoft won’t be producing the automatic updates that can be frustrating when you have to download them, but keep your PC safer!
I’m not going to go into detail about it because I’ve written about it before, but if you’re not sure what to do or how it affects you, the best thing is to download and read my (free) little ebook about it – you can get it here: http://www.helpfulbooks.co.uk/TheDeclineAndFallOfWindowsXP.pdf

Spot the difference…
The other day Alastair had a Peppa Pig comic as a treat – and one of his favourite parts of it is the “spot the difference” pictures, where you have to notice that Suzy Sheep has a balloon in one picture but a kite in another.

I was doing this with Alastair and in a round-about sort of way, it made me think of something that I’ve never really sat down and explained, even though I know it sometimes confuses people (well, I’ve explained it when it’s confused people, but not generally to everyone).

For example, I often get people asking about whether a laptop is also a PC. Or if PC stands for Personal Computer, why isn’t an Apple Mac (a computer from a different company) a PC – after all, it’s computer that you use personally…

So here goes:

Computer – this is the simplest one. When people say computer they mean any old sort of device with a keyboard and monitor that you can use to run programs. Technically a fancy mobile phone is also a computer but it’d be a bit confusing to call it that normally as the important thing about a mobile phone is that you can make phone calls, send texts, and carry it in your pocket.
But important, it doesn’t matter what make a computer is or what type of programs it runs, it’s still a computer.
PC (personal computer) – this is where it gets confusing. In the old days of computers (back in the 1970s) this just meant a computer that one person would sit at a desk and use.
But then IBM brought out a computer called “The IBM PC”. And other companies brought out computers that could run the same programs, called “IBM compatible PCs”. These became really popular and rather than saying “IBM or IBM compatible PCs”, people got into the habit of just saying “PCs” – and now when someone says “PCs” they mean this type of computer. Usually they run Microsoft Windows (or occasionally some version of Linux). But crucially they’re different from…

Apple Macintoshes (Macs) – Apple is a separate company and they make their own type of computer call a Mac. Technically, it is a Personal Computer – but it’s not what you’ll normally hear referred to as a “PC”. It’s nowhere near as popular as a PC – but there are still a lot about and they do broadly the same thing. But one can’t easily run programs written for the other unless there are two versions.

Laptop – I know lots of people are always asking whether a particular program will work for them because they have a laptop (rather than a PC that goes on a desk)… or what type of mouse they need because they have a laptop.
Laptop just means a fold up type of computer that you can carry around and use wherever you are.
If you have a laptop PC, it’s still a PC and it runs the same programs, can use the same type of mouse or even a separate keyboard, printer or whatever, just like a normal PC. If you have a laptop Mac, it’s still a Mac.
It just means that it’s not as heavy as a normal PC (or Mac), it folds up neatly and the keyboard, screen and a battery are built in so you can use it away from home. Despite the name, they’re generally more comfortable to use on a desk or table rather than your lap!

Notebook – some people use this to mean a particularly small type of laptop – and some people just use it to mean “laptop”. Either way, they work the same way.

Netbook – this is a very small type of laptop with a fiddly little keyboard. They’re usually relatively cheap are very light. They’re handy for sending the odd email or checking something on the web, without having to use a big heavy machine. But they’re becoming less popular as tablets like the iPad take off instead.

I hope that makes it a bit clearer!