Why this email is inspired by a 5 year old’s volcano…

By | October 12, 2015
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I usually have an idea of what I’m going to write in these newsletters before I sit down to put finger to keyboard.

And this time, Alastair gave me the idea.  He came home from school last week with a picture he’d done – nothing unusual in that.  It was a volcano erupting, complete with the lava under the ground and a building for us to hide in.

But it wasn’t done with crayons – it was one that he’d printed out.  So I asked “Did you do that on the computer?”  “Yes,” he said “I used the laptop.  Actually it was a netbook.”

“Oh,” I said, a bit surprised, “do you know what a netbook is, then?”

“Yes.  It’s a laptop but smaller.”

I have to admit I was a bit surprised. But it gave me the idea to go over what the words for different types of computer and tablet are and what they mean.  They can be a bit confusing and people in shops sometimes assume it’s obvious (or don’t really know themselves…) so it’s worth explaining it properly.  Tablets too.

Here you go:

Computer – this is pretty general.  Most people use it to mean any kind of computer that has a keyboard and usually mouse (or something like a mouse, for example a touchpad).  Technically a tablet is a computer, but generally if people say computer, they don’t mean a tablet.

PC – short for personal computer, but it usually means a specific kind of computer: one that runs Microsoft Windows.  Technically I suppose an Apple Mac is a personal computer, but they are quite different and normally if someone says PC, they don’t mean a Mac.  (Even Apple draw a distinction between PCs and Macs.)  A PC could be a desktop PC or a laptop PC.

Mac – a computer made by Apple.  They don’t normally run Windows, they run Apple’s own system, usually called Mac OS or OS X (X for ten).  Although Apple also make iPads and iPhones, the system they use (iOS) is different again.  You can get desktop Macs and laptop Macs.

Laptop – A portable computer with the keyboard, monitor and some kind of mouse device (usually a touchpad) built in.  Sometimes they have a touch sensitive screen, too.  They range in size quite a bit… and some of them you wouldn’t really want on your lap for very long, due to the weight (and heat).  Some laptops are PCs (ie they run Microsoft Windows), some are Apple Macs and some are even other, rarer things.  One thing not everyone realises is that although there’s usually a built in touchpad, you can plug in a proper, separate mouse – and if you’re using it much, I’d recommend it.  (This goes for all types and sizes of laptop)

Notebook – This one’s a big vague.  Some people use it as another word for laptop, some people only use it for laptops that aren’t too big – small or medium sized ones.

Netbook – a very small laptop.  Usually they have a miniature keyboard and no CD/DVD drive (though you can plug one in).  They were very popular a few years ago as they’re ideal for browsing the web or checking emails without being at a desk.  But that job has largely been taken over by tablets nowadays, so they’re not so popular.  Although obviously Alastair likes making pictures on the one at school.

All-in-one – A PC where there’s only one box – the monitor and PC itself are all in one case.  They tend to be ideal if you have your PC in the lounge, maybe replacing a TV since you can watch TV online on it anyway (don’t forget to check it has a DVD player if you want to watch DVDs on it… not all do, surprisingly).  It saves having so many wires draped around the place.  Most people will have a wireless keyboard and mouse with it, so you control it even if you’re not sat up to it like a normal PC.  Some people also like them even if they are at a desk, just because they take up a bit less space.  They often (but not always) have a touch sensitive screen, so if you’re sat near to it, you don’t need a mouse at all.

Tablet – technically a computer, but not usually what people mean when they say computer.  You control it mainly by touching the screen – usually there’s no mouse or separate keyboard.  When you want to type on it a keyboard appears on the screen and you type on that.  You can plug in separate keyboards and other things, but the idea is they’re ideal for use on the move or lying on the sofa.  They’ve really caught on in the last few years and I can see why – they’re great for casually browsing the web, checking emails, reading ebooks or even playing some kinds of games.  (Alastair loves Angry Birds.  Edward does too, but he tends to just enjoy “exploding” the birds.)

Smartphone – a mobile phone that can also do similar things to a touchscreen tablet, as well as phone calls and texts.

Phablet – I’m not sure I like the word but it means something that’s a sort of cross between a smartphone and a tablet.  All that really means is a smartphone with a bigger screen (which means it doesn’t fit so easily in your pocket, but is easier to browse the web on, particularly if you don’t have dainty little fingers!)

eBook reader – Although you can read ebooks on a tablet (and I do quite a bit) or even a smartphone (and I’ve done that too, when I’ve been waiting for something unexpectedly with nothing to read), the screen isn’t quite as good for reading as on a device specifically designed for it. The best eBook readers use a totally different kind of screen that’s not like a monitor or TV and it is more comfy on your eyes if you spend a lot of time reading on it.  So if all you want it for is reading ebooks, an ebook reader is probably better than a tablet.

Phew – I’d better finish there, quickly, before someone comes up with a new kind of device…  (And I haven’t even mentioned “wearables” like smart-watches or devices built into what looks like a pair of sunglasses – maybe another time.)

I forgot to say…
I’ve mentioned our new books, updated for Windows 10, a few times lately.  But I meant to tell you when they were here and in stock.  Well, we’ve had the delivery now (and over half of it has already gone…) so if you were waiting until they were in stock, now’s your chance.

In fact, I’m not planning to mention them again, so if you’re not sure, best have a read of the full information now, before it slips your mind.

The full info on the “One Step at a Time” books (which show you how to use your Windows 10 PC and how to use the Internet and email on it) is here.

The full info on the “Help is at Hand” books, which show you how to fix various problems that come up (updated for Windows 10 but also covering earlier versions) on your computer is here.

As I say, I don’t plan to mention them in this newsletter again, so best have a look now if you haven’t already!

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