In this chapter we shall:
As a user of information technology, you need to know very little about the equipment you use. You do need to understand what you are using it for, but not the details of how the machines work or the underlying physics and electronics. Strangely, computer vendors too often focus sales pitches on the technical functions, gadgets and gizmos, leaving mere mortals like us perplexed.
Today, most people take it for granted that their hi-fi equipment has complex electronic circuitry inside that they do not understand or need to understand as an ordinary listener. We are simply listeners. Avid users of IT can similarly distance themselves from the kit.
The following table sets out analogous categories of hi-fi buffs and IT people. The vast majority of us fall into the last category.
|Type of user||Known as in information technology circles||Known as in hi-fi circles|
|Manufacturer / repairer||electrical / electronic engineer||electrical / electronic engineer|
|Technical enthusiast||geek, propeller-head, IT hoppyist||boffin, DIY enthusiast|
|Professional user||software engineer, IT support, "superuser"||disc jockey, sound engineer|
|Most of us||users||listeners|
The figures below illustrate a typical computer user's desktop from the device viewpoint and function viewpoint respectively.
|Term||Alternative terms||Explanation||Musical analogy|
|Computer||Personal computer, PC, MAC, desktop computer, microcomputer, display screen equipment||A programmable electronic device used for processing data, calculations etc.||The whole musical instrument|
|Monitor||Visual Display Unit (VDU), screen||Device on which a computer displays information||The music stand|
|Central Processing Unit||CPU, Console, System unit, terminal||The main part of the computer, containing the processor and to which most other parts of the computer connect||The part of the musical instrument that causes the sound|
|Keyboard||None commonly used||An input device, similar to a typewriter keyboard||A part of the musical instrument that you use to operate the instrument|
|Mouse||None commonly used||An input device, commonly used to control a pointer on the computer screen||A part of the musical instrument that you use to operate the instrument|
|Speakers||None commonly used||An output device for sound, often coming in twos owing to popularity of stereo sound||The same devices are used in amplified music|
|External storage devices||hard disk drives, floppy disk drives, tape drives, ZIP drives, JAZZ drives||A device outside the CPU used for storing data. Modern machines tend to have substantial storage devices (mostly hard disks) within the machine||Cassette recorders, Minidisc machines, Video recorders, DVDs|
|Printer||None commonly used||An output device for producing printed text or graphics||A part of the musical instrument that transmits the sound|
In order to help those readers who are less familiar with the buzz words and jargon, we have attempted in the table above to explain the most commonly used terms by analogy with the world of music.
Most organisations use some form of networking nowadays. A 1999 survey, Information and Communications Technology: Reshaping the Voluntary Sector, (Burt and Taylor, 1999) identified that:
A local area network (LAN) is a network of several computers which is restricted to a single room or building. These come in two main forms:
Local area networking does have its technical issues, but smaller organisations can usually navigate these with minimal fuss as long as their vendor is trustworthy and sensible. Items to look out for include:
Organisations that operate over a distributed geographical area might use a wide area network (WAN). These come in several forms, including:
Dedicated WANs (1 and 2 above) are normally more secure, reliable and expandable. Virtual WANs (3 and 4 above) are cheaper, flexible and easy to use. Dial-up WAN connections are usually sensible for occasional users but tend to become mighty expensive on phone call charges if those occasional users become more regular.
There is a host of technical issues to think about when choosing WAN options, which can have significant cost and practical implications, even for small organisations implementing small WANs. If you do not have access to someone with genuine experience and expertise in this area, it normally pays to get some professional advice before you commit to a WAN. Aspects you need to consider include:
Below are some lessons and golden rules for wide area networking:
Don't be afraid to mix and match technologies - most people need to do this to some extent these days to achieve what they want at the right price.
|Term||Alternative terms||Explanation||Musical analogy|
|Server||SuperPC, Fileserver, Central PC, Main PC||A computer whose task is primarily or exclusively to run the network||Leader of the band, Conductor of the orchestra|
|Peer to peer network||Small-scale Local Area Network (LAN), server-less network - see Figure 16.1||A method of file sharing in which computers are linked to each other||Perhaps a pop group, perhaps a duo, trio, quartet or quintet (above that size is pushing it), with no conductor|
|Client-server Network||Local Area Network (LAN), full-scale or "proper" (what a sniffy term) computer network - see Figure 16.2||A method of file sharing in which the users' computers (clients) share files through a central computer (server)||An orchestra, in which the artists are clients and the conductor is the server|
|Wide-area network (WAN)||None commonly used||A network that connects computers distributed over a wide geographical area||Perhaps Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer recording a duet on opposite sides of the USA, perhaps a recording studio with parts of the orchestra located at different sites|
|The Internet||"The Net"||Global computer network embracing electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards, sending and retrieving files, conferencing, chat services and information exchange||The Internet might be thought of as broadcasting, recording, distribution of recordings, concerts and "jamming sessions" all rolled into one|
|World Wide Web||The Web, WWW, W3||A graphical system (using hypertext) for publishing and accessing information on the Internet||The World Wide Web is a collection popular media for the Internet, perhaps the equivalent of Classic FM, the Sony Walkman, CDs and "in the park" concerts rolled into one|
The benefits of wide area networking for not-for-profit organisations include:
We've introduced a great many terms and definitions in this chapter. It's pretty much impossible to talk about networking without introducing these terms. In order to soften the blow, we've tried our best in table 6.3 to extend the musical analogy we used in figure 6.2.