Computer Applications and the Small-Scale Businesses

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By: Site Engineer, Staff

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It is not at all surprisingly that the word ‘computer’ still elicits different reactions from different individuals including business people. This is particularly the case in the developing world. To a very large extent, each person’s reaction depends on his or her degree of computer literacy.

For those who are very literate in computers, the term conjures a world of dizzying opportunities waiting to be explored. They see in computers, not only opportunities for word processing ‘without tears’ and do-it-yourself desktop publishing of leaflets, posters, pamphlets and books, but also avenues for fast-paced world-wide communication on the world information highway.

Further, the computer offers opportunities for simple and complex analysis of data, massive information storage and retrieval and access to virtual libraries on the world-wide web. Even those seeking entertainment and fun can find them in the computer in the form of music, films and computer games.

More importantly, the computer offers investment opportunities in various ways. There are investment opportunities in the manufacture and sale of computer hardware, peripherals, accessories and consumable, development and sale of computer software, hardware and software maintenance, website development, business centres and cybercafés.

Entrepreneur can also take advantage of advertising on the internet and e-commerce, that is, on-line buying and selling of goods and services via the computer “without leaving the comfort of their homes or offices.

Understanding Computers and Computer Systems

A computer is an automatic, electronic, input-output device or machine that can accept store, process and output data by following a set of carefully written instructions called a programme.

Although it is manly electronic, it has some electrical and mechanical components.

A computer system refers to a particular combination of computer hardware and software programmes which together perform assigned tasks.

The term system implies interdependence as one part of the system cannot function effectively and efficiently without the others. For example, the hardware subsystem cannot function as desired without the software or programmes. Similarly, the software cannot function without the hardware.

Note that some authorities consider the procedures, database and the people involved in computer use as part of the system. This should not surprise us at all because such a broad view simply underscores the importance of the interrelationships among all of these variables in determining the benefits derivable from computers.

Hardware

Computer hardware refers to the computer machines or physical devices that make up part of the computer system. This is in contradistinction to the software. Usually the hardware is what you see on desktops in offices.

It is made up of the following parts.

(a)        Input Devices: These are the machines or gadgets which constitute the media or gateway for loading programmes and entering data into the computer. Input devices include the keyboard, the mouse, the card reader (now defunct) and the scanner.

(b)       The Central Processing Unit (CPU): The Central Processing Unit is made up of Control Unit, the Arithmetic/Logic Unit (ALU) and the Main Storage. The Control Unit is the ‘brain’ of the computer. It plays a coordinating role. It signals the Main Memory to accept data from the Input Units and controls the interchange of data and instructions between the Main Memory and the Secondary Storage as well as between the Output Devices and the Arithmetic/Logic Unit. To put it briefly, the CPU controls and coordinates all the operations of the different parts of the computer.

(c)        The Arithmetic/Logic Unit (ALU): This is responsible for all the calculations and logical operations of the computer. The calculations involve carrying out the arithmetic operations of addition subtraction, division and multiplication. The logical operations are those which require comparing and arranging data in a given order. For example, arranging values in ascending or descending order and arranging names in alphabetical order.

The main memory is the storage area where the data awaiting processing and the instructions waiting to be carried out are stored until required by the ALU. It consists of both the Read-Only-Memory and the Random Access Memory.

The Read-Only-Memory (ROM) contains a small programme required for starting up or booting the computer. The programme in this memory was written and stored in it by the manufacturer. It can neither be cleaned nor modified. It is not volatile since the contents are not affected when the electric power supply to the computer is switched off.

In comparison, the Random Access Memory (RAM) is where the user’s programmes and data are stored while awaiting, and during processing. It is volatile. Unless saved in the secondary storage, the contents of RAM disappear when power supply fails or when the computer is turned off.

(d)       The Output Unit: This is the medium through which the results of the Arithmetic/Logic operations and other information are displayed or relayed to the computer user. The information are displayed in form that the user will understand. The main output devices are the monitor or video display unit the printer and the plotter.

(e)        The Secondary Storage: Also called the auxiliary storage, the secondary storage or external storage is capable of holding large amounts of data and programmes. Data stored in the secondary storage is not volatile they are not lost when the electrical current to the computer is switched off. Examples are the hard disk and floppy disk.

(f)        Peripherals: These are devices connected to a computer to provide communication (as input or output) or extra storage capacity. Therefore, peripherals include printers, monitors, plotters zip drive, and loud speakers.

Software

For any computer system to function efficiently, five equally important and mutually dependent component of the system must be in place. These are the hardware, software, people (user), procedures and database.

The term software may be defined as instructions given to a computer to carry out a set of operations on data. These instructions may be written in a language which the computer machine can understand directly. However because machine language is difficult to work with, instructions or programmes are usually written in special but simple programming languages which the computer can ‘understand’ through the assistance of other “interpreter programmes” called compilers. Examples of these programming languages are BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) PASCAL, C+ and HTML (Hypertext Markup language).

There are two broad categories of software:

  1. System Software: This refers to a set of programmes which coordinate the operations of the various hardware components of the computer. It is a computer-oriented in the sense that it enables the computer to function as designed. Examples of operating systems software are Microsoft Windows, MS DOS, Mac Dos, Unix, etc.
  2. Application Software: This is a set of programs that directs the computer to solve particular problems or to perform certain tasks. It is a user-oriented by doing what the user wants done. Examples of application software are SPSS PC (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences for Personal Computers), dBASE and Microsoft Office suite. Today, there are so many application packages available in the market.

Application packages may be bought off the shelf from computer software shops. In the alternative, a company which has software experts may decide to write its own dedicated software packages for a specific purpose. For example Quicken is an off accounting package. A company can develop its payroll software package.

 

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