When it comes down to it, software gives your computer its personality and the tools you use to do your work. The hardware is very important, but it's just apparatus.
If you're buying a new laptop, you need to figure out what kinds of programs you intend to run on it and then go out and buy hardware that works well with that software.
The following list explains the basic software in your laptop:
* The System BIOS: The System BIOS is specialized software that exists in your machine's hardware; its initial purpose is to bring the inanimate chips and circuits and other doodads to life when you press the On button. That's called booting the machine, as in "lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps." Its second purpose is to operate the lowest level of the interface between hardware and software: interpreting keystrokes on a keyboard, receiving and moving along clicks from a mouse, and that sort of thing.
* The operating system: This is the all-encompassing personality of the machine, determining the look and response of programs and the way they interact with each other. The most common operating system is one or another version of Microsoft's Windows. Nipping away a far distant second is the Linux operating system; Linux has a small piece of the server market, a smaller chunk of the desktop pie, and just a few crumbs of laptop cake. (On Apple Macintosh machines, the official operating system is Apple's own Mac OS X.)
* The applications: Here's where the work gets done. The most popular programs for laptop users include the basic office functions of word processing, spreadsheets, and databases, plus an Internet browser.
If you're going to be making presentations, Microsoft PowerPoint is the tool of choice.
* The utilities: Problems happen. Your hard disk can become fragmented or corrupted. Your machine can catch a virus from a nasty e-mail or an infected piece of software. An unfriendly Web site can send a spy to your machine. Windows can become clouded by broken pieces. There's nothing like having the right tool like a utility for a repair job, and nothing nearly as annoying as its lack.
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