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Utility Programs 

Multi-blade knifeUtility Programs perform tasks related to the maintaining of your computer's health - hardware or data. Some are included with the operating system. But someone always thinks they have a better version for you to buy. And they are frequently right!

FilesFile Management programs make it easier to manage your files. In the high days of DOS it didn't take much to improve on the text-only type-it-all-yourself methods that DOS provided. Many programs were written to help the user find files, create and organize directories, copy, move, and rename files. Some even used the mouse to point and click to accomplish these tasks. You don't appreciate the vastness of the improvement until you've tried to do these things from the command line. The newer graphical interfaces that come with operating systems like Windows 95 have reduced the need for alternate file management programs.
Defragment filesDisk Management programs involve formatting and defragmenting disks. Defragmenting means putting files on the disk so that the whole file is in sequence. This reduces the time to access the file. Some disk management programs even let you specify that certain files that are accessed often, like the operating system itself and frequently used programs, are at the front of the disk. Anything that speeds things up will have customers.
Memory boardMemory Management software handles where in RAM programs put their current data. They move certain memory-resident items out of the way. This can effectively increase the memory available by getting all the unused pieces together in one spot, making a useable amount.
Back up copiesA Backup program, which also restores the backed up data, is a must if you have any data at all that you want to keep around for a while. The software will compress the data to take up the least space (Recall the problem with slack space we found in the discussion of Storage: Disk Format).
Hands takes trash back out of trash canData Recovery programs are for those who just said "Whoops!" They attempt to recover deleted or damaged (corrupted) files.

Compress data with viceData Compression programs squeeze out the slack space generated by the formatting schemes


Antivirus HypodemicAnti-virus programs are another must-have program. They monitor the computer for the activity of viruses, which are nasty little programs that copy themselves to other disks to spread to other computers. Viruses can be merely annoying or they can be vastly destructive to your files.

Application Programs

    Application programs are meant to accomplish specialized tasks they are designed for.

Word Processing

There are many different kinds of applications, all with lots of spiffy features. Word processing is the application that is used most often and most widely. We will start with it to learn about the terms and features that are common to most applications, as well as some that are specific to word processing. Then we will look at other major applications and what they do.

Major word processors include Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and Lotus WordPro.


A spreadsheet is the application of choice for most documents that organize numbers, like budgets, financial statements, grade sheets, and sales records. A spreadsheet can perform simple or complex calculations on the numbers you enter in rows and columns.

Some popular spreadsheets include MS Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, and Quattro Pro.

Purpose: Organizing numbers
Major Advantages: Can calculate for you using formulas
Auto-update of related numbers when data changes
Can display data in graphs and charts


A database is a collection of data that you want to manage, rearrange, and add to later. It is a good program to use to manage lists that are not entirely numbers, such as addresses and phone numbers, inventories, and membership rosters. With a database you could sort the data by name or city or postal code or by any individual item of information recorded. You can create forms to enter or update or just display the data. You can create reports that show just the data you are interested in, like members who owe dues.

Both spreadsheets and databases can be used to handle much the same information, but each is optimized to handle a different type most efficiently. The larger the number of records, the more important the differences are.

Some popular databases include MS Access, dBase, FoxPro, Paradox, Approach, and Oracle.

Purpose: Managing data
Major Advantages: Can change way data is sorted and displayed


Graphics programs deal with pictures, either static or moving, flat or 3D. There are an amazing number of different formats for images in the world and no one program can handle them all.

Adobe Photoshop is the most widely used graphics program for professionals. PaintShopPro is popular because it offers most of Photoshop's features at a lower cost and with a friendlier interface. There are many other programs. Some specialize in handling photographs or animations or creating logos.

Purpose: To create and edit images


This kind of program links together a sequence of slides containing text and graphics, for example for a sales presentation or training. It includes a number of tools for creating graphics that are quite useful.

Examples of presentations programs: Microsoft PowerPoint, Corel Presentations, Lotus Freelance Graphics

Purpose: Turning information into visual form
Major Advantage: Pictures convey info faster than tables of numbers


These programs temporarily connect computers to each other to exchange information. They may use telephone lines or dedicated cables for the connection. This allows you, for example, to work at home on the weekend and transfer all you've done to your computer at work before you leave home.

These are not the same as networking programs where computers are actually linked together all the time.

Most communications programs now include many different communication functions in one interface.

Purpose: Transmitting data and messages between computers
Major Advantage: Speed


A communications program includes one or more of the following actions:


An Internet browser is a program that lets you navigate the World Wide Web. [It's what you are using to view this page!]

A browser displays web pages, keeps track of where you've been, and remembers the places you want to return to.

More information is available over the Internet every day, and more tasks can be done. You can buy books, check on your bank account, buy and sell stocks, even order pizza over the Internet. But you have to have a browser to do it.

Internet Explorer is by far the most popular browser, though there are many others around. Netscape was once the dominant browser and is still used, but it is falling further behind in market share all the time.

Purpose: Navigating the Internet
Major Advantage: Can display graphics, which older internet applications don't
Keeps a list of places you want to return to.


Email, or electronic mail, is becoming more and more popular as people learn to communicate again with written words. For many purposes it is superior to a phone call because you don't have to catch the person in and you can get straight to the point. No time is wasted on casual conversation. It also leaves a written record to refer back to for a response or if you forget who said what. Email is superior to the traditional office memo because it uses no paper (Save the trees!!) and it can be sent to a whole list of people instantly.

Commonly used email programs include Microsoft Outlook Express, Microsoft Outlook, Netscape Mail, Eudora, and Pegasus.


Purpose: Transmitting messages between computer users
Major Advantage: Speed
Major Disadvantage: You don't know if the receiver actually reads it, though you can find out if they received it. Of course in a phone conversation you don't really know if the person is actually listening either!
With no body language or vocal intonations it is difficult to convey the emotional tone you want. Irony and sarcasm are particularly dangerous since your reader may take you seriously.


End of lessons. I hope you had a fruitful experience reading my lessons. Go ahead enjoy the world with computers.