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Additional information


Welcome to Additional information. This part of the course covers everything you need to know to get started even if you are a complete beginner. We begin by exploring the various parts of a computer. In this course, we use the word ‘computer’ to mean either a desktop or a laptop.

Key words and concepts are in bold. There is a course glossary  you can refer to if any of these are unfamiliar to you.

This Additional information is in four sections:

If you already feel confident on these basics, you should go straight to Lesson 1.

Learning outcomes

When you have completed Additional information, you will be able to:

  • Recognise and name computer hardware.

  • Understand how the internet works.

  • Carry out internet searches.

  • Distinguish between web browsers and search engines.

Your computer hardware

There are two main types of personal computer: desktop and laptop. This section will describe the different parts of a computer and what you need to know to set one up.

Computer hardware is any physical device used in or with your computer, such as the monitor and keyboard. Other hardware, such as the mouse and speakers, can be referred to as peripheral hardware. Every device that can be touched is hardware.

Unlike hardware, software cannot be seen or touched. Software can be described as the codes or instructions that run the hardware. Without the software programs that run computers, the physical devices are useless. Software programs store information digitally.

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In this section, we will focus on the items on the left of the picture above: the computer case, monitor, keyboard, mouse and other peripherals, such as printer and speakers. The items on the right, such as the DVD-ROM drive, motherboard and hard disk are hidden inside the computer case and are called the systems unit. We won’t be covering the internal workings of the computer in this course.

Let’s have a close look at each hardware device in turn.


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A desktop computer comes with a separate systems unit, monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Computer case

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The computer case encloses the systems unit in a desktop computer. It contains all the parts that handle processing and storage. You can think of it as containing the brain of the computer.


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The monitor is the screen that allows you to see what’s happening on the computer. If you are using a laptop, the screen is attached to the keyboard.


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The keyboard allows you to type information onto the screen and navigate around the screen.


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The mouse interacts with the screen and lets you select objects on the screen with a click. The mouse can be wireless, or you can connect it to the computer using a slot called a USB port.


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Speakers allow you to hear sounds, such as music or the audio for this course. If you are using a laptop, the speakers are built in.


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A laptop computer is a battery-powered personal computer. It can also be called a notebook. Although it may vary in size, it is meant to be portable. It comes with a thin computer screen mounted on the upper half and a keyboard on the lower half. You can see the screen when you open the laptop. The screen has the same function as a desktop monitor. It shows what is happening on your laptop. Speakers are built in, so you hear music and other sounds directly from the laptop.


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Instead of a mouse, a laptop has a trackpad. Like a mouse, the trackpad lets you select objects on the screen.

Some laptops, tablets and most mobile phones have a touchscreen that allows you to select objects by touching or tapping the elements on the screen.

Power cable

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The power cable supplies power to the laptop and charges the battery when it’s plugged in. The battery powers the computer when it’s not plugged in. This makes it a portable device that can be used at home, on trains, in restaurants or wherever you are.


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A tablet computer, such as an iPad, is a mobile device larger than a smartphone, which usually has a touchscreen display and a rechargeable battery. It is thinner and flatter than a laptop, and usually measures between 7 and 12 inches. A tablet can be used for emails, chats, watching videos, video calling, portable gaming and online learning.

More computer peripherals


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A printer allows you to print out documents from your computer. You will need a cable to connect your printer to your laptop or a desktop. Some computers and printers can connect using Wi-Fi.

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A microphone enables you to record sound onto your computer or use voice-activated software. An external microphone usually has better sound quality than the microphone inside your computer. You can also use a microphone attached to a headset with headphones.

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Memory stick

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A memory stick is also called a USB stick, a pen drive or a thumb drive. It can store digital images and documents. You can use it to move these from one computer to another.

Note: the appearance of computer hardware can vary hugely. As technologies change, the same terminology can be used to apply to devices that may look very different to the ones shown here.

Mobile phones

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Other peripherals include digital cameras and MP3 players. However, mobile phones now have built-in cameras and music players. Mobile phones are very portable but need to be charged every day. You can plug them into a power source, including your computer. You can also move information, such as photos, from your phone to your computer using the same cable as you charge it with.

Smartphones are mobile phones connected to the internet so you can access:

  • Social networks.

  • Various applications (usually shortened to apps and downloaded through Apple’s App Store or Google Play).

  • Mobile banking and shopping.

  • Talk and text applications.

  • Video chats.

Turning your computer on

Switching on your computer isn’t always easy. The on button on some computers may not be in an obvious place. It might be placed flat on the front of a case or on the side of a laptop. The location can vary depending on the make of your computer. The image below shows what a computer’s on button or launch icon may look like, but this can vary.

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Look out for this orb. Once you press the start button, the icon may light up. You may have to press and hold the on button for a few seconds, but you’ll soon get to know how your computer works.


If nothing happens when you press the on button, there are a few things you can check.

If you are using a personal computer (PC), make sure it is plugged in and that the monitor is turned on. Most PC monitors have a separate on button at the bottom of the screen. The button lights up when the monitor is on.

If you’re using a laptop, make sure the battery is not flat. Plug the laptop into the mains and let it recharge. You can continue to use the laptop while it is charging.

Once your computer or laptop is turned on, you may be asked for a password. Newer devices may have Windows Hello which allows you to use a fingerprint, facial recognition or a PIN number instead of a password. Macbooks and iPads have the option of Touch ID so you can use a fingerprint to access them. Once you have entered your password, the desktop view will open. This is the main part of your computer screen where you can view your documents and files.

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Activity: Using your computer or device

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Learn My Way is a website to help you learn digital skills. They have produced an interactive guide to using your computer or device. Follow the link and then click ‘Watch the video’.

If you feel you would like to explore the different hardware we have looked at in this section, have a look at their guides to using a keyboard, mouse, touchscreen and computer.

If you prefer a visual guide to the different parts of a computer, offer ‘What is a computer?’ You can turn on captions by clicking on the subtitles icon in the bottom left corner of the video. A transcript is also available.

Adjusting your set-up

You can set up your computer to suit your individual needs. There are many options available for peripheral devices, such as an adapted keyboard or a trackball mouse.

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Table 1 below outlines four key adjustments you can make to your computer to meet your needs.

Table 1: Key adjustments for computers. Adapted from
Computer adjustment Examples
An eye icon

Vision and colour

Make text larger

Magnify the screen

Make the mouse pointer easier to see

Change the background colour

Change your text style (font)

An ear icon

Hearing and speech

Turn speech into sign language using digitally created people known as avatars

An mouse icon

Mobility and dexterity

Use hands-free voice recognition

Use switches to aid physical difficulties

Use a keyboard without a mouse

Slow the mouse down or make it left-handed

Enlarge the mouse pointer

Make the computer one-handed

A capital ‘A’

Attention and memory

Hide distracting content

Make the device talk to you

Activity: My computer my way

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

AbilityNet supports people of any age, with any disability or impairment to use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education. They have created a step-by-step guide to adjusting your device. It’s called ‘My Computer My Way’ and you can use it to set up your computer to meet your needs.

How the internet works

Before exploring what connects a laptop or computer to the internet, you might want to know what the internet and world wide web are exactly. The world wide web is not the same as the internet even though the words are often used to mean the same thing.

The internet is a global network allowing information to pass from one computer to the next. This is made possible by a network of wires buried in the ground and beneath the ocean floor. The internet is the infrastructure that enables computers connected to this network to communicate and share information with one another. We will look at communicating through the internet in Lesson 1.

Your computer must be connected to the internet before you can access the world wide web. The world wide web (www or the web) is the collection of websites found on the internet. It is the biggest application on the internet, running on millions of servers worldwide. The web can be accessed from our computers, laptops and phones.

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Think of the world wide web as a big virtual city where we communicate with each other online. Just like no one owns a city, no one owns the web. Anyone can move in and set up a website. We may have to pay an internet service provider (ISP) to gain access. Like utility companies, these companies provide a crucial service, but they don’t own the web.

What do I need to know to connect to the internet?

Once you have a computer, you will need to choose an internet service provider. Your ISP is usually the same as your telephone or TV provider. In the UK, examples of providers include British Telecom (BT), Sky Broadband, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Vodafone.

Your ISP will provide all the hardware you need to access the internet at home.The term broadband refers to high-speed internet access that is always on and faster than dial-up access through a telephone line. Broadband enables a large number of messages to be communicated at the same time.

Activity: Connecting to the internet

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Watch this short video from that explains how to connect to the internet. You can turn on captions by clicking on the subtitles icon in the bottom right corner of the video.

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

The video lasts 4 minutes.

Internet hardware


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Before one computer can communicate with another, the system requires a server.

A server is a very large computer connected to the internet. It provides services or resources to other computers. You do not need to own a server because your internet service provider will have its own server, or server cluster, that communicates with other servers to fetch the information you require.

A server may operate like your own computer, but it is more powerful with high-speed network connections, extremely fast hard disks and multiple processors.

Modems and routers

To access the internet, you will need a modem and a router. These are pieces of hardware that are supplied by your internet service provider (ISP). Most providers will offer a modem-router combination. This kind of modem has a built-in wireless router that connects your devices to the internet.

A modem gives you access to the internet and a router connects your devices to the modem. A router shares your internet connection with your wireless devices, such as phones, laptops and tablets.

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A router may be wired or wireless. A wired router is connected to your computer or laptop using an ethernet cable to access the internet. It sends information between your network and the internet. With a wireless router, the computer connects to your network using radio signals instead of cables.

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To get the best out of your broadband internet connection, position your wireless router somewhere it will receive the strongest signal with the least amount of interference.

  • You could place the router near the centre of your home to increase the strength of the wireless signal throughout your home.

  • You should position the wireless router off the floor and away from walls and furniture. The fewer physical obstructions between your computer and the router’s signal, the more likely you’ll be using the router’s full signal strength.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

When dealing with wireless devices, you will come across the words ‘Wi-Fi’ and ‘Bluetooth’. Wi-Fi is an abbreviation of Wireless Fidelity and a pun on Hi-Fi or High Fidelity. It connects computers and other devices, such as phones and tablets, to networks and the internet. Bluetooth can connect a limited number of wireless devices over a short distance. Table 2 compares Wi-Fi with Bluetooth.

Table 2: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth comparison.
Wi-Fi Bluetooth

Form of wireless communication that can connect any number of devices

Forms of wireless communication that can only connect up to seven devices to each other

Connection is secured through a router

Does not depend on a central device to work

Wirelessly connects devices to the internet

Pairs two devices together (such as a wireless speaker and a smartphone)

Wirelessly connects to a local area network (LAN)

Communicates between devices

Wi-Fi signal can be accessed up to 300 feet away

Permanent, short-range, secure connection

Wi-Fi enabled devices can connect to the internet wirelessly in an area with an accessible Wi-Fi signal

Does not usually require the internet

A wireless adaptor, sometimes called a Wi-Fi dongle, allows you to access hotspots. A hotspot is an area where Wi-Fi access is available. This may be through a home network or a public network in places such as restaurants or airports.

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Many computers now come with a wireless adaptor built in. If you don’t have one, you can connect a wireless adaptor using a USB port. The image below gives you some idea of what it might look like, but there is no standard design.

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Activity: A closer look at network connections

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Watch this short video from OpenLearn that shows the hardware that connects your home computer to the internet.

Download this video clip.Video player: lesson1_activity1_4_connects.mp4
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Print this transcript
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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Searching on the internet

A website is a set of pages on the world wide web that are linked together in a meaningful way. This is what the home page of Lead Scotland’s website looks like.

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To find things on the web, you need a type of software called a web browser. When you look for a particular website, the browser finds the content from a web server and then displays the resulting web page on your device.

A software program installed on your computer is a set of instructions that enable you to interact with the hardware and to perform tasks. For example, your browser software allows you to surf the internet and to read this page.

Table 3 below summarises the types of software installed on most computers.

Table 3: Browser software.




Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox and Safari (and some older computers may still have Internet Explorer)

Search engine

Google, Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo

Operating system

Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome OS and Linux

Operating systems

An operating system (OS) is the software your computer uses to interact with its hardware at the most basic level. Operating systems include the files and software your computer uses to function. Operating systems take different approaches to managing software and may only work with specific hardware. Every device comes with an operating system: macOS and iOS on Apple devices, Windows on Microsoft devices, Android or Chrome OS on Google devices, and Linux on a variety of devices.

Operating systems generally provide an interface, the ability to store and manage files, and the ability to install and run programs. Programs are built to run on specific operating systems but can be available in multiple versions. You will often find programs with similar functions built for different operating systems.

Web browsers and search engines

Your computer will come with a browser already installed. Microsoft’s Edge is the browser typically installed, but if your computer is an Apple Mac, the browser will be Safari. You can choose to use a different browser if you wish. The browser will appear as an icon on your screen that you click on to access the internet.

The image below shows the icons for the four main web browsers. Microsoft’s Edge or Internet Explorer icon is the letter ‘e’; Mozilla’s Firefox is a fox and globe; Google’s Chrome is a red, yellow, green and blue circle; and Apple’s Safari is a compass symbol.

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A web browser uses a search engine to retrieve information from the world wide web. A search engine is a software program that allows you to search for a particular item. Google and Yahoo are the most popular search engines. Looking things up on the internet is often called ‘googling’ because so many people use Google’s search engine.

The functions of a web browser and a search engine are slightly different. If you know the address (URL) of the website you are looking for, you can type it into the address bar at the top of your browser. This is also called a location bar or URL bar.

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Lead Scotland’s address, or URL, is When you put this URL in the address bar, you should see the screen below.

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If you don’t have the URL of the website, you can type ‘Lead Scotland’ into a search engine, such as Google. A search engine will help you find out just about anything you want. If you use your browser to access the Google web page, it will come up with a search box.

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You can type what you’re looking for into the search box and Google will find the relevant web pages from the web servers and display them in a list. Search engines will provide pages of information relating to your search words, not just the page you are looking for.

If you type ‘Lead Scotland’ into the Google search box, this is what comes up:

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Google found 322,000,000 results in 0.58 seconds. That means you could go through millions of web pages or documents that mention Lead Scotland. Helpfully, the search engine will list them in order of relevance, so the first one will usually be the website you are looking for. If you click on the text in blue, it takes you to the website full of information about what you searched for. This is called a link or hyperlink.

Get searching

To use a search engine, you can use a few key words or a whole sentence to describe what you’re looking for. Type your words into the search box of your chosen search engine. Remember the following points:

  • Capital letters and punctuation are not needed.

  • Search engines usually disregard minor words such as ‘the’, ‘and’ or ‘to’.

  • Once you have typed into the search box, click the search button or press the return key.

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You may have heard of the expressions ‘navigating’ and ‘surfing the net’. It’s not surprising that the language of the internet draws from the language of the sea, given that internet cables are buried deep beneath the ocean floor. We ‘navigate’ a website, which can easily take us in many different directions. We ‘surf the net’ when we’re randomly exploring what kind of information is available to us on the world wide web. We also use the word ‘port’ to describe where cables are plugged in.

Making your wireless network secure

Staying safe while you’re online is important. With a wireless network, your network’s signal could be broadcast outside your home. If you don’t secure your network, people with computers nearby could access information stored on your network and use your internet connection.

To protect your network, change the username and password that comes with your router. Most routers have a default username and password and a default network name. There will be instructions on your device explaining how to change these. It’s important to choose a strong password. We will cover passwords in Lesson 3  and internet security in Lesson 5.

Activity: Using search engines

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes has a visual guide to conducting a basic search online. You can turn on captions by clicking on the icon in the bottom left corner. A transcript is also available. After watching, have a go at searching for 'Edinburgh landmarks'.

Additional information: Summary

Every device that can be touched is hardware, for example, your laptop. But your hardware needs invisible digital instructions called software to function. Mobile phones can have many functions depending on their software applications (apps).

The internet is an information network made possible by wires buried in the ground and beneath the ocean floor. The internet is the plumbing on which the world wide web is built. The web is a network of online content that runs on millions of servers worldwide.

Before you can access the internet, you must have an internet service provider, such as BT or Virgin Media. Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are wireless technologies, but only Wi-Fi can connect to the internet. The term ‘broadband’ refers to high-speed internet access.

You can access the world wide web using a program called a web browser. The web browser retrieves the content you’re looking for from a web server and then displays the resulting web page on your device. A search engine allows you to search for information without knowing the website address (URL). The search usually returns a list of websites to choose from.

Activity: Looking back on this Additioanl information section

Use this box to make notes on what you’ve learned in this section. Think about what was new to you and what you already knew.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • I can recognise the different parts of a computer.

  • I know how the internet works.

  • I can search for things on the internet.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

You should now move on to Lesson 1.


Useful videos

You can add captions to YouTube videos by clicking on the subtitles/closed captions icon. Please note that some of these YouTube videos may have adverts.

You should now move on to Lesson 1.


Except for third party materials and otherwise stated (see terms and conditions), this content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.

The material acknowledged below is Proprietary and used under licence (not subject to Creative Commons Licence). Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this free course:

Every effort has been made to contact copyright owners. If any have been inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.


0.1 Computer hardware: The Open University

0.1. Desktop: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

0.1 Computer case: Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

0.1. Monitor: Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

0.1 Keyboard: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

0.1. Mouse: Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

0.1 Speakers: Image by Fernando Arcos from Pexels

0.1 Laptop: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

0.1 Trackpad: Marisa.G.Lincoln

0.1 Power cable: Marisa.G.Lincoln

0.1 Tablet: Photo by Anomaly on Unsplash

0.1 Printer: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

0.1 Printer connections: Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

0.1 Microphone: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

0.1 Headset: Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

0.1 Memory stick: Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

0.1 Mobile phones: Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

0.1 Start/On button: Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

0.1 Desktop: Photo by Dhru J on Unsplash

0.2 Adapted keyboards (top three images): AbilityNet

0.2 Trackball mouse: AbilityNet

0.2 Table 1 eye icon: Image by 2998800 from Pixabay

0.2 Table 1 ear icon: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

0.2 Table 1 mouse icon: Image by OpenIcons from Pixabay

0.2 Table 1 Letter A: Image by OpenIcons from Pixabay

0.3 Internet devices: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

0.3 Servers: Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

0.3 Internet connection: The Open University

0.3 Wired router/modem: Photo by Stephen Phillips - on Unsplash

0.3 Wireless router/modem: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

0.3 Wi-Fi sign: Image by isuru prabath from Pixabay

0.3 Wireless adaptor: Image by Esa Riutta from Pixabay

0.4 Lead Scotland homepage: Lead Scotland

0.4 Browser Icons: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, Safari

0.4 Google webpage: Google

0.4 Lead Scotland homepage: Lead Scotland

0.4 Google search: Google

0.4 Google search Lead Scotland: Google / Lead Scotland

0.4 Google search: Google

0.4 Compass: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

0.4 Surfer: Image by Andi Perdana from Pixabay


Activity: A closer look at Network Connections: The Open University

Computer Basics: Connecting to the Internet: GCF Global

Computer Basics: Protecting Your Computer: GCF Global