The term “computer” is a derivative of the verb “to compute”. A computer is an electronic device that processes data by means of programmable calculation rules. In common usage, the term “computer” has become established for the PC (personal computer). However, the PC is only one group of devices that can be called a computer. Computers are found in many electronic devices, for example in washing machines and modern cars but as well in smartphones and wearables.

Computers are usually described as having two compenents: hardware and software.

Hardware refers to the material, technical components, for example the hard disk and the main memory. Software, on the other hand, describes the digital programmes, for example the operating system of a computer. Hardware and software are interlocked in a computer and work together.

Hardware are all material, tangible components of a computer-based device. These include, for example, the housing, the processor, the motherboard, the monitor, the keyboard, the graphics card, the hard disk, the headphones and even the server. In contrast to this, the ‘non-physical’ components of a computer-based system are described as software. Software is often used as a synonym for executable programmes and applications that are necessary for the operation of hardware and the work processes that run on it.

Historically, the difference between hardware and software has emerged because of the need for a design language. Such a language allows for the process of abstracting from a particular carrier of information, thus enabling users of computing machines to re-apply software in different contexts, without having to set the parameters again.

However, the distinction between hardware and software is not as clear-cut as the description above suggest. For example, in the early days of computing, the levers that performed the calculations were the actual program, which would nowadays be described as ‘software’.

Filed under: