It is ironic that after so many years, the average user still doesn’t fully understand the computer they may be using to complete everyday tasks at work, school and home. Even the basic differences between hardware, software and firmware are difficult for most to grasp. This kind of disconnect between user and tool often gives rise to various beliefs about software, some of which become so ingrained in computer culture they become pervading myths.
One of the problems users probably don’t realize affects their ability to realisticially accomplish basic tasks with their computer is they believe software is a quasi-magical thing that should be able to take nearly any problem and turn it into a solution with a few clicks.
Were it only so! Like all tools, software requires the user understand both its capabilities and its limits. While computer manufacturers and software developers would love to have us believe software is a collection of magic spells, the reality is a little less fanciful.
This particular myth usually manifests itself in a user taking on a project that is far too large in either scope or complexity for the computing resources at their disposal. Oftentimes this happens because the user believes their software is optimized for a particular problem when the reality is somewhat different.
When faced with the realistic abilities of their software, and often as a result of failing to get the results they want, users very often assume software and computers in general are too complicated for the average person. To be fair, it is much easier to simply claim complete ignorance and incompetence than it is to make a realistic attempt to understand a large subject like computer software.
But the reality is quite different. Software is neither magical nor is it inherently difficult to understand. Computers, after all, are machines based on a small number of rather well understood and consistent principles. This is one of the reasons there is such emphasis today on basic computer literacy. If we are truly going to depend on these machines for so much it stands to reason we should all make an effort to understand them.
The Internet is the Web
Most people would be surprised to learn the Internet is far more than just the web. Networked computers are capable of communicating in a wide variety of ways, and while the web is certainly one of the most popular platforms for network communication, it is far from the only way computers can transmit information.
One good example of this is found in nearly every network-aware computer game. All of your favorite multiplayer games operate on unique protocols or “languages” different from that which drives the browser-based web. Those protocols are designed to facilitate the game and would not be very useful for transmitting web pages. In many ways they are just like other popular network protocols like FTP (file transfer protocol) or UUCP (Unix to Unix copy protocol).
Why, even the humble SMS (short message service) text message operates on a different protocol than the web. These are just a few of the many possible ways computers, servers and even mobile devices can communicate on the Internet without using a web browser, web server or a hypertext protocol.
Software is a fascinating field, and every computer user owes it to themselves to at least spend a little time learning about it. Who knows? Maybe they’ll learn a thing or two.