Useful PC Info

Phone 831-726-1951

Tom Fish

A Little Terminology

Microsoft – just the name of the company that makes the Windows software. 

Windows – is the Operating System (OS) that Microsoft sells.  The Operating System is the software that boots up your computer, and gives you a chance to click on icons, run programs, etc.  A computer can not operate without an Operating System.  Other common OSs are iOS (Apple), Linux, and Android (for phones & tablets).   

XP, Vista, Win7, and Win8 – are the most common versions of the Windows Operating System currently on most PC’s.

Office – also known as Microsoft Office, is a suite of programs (or applications) for doing common office-type tasks, such as Word for document creation, Excel for spreadsheets, Power Point for annotated slideshows, etc. Although many people have the Office Suite programs on their computers, or at least some of them, it is NOT included in the Windows OS. You either bought it separately, or it came bundled in from the manufacturer of your PC.  NOTE: Microsoft is not the manufacturer of your PC.  They just license the OS to various OEMs like HP, Dell, Sony, Toshiba, etc. And each of these OEMs change the “look” of the OS just a little, as well as adding some programs of their own, and/or including or not including some free programs available to all from the Internet.

The Internet – a vast, almost unknowably large network of cables, wires, and wireless transmissions connecting computers and computer networks all over the world. That WWW stuff (World Wide Web) is part of the Internet, as is Email, FTP (File Transfer Protocol), VOIP (Voice over Internet), Instant Messaging, and who knows what other secret and not-so-secret stuff.  

Browser – or Web Browser, refers to a program for exploring or accessing the Internet. The most widely known browser is Internet Explorer (it’s from Microsoft, and is included in all their different versions of Windows; hence it was most people’s first introduction to browsing the Internet). But there are other very popular browsers like AOL,  Firefox, Chrome, and lesser-known ones like Safari and Opera. All of them are available for free, and they all serve the same basic purpose: getting around on the World Wide Web. They each have their own special features and toolbars, and which one you use is largely a matter of personal preference – although some sites, like your bank, or a school, or your stockbroker, may tell you that you HAVE to use a particular browser, because they created their Web sites specifically with that browser in mind. Web Browsers are flexible, and you are not stuck using the defaults that your computer came with. Just because your browser opens to the MSN Web site, doesn’t mean you can’t change it. You can make it open to any page you like.  More on this under the heading of “Web Portals.”

Web Portal – is just a web site that seeks to be your “Gateway to the Internet”. Examples are Yahoo, (and its partner, ATT Yahoo), MSN, iGoogle, The Drudge Report, and (AOL also has a Browser). In addition, there are more intrusive ones like My Web Search,, and others that hijack your homepage and search engine.  We don’t like hijackers, and neither should you. They will detract from your Internet experience.

Email – comes in ALL different flavors. But it’s important to understand that email never goes directly from your friend’s PC to your PC. When your friend sends an email, it goes through his email server, to your email server, and then to you when your email program checks the server for incoming mail. The two main ways of accessing your email are thru WEBMAIL or a MAILCLIENT program.

            --WEBMAIL has the program for accessing your email on a Website. It is always associated with your Email domain name: for instance, can be accessed via the Yahoo Webmail page, as can be accessed via the GMail Webpage. Ditto for AOL.  You can NOT access your gmail account on the yahoo page, or your Yahoo account on the AOL page.

            WEBMAIL programs almost always keep your email on their email server until you delete them.  That’s a big advantage should your computer crash and destroy all your data: your email is still safe & sound on the server. The other big advantage of Webmail is that you can access your email from any Internet connected computer anywhere in the world.

            A Mail Client program resides on your PC, and keeps a copy of all your emails right there on your PC.  This is a big advantage when it comes to organizing and saving them for a long, long time. (I’ve got emails going back over ten years saved on my PC). There are settings to also keep a copy on the mail server should you desire. The other big advantage is that the program will automatically download attachments, and has better built-in processes for handling those attachments, which will save you a few clicks and quite a bit of time.  Examples of Mail Client programs are Eudora, Mozilla’s Thunderbird, and the most popular ones: Outlook and Outlook Express – which are NOT the same. Outlook Express is a free mail client program that was included with Win98 and Win XP. In Vista, Microsoft changed the name (and the format) to Windows Mail, and then in Win7 they changed it again to Live Mail.  (and now Microsoft has changed the name of their Webmail programs for Hotmail & MSN mail to, which is NOT to be confused with Outlook or Outlook Express – so don’t ask me why they named it that. Seems like maybe they want to confuse people).  

            Outlook, as opposed to Outlook Express, is NOT a free program, and has never been included in Windows for free. It can be purchased either as a separate product, or bundled with Microsoft Office – there are many flavors of Microsoft Office, but it’s important to note that the Student and Teacher version does NOT include Outlook.


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