Understanding The Definition Hardware, What Is Software, And The Definition Of A Device Driver

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In this article, I'm going to explain three computer terms that, like so many computer terms, are not understood very well by most people. And in many cases, are not understood at all.

Of course, as always, remember that's not a criticism – if you did not understand these computer terms before this, it's just because it was never explained to you the right way before.

Let's see what I can do to fix that.

First off, let me explain the difference between "hardware" and "software", and just what those terms mean.

It's actually pretty simple – "hardware" refers to all of the physical pieces of equipment, like your mouse, your computer's screen (or monitor), the hard drive, etc.

"Software" is all of the parts of the computer that you can not really see or touch. Software would include things like Microsoft Word, your email program, Windows or the Mac OS, plus all of your personal files like letters, photos, music, and more.

One way to think about it is like this: hardware is like your brain, the physical part of your body, while software is like your mind or your thoughts – the non-physical part of yourself.

Software runs on hardware, just like your thoughts "run on" your brain.

Make sense? Now let's talk more specifically about one type of software: a device driver.

What is a device driver? Here's an easy way to think about what a device driver is.

Imagine that every piece of hardware, including your printer, your mouse, and so on, speaks a different language.

So one speaks French, another one speaks Italian, another one Cantonese, etc.

So when you plug in a new printer and turns it on, your computer says "hi" and the printer replies in a foreign language the computer does not understand.

So it needs an interpreter.

And when I say interpreter, I mean just like in the real world, like if a foreign diplomat comes to the country but does not speak the local language. They need an interpreter to help them communicate with the locals.

That, basically speaking, is what a driver is – an interpreter that helps your computer talk to a specific piece of equipment. And (generally speaking) you need a different interpreter for each piece of equipment that you hook up to the computer.

Make sense?

Now in some cases, the driver may be "preinstalled" on your computer (in other words, the computer already has the interpreter ready and waiting in case it's needed) and in other cases, it needs to either be installed from a CD, or downloaded off the Internet, and then installed on the computer.

But either way, the computer needs that driver before it can talk to the printer or whatever other type of device you may have hooked up to the computer.

Hope that makes sense.

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