CS5: Computer Management

This unit explains the booting process of a computer

In computing, booting is starting up a computer or computer appliance until it can be used. It can be initiated by hardware such as a button press or by software command. After the power is switched on, a computer’s central processing unit (CPU) has no software in its main memory, so some process must load software into memory before it can be executed. This may be done by hardware or firmware in the CPU, or by a separate processor in the computer system.

Booting Windows XP and Server 2003

booting_xp

Restarting a computer also is called reboot, which can be “hard”, e.g. after electrical power to the CPU is switched from off to on, or “soft”, where the power is not cut. On some systems, a soft boot may optionally clear RAM to zero. Both hard and soft booting can be initiated by hardware such as a button press or by software command. Booting is complete when the operative runtime system, typically operating system and some applications, is attained.

Booting Windows Vista/7

booting_vista

The process of returning a computer from a state of hibernation or sleep does not involve booting. Minimally, some embedded systems do not require a noticeable boot sequence to begin functioning and when turned on may simply run operational programs that are stored in ROM. All computing systems are state machines, and a reboot may be the only method to return to a designated zero-state from an unintended, locked state.

In addition to loading an operating system or stand-alone utility, the boot process can also load a storage dump program for diagnosing problems in an operating system.

An illustration of Bootstrap

Bootstrap

Boot is short for bootstrap or bootstrap load and derives from the phrase to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The usage calls attention to the requirement that, if most software is loaded onto a computer by other software already running on the computer, some mechanism must exist to load the initial software onto the computer. Early computers used a variety of ad-hoc methods to get a small program into memory to solve this problem. The invention of read-only memory (ROM) of various types solved this paradox by allowing computers to be shipped with a startup program that could not be erased. Growth in the capacity of ROM has allowed ever more elaborate start up procedures to be implemented.

Below are the Five Steps of the Boot Sequence

Power Up

The first step of any boot process is applying power to the machine. When the user turns a computer on, a series of events begins that ends when the operating system gets control from the boot process and the user is free to work. When the computer is turned on, the central processor executes some startup code in ROM that is located on the motherboard.

Power-On Self-Test

The next step in the boot process is called the POST, or power on self-test. This test checks all connected hardware, including RAM and secondary storage devices to be sure it is all functioning properly. After POST has completed its job, the boot process searches the boot device list for a device with BIOS on it.

Find a Boot Device

The I/O system is essential to the operation of the computer because it defines the rules for communications between the CPU and the other devices attached to the computer via the motherboard. The I/O system, sometimes found in the “io.sys” file on the boot device, provides extensions to the BIOS located in ROM on the motherboard.

Load the Operating System

Once the hardware functionality is confirmed and the input/output system is loaded, the boot process begins loading the operating system from the boot device. The OS is loaded into RAM, and any instructions specific to the particular operating system are executed. The actual operating system is somewhat irrelevant, as the computer will follow the same boot pattern in any case.

Transfer Control

Once the previous steps are complete and the operating system is safely loaded into RAM, the boot process relinquishes control to the OS. The OS then proceeds to execute any pre-configured startup routines to define user configuration or application execution. At the end of the handoff, the computer is ready for use.

A VIDEO BELOW EXPLAINING THE BOOTING PROCESS OF A COMPUTER

File Management

Every file on your computer is part of a complex, hierarchical system made up of directories and subdirectories. The process of naming, storing, and retrieving these files in an organized way is the basis of file management and when done efficiently, can save a tremendous amount of time and headaches.

Imagine a large organization with several terabytes of valuable data stored on their servers. Now imagine trying to find one specific file on these servers when you only have minutes to spare.

You’re going to have a pretty hard time if nobody has bothered to properly name and store these files in a way that makes it simple and straightforward to retrieve. According to a survey by SmartFile of over 421 IT administrators in the U.S, more than $21,000 on average is lost in productivity costs every year because of poor file management.

That’s a lot of wasted time and money for something that can easily be managed.

Why it’s Important

Here’s where things can get a little complicated. Remember the good ol’ days of storing paper documents in those yellow folders and tucking them away inside a trusty file cabinet? Each document was placed in a labeled folder, and each folder was stored in alphabetical order for easy retrieval.

Now, remember that one time Steve from accounting took out a few documents, put them back in the wrong folder, and randomly tossed them into a drawer?

What seems like a simple mistake can create hours of extra work and unneeded frustration.

Fast forward to 2017 and the same mistakes can be made digitally by failing to properly name a file or by storing documents without having a system in place.

By using a good file management system and keeping a consistent naming and storage convention, you will always know exactly where to find particular files without having to waste time searching.

Best Practices

Using a Hierarchical System

Subfolders are a huge benefit when trying to keep things organized. Within your main folder, you should have multiple categories of folders. And within those categories of folders, there should be more specific categories of folders.

For example: Documents > Tax Information > 2015 Taxes > W2’s

With this system, you can see your main folder “Documents” contains a subfolder for your tax information. Within this folder you can have multiple folders for each year of taxes. Inside these folders, you can easily find your W2 documents or anything else tax related for that specific year.

This is much easier to manage than having one “Document” folder with thousands of random files ranging from tax documents, to vacation pictures, to recipes.

Following a Consistent Naming Convention

A hierarchical system is great and all, but if your files have random, cryptic names, it’s not going to do much good.

Instead, establish a rule for naming each type of file so you can quickly tell what it contains. Stanford has a great guideline for coming up with naming conventions.

Incorporating elements such as project title, date, version, and some sort of unique identifier makes retrieval a lot easier.

Using Metadata

We live in a time when almost everyone is familiar with hashtags. Putting a “#” before a string of characters creates a link that lets you find similar content with a single click.

Metadata works in a similar way.

You have the option to right click on your file, go into its properties, and add additional information under the “Details” tab. By adding a title, subject, tag, category, or author, you’re able to quickly search for that specific word or phrase within a particular folder. This is extremely useful if your folders contain hundreds (or even thousands) of files.

Using File Management Software

If you’re dealing with an extremely large amount of data and manually maintaining a functional sorting system is too complex, you can always opt for software that does some of the hard work for you.

File-Management

Using third-party software as a document repository not only makes it very easy to locate what you need, it also acts as a sort of audit trail. What this means is that when a document is opened from the repository, the user must “check it out”, almost like checking out a book from the library. When the user is finished, they check the document back in and it leaves behind information letting everyone know who touched the file last and what changes were made. This is great for avoiding mistakes that would otherwise take hours to resolve.

Many file management software options are cloud based, which means users are able to access documents from virtually anywhere, so long as they have proper authentication.

Practices That Are Not So Good

Using too Many Sub-folders

Subfolders are a great way to organize content within other folders, but it is possible to get carried away.

Say you’ve been working on a project for a very long time and have multiple revisions and version numbers. Having a main project folder that goes into a “revision 1” folder, that goes into a “revision 2” folder, that goes into a “revision 3” folder is a huge waste of time. Every time you need to get to your newest version, you have to click through several folders to find what you need.

Having a simple “revisions” folder that contains each version with a date is a much simpler way to go about storing your project updates.

Not Using Enough Sub-folders

Inversely, having too many files inside a single sub-folder can make things cluttered and take too long to find specific document.

Using the previous example, say you have a main project folder, and inside is a “revisions” folder that has over 100 revisions of the same document. Sure, everything is organized within a single location, but it’s a lot to look through at once.

Instead, create revision folders based on time periods. If you’ve been working on a project for six months, have a revision folder for each month.

Not Deleting or Archiving Unnecessary Files

At some point in time, you’re just not going to need certain documents anymore. Keeping a file from eight years ago can be beneficial in some cases, but it’s usually just a waste of space.

If you know you’ll never need to access something again, simply delete it. If deleting something is too risky for you, there are plenty of archival programs out there to store old documentation. Using a program like WinZip allows you to compress files you don’t currently use so they take up less space, and then store them on another drive.

Encryption and File Protection

Security is a major issue facing companies of any size, and having an effective encryption method to protect valuable files is a must.

You can have the greatest file management system in the world, but if your documents are vulnerable to hackers, it’s not going to mean much. By encrypting all of your folders and subfolders, you’re creating multiple levels of security that greatly limits the likelihood of a data breach.

Another great way to ensure your data is protected is by implementing a secure file sharing system. This makes it so users can only upload or download files under a secure connection, instead of accessing valuable documents on the local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi.

A Little Extra Work Goes a Long Way

While it may seem tedious going through the trouble of following all these rules just for storing your files, the benefits are well worth the extra work.

Something as simple as adding the date or version number to a file can save you so much time when you need to retrieve a document, and adding metadata only increases this efficiency.

By using an effective system of folders, subfolders, cloud storage, and encryption, you and your organization can rest easy knowing your data is secure and easy to access at a moment’s notice.

Gone are the days of having hundreds of random files blocking your desktop’s wallpaper.

Gone are the days of spending hours searching for a single document only to realize it was hiding in plain sight under the name “document.txt”.

If you really want to make your life easier and help your business run smoother, implement a proper file management system. You’ll thank yourself later.

A VIDEO BELOW EXPLAINING FILE MANAGEMENT

Common Utilities

Utility programs, commonly referred to as just “utilities,” are software programs that add functionality to your computer or help your computer perform better. These include antivirus, backup, disk repair, file management, security, and networking programs. Utilities can also be applications such as screensavers, font and icon tools, and desktop enhancements.

Some utility programs help keep your computer free from unwanted software such as viruses or spyware, while others add functionality that allows you to customize your desktop and user interface. In general, programs that help make your computer better are considered utilities. And unlike water and electric bills, computer utilities don’t send you a bill every month!

Strictly speaking the operating system is the software that controls and manages the computer system but most operating systems also include programs called utilities. Utilities are not essential for the computer to work but either make it easy for the user to use it in some way or provide housekeeping functionality.  We can categorise these utilities as follows: 

  • Security utilities that keep your computer safe from hackers and viruses. 
  • Disk organisation utilities that organise your files into folders and tidy up the disk. 
  • Maintenance utilities that perform system diagnostics and get software updates. 

Security utilities

Security is about keeping the computer system safe from hazards.  Hazards come in many forms but includes viruses, hackers and spyware.  To keep this in perspective though, the most dangerous thing a computer has to face is the users themselves who are likely to accidentally delete files or put them in the wrong place! The backup utility is probably the most important one of them all. 

Antivirus software

A virus is a program that is installed on a computer without your knowledge     or permission with the purpose of doing harm.  It includes instructions to replicate automatically on a computer and between computers.  Some viruses are just annoying but don’t really do any damage but some viruses will delete and/or change system files so work files are corrupted or the computer becomes unusable.

Antivirus software will protect a computer in three ways: 

  • It prevents harmful programs being installed on the computer. 
  • It prevents important files, such as the operating system, being changed or deleted. 
  • If a virus does manage to install itself, the software will detect it when it performs regular scans.  Any virus detected will be removed (inoculated!).

New viruses are found regularly so it is important that any antivirus software gets regular updates from the internet. 

Firewall

If a computer is connected to the internet it is potentially accessible to anyone else on the internet.  If a local area network, such as a school network, is connected to the internet then all the file servers, the email server, the web server and all the computers are potentially accessible.  Some people hack “just because they can” but often it is for identity theft or just getting your bank account details so they can empty your account.  Occasionally people hack with malicious intent but this is less common. 

A firewall blocks access from the internet onto a PC or network. These work using several factor, for example: 

  • Where the access is from (the computer’s address) 
  • The type of traffic 
  • Specific web sites 

A firewall doesn’t just stop unwanted access from the outside world via the internet; it can also stop computers on a network from accessing specific sites or categories of site on the network.  This feature is used to stop staff in companies watching the cricket while they should be working or from using social networking sites during work hours.  In school you’ll find that many sites have been blocked.  Try going to a games website or getting to Facebook on a school a computer and you will probably get a message saying that the site has been blocked.  It is the firewall software that stops this traffic getting out of the local area network and onto the internet. 

Operating systems like MS Windows have firewall utilities included but you can also buy firewall software separately.  Free firewall software can also be downloaded from the internet and many banks provide free firewall software to customers using their internet banking services. 

Spyware protection 

Programs that secretly record what you do on your computer are called spyware. The purpose of the software is to capture passwords, bank account details and keywords used in internet shopping and banking. These details can then be used to make purchases on the internet. 

A spyware protection utility runs in the background on a PC.  It detects spyware programs and prevents them installing.  It needs to regularly update itself from the internet so it can detect any new threats. 

Some spyware is used for legitimate purposes though.  Companies can use spyware to track what is happening on an employee’s computer.  This is not common and the employee should know it is happening.  Parental control software may also use spyware-type programs. 

File transfer & file management

We take it for granted that we can organise our files into folders and easily move files around within the folder structure.  This utility provides a logical view of how the files are organised to make it easier for the user.  There are no little yellow folders actually on the disk, just lots of binary!

Disk defragmenter.

The file management utility above makes the secondary storage look like a nicely organised filing cabinet but it doesn’t really look like this.  Files are stored on the hard disk wherever there is space.  If you have a big file it might get split up into sections so it can stored in the available gaps.  This isn’t very efficient because the operating system then has to keep track of where all the pieces are.  After a while hundreds of files are stored in bits all over the disk.  Files have become “fragmented”. 

The disk defragmenter should be run to improve the efficiency of the computer.  It moves the separate parts of the files around so they can be stored together.  This makes them quicker to access.  The defragmenter also groups all the free disk space together so files can be stored in one place.  The defragmenter utility optimises disk performance. 

Formatting 

All storage media (disks, memory sticks etc) need formatting.  Mostly we buy portable devices already formatted so you don’t have to format a floppy disk or USB memory stick, but hard disks in computers will be formatted by the operating system so they are ready to store files in the way the operating system expects.

A VIDEO BELOW EXPLAINING UTILITY SOFTWARE

Print Management

Print management software (PMS) is a software system designed for the effective management and optimization of print devices and related processes. It is useful in the management of the volume and nature of print materials. It also provides options for user authentication for accessing printers and other document print services. It controls the print queues and provides secure methods of printing.

Print management software not only manages printing, but also various other aspects that relate to printing. Examples include briefs sent out for mailing and distribution, offset printing and quick printing. This software manages all kinds of devices ranging from desktop printers, copiers and scanners to high-volume and high-definition printers.

Print management software is a software system that either acts as a standalone application or has embedded functionalities that may be a part of managed print services. A PMS acts similarly to printer drivers, but offers better management of networked printers.

There are two types of print management software:

  • Desktop-style PMS that works similarly to printer drivers. It displays print previews, can edit documents and combine multiple print jobs. It works with both desktops and Web browsers.
  • Browser-style PMS is used to edit Web pages to be printed by allowing the removal of images, content, ads or headers/footers.

A PMS system helps save cost on print materials and is usually used in combination with both browser and desktop tools.

A VIDEO BELOW EXPLAINING PRINT MANAGEMENT

 

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