Lesson 1 Basic Concept




Let us begin with the word ‘compute’. It means ‘to calculate’. We all are familiar with calculations in our day to day life. We apply mathematical operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. and many other formulae for calculations. Simpler calculations take less time. But complex calculations take much longer time. Another factor is accuracy in calculations. So man explored with the idea to develop a machine which can perform this type of arithmetic calculation faster and with full accuracy. This gave birth to a device or machine called ‘computer’.

The computer we see today is quite different from the one made in the beginning. The number of applications of a computer has increased, the speed and accuracy of calculation has increased. You must appreciate the impact of computers in our day to day life. Reservation of tickets in Air Lines and Railways, payment of telephone and electricity bills, deposits and withdrawals of money from banks, business data processing, medical diagnosis, weather forecasting, etc. are some of the areas where computer has become extremely useful.

However, there is one limitation of the computer. Human beings do calculations on their own. But computer is a dumb machine and it has to be given proper instructions to carry out its calculation. This is why we should know how a computer works.

1.2       OBJECTIVES

After going through this lesson you will be in a position to

·         define a computer

·         identify characteristics of computer

·         know the origin and evolution of computer

·         identify capability of computer in terms of speed and accuracy

·         distinguish computer from human beings and calculator

·         identify the role of computer

·         appreciate the evolution of computer through five generations


Computer is an electronic device. As mentioned in the introduction it can do arithmetic calculations faster. But as you will see later it does much more than that. It can be compared to a magic box, which serves different purpose to different people. For a common man computer is simply a calculator, which works automatic and quite fast. For a person who knows much about it, computer is a machine capable of solving problems and manipulating data. It accepts data, processes the data by doing some mathematical and logical operations and gives us the desired output.

Therefore, we may define computer as a device that transforms data. Data can be anything like marks obtained by you in various subjects. It can also be name, age, sex, weight, height, etc. of all the students in your class or income, savings, investments, etc., of a country. Computer can be defined in terms of its functions. It can i) accept data ii) store data, iii) process data as desired, and iv) retrieve the stored data as and when required and v) print the result in desired format. You will know more about these functions as you go through the later lessons.

Fig. 1.1 below depicts a personal computer.


Fig. 1.1: Personal Computer


Let us identify the major characteristics of computer. These can be discussed under the headings of speed, accuracy, diligence, versatility and memory.

1.4.1  Speed

As you know computer can work very fast. It takes only few seconds for calculations that we take hours to complete. Suppose you are asked to calculate the average monthly income of one thousand persons in your neighborhood. For this you have to add income from all sources for all persons on a day to day basis and find out the average for each one of them. How long will it take for you to do this? One day, two days or one week? Do you know your small computer can finish this work in few seconds? The weather forecasting that you see every day on TV is the results of compilation and analysis of huge amount of data on temperature, humidity, pressure, etc. of various places on computers. It takes few minutes for the computer to process this huge amount of data and give the result.

You will be surprised to know that computer can perform millions (1,000,000) of instructions and even more per second. Therefore, we determine the speed of computer in terms of microsecond (10-6 part of a second) or nano-second (10-9part of a second). From this you can imagine how fast your computer performs work.

1.4.2  Accuracy

Suppose some one calculates faster but commits a lot of errors in computing. Such result is useless. There is another aspect. Suppose you want to divide 15 by 7. You may work out up to 2 decimal places and say the dividend is 2.14. I may calculate up to 4 decimal places and say that the result is 2.1428. Some one else may go up to 9 decimal places and say the result is 2.142857143. Hence, in addition to speed, the computer should have accuracy or correctness in computing.

The degree of accuracy of computer is very high and every calculation is performed with the same accuracy. The accuracy level is determined on the basis of design of computer. The errors in computer are due to human and inaccurate data.

1.4.3   Diligence

A computer is free from tiredness, lack of concentration, fatigue, etc. It can work for hours without creating any error. If millions of calculations are to be performed, a computer will perform every calculation with the same accuracy. Due to this capability it overpowers human being in routine type of work.

1.4.4 Versatility

It means the capacity to perform completely different type of work. You may use your computer to prepare payroll slips. Next moment you may use it for inventory management or to prepare electric bills.

1.4.5  Power of Remembering

Computer has the power of storing any amount of information or data. Any information can be stored and recalled as long as you require it, for any numbers of years. It depends entirely upon you how much data you want to store in a computer and when to lose or retrieve these data.

1,4.6    No IQ

Computer is a dumb machine and it cannot do any work without instruction from the user. It performs the instructions at tremendous speed and with accuracy. It is you to decide what you want to do and in what sequence. So a computer cannot take its own decision as you can.

1.4. 7   No Feeling     

It does not have feelings or emotion, taste, knowledge and experience. Thus it does not get tired even after long hours of work. It does not distinguish between users.

1.4.8    Storage

The Computer has an in-built memory where it can store a large amount of data. You can also store data in secondary storage devices such as floppies, which can be kept outside your computer and can be carried to other computers.


1.                  What is a computer? Why is it known as data processor?

2.                  What are the important characteristics of computer?


History of computer could be traced back to the effort of man to count large numbers. This process of counting of large numbers generated various systems of numeration like Babylonian system of numeration, Greek system of numeration, Roman system of numeration and Indian system of numeration. Out of these the Indian system of numeration has been accepted universally. It is the basis of modern decimal system of numeration (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Later you will know how the computer solves all calculations based on decimal system. But you will be surprised to know that the computer does not understand the decimal system and uses binary system of numeration for processing.

We will briefly discuss some of the path-breaking inventions in the field of computing devices.

1.5 .1   Calculating Machines

It took over generations for early man to build mechanical devices for counting large numbers. The first calculating device called ABACUS was developed by the Egyptian and Chinese people.

The word ABACUS means calculating board. It consisted of sticks in horizontal positions on which were inserted sets of pebbles. A modern form of ABACUS is given in Fig. 1.2.   It has a number of horizontal bars each having ten beads. Horizontal bars represent units, tens, hundreds, etc.

Fig. 1.2: Abacus Computer

1.5.2    Napier’s bones         

English mathematician John Napier built a mechanical device for the purpose of multiplication in 1617 A D. The device was known as Napier’s bones.

1.5.3    Slide Rule 

English mathematician Edmund Gunter developed the slide rule. This machine could perform operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It was widely used in Europe in 16th century.

1.5.4    Pascal’s Adding and Subtractory Machine

You might have heard the name of Blaise Pascal. He developed a machine at the age of 19 that could add and subtract. The machine consisted of wheels, gears and cylinders.

1.5.5    Leibniz’s Multiplication and Dividing Machine

The German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz built around 1673 a mechanical device that could both multiply and divide.

1.5.6    Babbage’s Analytical Engine 

It was in the year 1823 that a famous English man Charles Babbage built a mechanical machine to do complex mathematical calculations. It was called difference engine. Later he developed a general-purpose calculating machine called analytical engine. You should know that Charles Babbage is called the father of computer.

1.5.7    Mechanical and Electrical Calculator

In the beginning of 19th century the mechanical calculator was developed to perform all sorts of mathematical calculations. Up to the 1960s it was widely used. Later the rotating part of mechanical calculator was replaced by electric motor. So it was called the electrical calculator.

1.5.8    Modern Electronic Calculator

The electronic calculator used in 1960 s was run with electron tubes, which was quite bulky. Later it was replaced with transistorsand as a result the size of calculators became too small.

The modern electronic calculator can compute all kinds of mathematical computations and mathematical functions. It can also be used to store some data permanently. Some calculators have in-built programs to perform some complicated calculations.

Fig. 1.3: Vacuum tube, transistor, IC


1.      What is the first mathematical device built and when was it built?

2.      Who is called the father of Computer Technology.


You know that the evolution of computer started from 16th century and resulted in the form that we see today. The present day computer, however, has also undergone rapid change during the last fifty years. This period, during which the evolution of computer took place, can be divided into five distinct phases known as Generations of Computers. Each phase is distinguished from others on the basis of the type of switching circuits used.

1.6.1    First Generation Computers

First generation computers used Thermion valves. These computers were large in size and writing programs on them was difficult. Some of the computers of this generation were:

ENIAC: It was the first electronic computer built in 1946 at University of Pennsylvania, USA by John Eckert and John Mauchy. It was named Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC). The ENIAC was 30´50 feet long, weighed 30 tons, contained 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 registers, 10,000 capacitors and required 150,000 watts of electricity. Today your favorite computer is many times as powerful as ENIAC, still size is very small.

EDVAC: It stands for Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer and was developed in 1950. The concept of storing data and instructions inside the computer was introduced here. This allowed much faster operation since the computer had rapid access to both data and instructions. The other advantages of storing instruction was that computer could do logical decision internally.

Other Important Computers of First Generation


EDSAC: It stands for Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Computer and was developed by M.V. Wilkes at Cambridge University in 1949.


UNIVAC-1: Ecker and Mauchly produced it in 1951 by Universal Accounting Computer setup.   

Fig. 1.4: Univac Computer

Limitations of First Generation Computer

Followings are the major drawbacks of First generation computers.

1. The operating speed was quite slow.

2. Power consumption was very high.

3. It required large space for installation.

4. The programming capability was quite low.

1.6.2    Second Generation Computers

Around 1955 a device called Transistor replaced the bulky electric tubes in the first generation computer. Transistors are smaller than electric tubes and have higher operating speed. They have no filament and require no heating. Manufacturing cost was also very low. Thus the size of the computer got reduced considerably.

It is in the second generation that the concept of Central Processing Unit (CPU), memory, programming language and input and output units were developed. The programming languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN were developed during this period. Some of the computers of the Second Generation were

1.     IBM 1620: Its size was smaller as compared to First Generation computers and mostly used for scientific purpose.

2.     IBM 1401: Its size was small to medium and used for business applications.

3.     CDC 3600: Its size was large and is used for scientific purposes.

1.6.3    Third Generation Computers

The third generation computers were introduced in 1964. They used Integrated Circuits (ICs). These ICs are popularly known as Chips. A single IC has many transistors, registers and capacitors built on a single thin slice of silicon. So it is quite obvious that the size of the computer got further reduced. Some of the computers developed during this period were IBM-360, ICL-1900, IBM-370, and VAX-750. Higher level language such as BASIC (Beginners All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was developed during this period.

Computers of this generations were small in size, low cost, large memory and processing speed is very high.

1.6.4    Fourth Generation Computers

The present day computers that you see today are the fourth generation computers that started around 1975. It uses large scale Integrated Circuits (LSIC) built on a single silicon chip called microprocessors.  Due to the development of microprocessor it is possible to place computer’s central processing unit (CPU) on single chip. These computers are called microcomputers. Later very large scale Integrated Circuits (VLSIC) replaced LSICs.

Thus the computer which was occupying a very large room in earlier days can now be placed on a table. The personal computer (PC) that you see in your school is a Fourth Generation Computer.

1.6.5    Fifth Generation Computer

The computers of 1990s are said to be Fifth Generation computers. The speed is extremely high in fifth generation computer. Apart from this it can perform parallel processing. The concept of Artificial intelligence has been introduced to allow the computer to take its own decision. It is still in a developmental stage.


Now let us discuss the varieties of computers that we see today. Although they belong to the fifth generation they can be divided into different categories depending upon the size, efficiency, memory and number of users. Broadly they can be divided it to the following categories.

1.      Microcomputer: Microcomputer is at the lowest end of the computer range in terms of speed and storage capacity. Its CPU is a microprocessor. The first microcomputers were built of 8-bit microprocessor chips. The most common application of personal computers (PC) is in this category. The PC supports a number of input and output devices. An improvement of 8-bit chip is 16-bit and 32-bit chips. Examples of microcomputer are IBM PC, PC-AT .

2.      Mini Computer: This is designed to support more than one user at a time. It possesses large storage capacity and operates at a higher speed. The mini computer is used in multi-user system in which various users can work at the same time. This type of computer is generally used for processing large volume of data in an organisation. They are also used as servers in Local Area Networks (LAN).

3.   Mainframes: These types of computers are generally 32-bit microprocessors. They operate at very high speed, have very large storage capacity and can handle the work load of many users. They are generally used in centralised databases. They are also used as controlling nodes in Wide Area Networks (WAN). Example of mainframes are DEC, ICL and IBM 3000 series.

4.   Supercomputer: They are the fastest and most expensive machines. They have high processing speed compared to other computers. They have also multiprocessing technique. One of the ways in which supercomputers are built is by interconnecting hundreds of microprocessors. Supercomputers are mainly being used for whether forecasting, biomedical research, remote sensing, aircraft design and other areas of science and technology. Examples of supercomputers are CRAY YMP, CRAY2, NEC SX-3, CRAY XMP and PARAM from India. 


1.     Into how many generations the evolution of computer is divided?

2.     What is VLSIC?

3.     The personal computer that you see today is in which generation of computer?


In this lesson we have discussed about the major characteristics of computer. The speed, accuracy, memory and versatility are some of the features associated with a computer. But the computer that we see today has not developed over night. It has taken centuries of human effort to see the computer in its present form today. There are five generations of computer. Over these generations the physical size of computer has decreased, but on the other hand the processing speed of computer has improved tremendously. We also discussed about the varieties of computers available today.


1.      Why is computer known as data processor?

2.      Explain in brief the various generations in computer technology?

3.      Write a short note on Fifth Generation of computer. What makes it different from Fourth generation computer?

4.      Why did the size of computer get reduced in third generation computer?

5.   Give short notes on the following:

      (a) Versatility  (b) Storage (c) Slide Rule       (d) Babbage’s Analytical Engine

6.  Distinguish between Microcomputer and Mainframe computer.       



1.                  A computer is an electronic device, which is used to accept, store, retrieve and process the data. It is called as data processor because it is mainly used for processing data for producing meaningful information.

2.                  The characteristics of computer are speed, accuracy, diligence, versatility and storage.


1.                  Analytical engine, 1823.

2.                  Charles Babbage


1.                  Five generations

2.                  Very Large Scale Integrated Circuits

3.                  Fourth Generation


1.  Explain various types of computers.

2. Explain in brief the various generations in computer technology.

3. Write a short note on Fifth Generation of computer. What makes it different from Fourth Generation computer?

4. Why did the size of computer get reduced in Third Generation computer?


State True or False

1.     (a) Word processor is Software Package that enables you to create, edit, print and save document .

(b)  WordStar is a popular Word processor.

(c)   Changing the size of  the margins cannot reformat complete document or part of the text.

(d)   Word has the facility of Macros.

(e)     Word does not allow the user to mix the graphical pictures with text.


            1.Choose the best answer.

(a)   While working in Ms-Word you have to work with

(i)    Mouse only

(ii)   Keyboard only

(iii)  Both mouse and keyboard

(b)  In Ms- Word every command is available in

(i)    Print

(ii)  Letter

(iii) Icons

(c)   You can go inside Ms-Word by the following way

(i)    Take the mouse pointer to START  button on the task bar and click the left mouse button.

(ii)  Take the mouse pointer to START button and click the right mouse button.

(iii) Move the mouse pointer on the screen.

2.     State True or False

(a)   The title bar displays the name of the currently active word document.

(b)   The most commonly tool bars are the Formatting tool bar and the Standard tool bar.

(c)     The Tool bar allows you to format the vertical alignment of text.

(d)    The Scroll bar helps you to scroll the content or body of document.

(e)     The work space is the area in the document window where you enter/type the text.


1.     State  True or False

(a)   Using View option you can perform editing functions such as cut, copy, paste, find and replace etc.

(b)   Using the Edit option  you can switch over from Normal mode to Out line mode.

(c)     Using Insert menu you can insert various objects such as page numbers, footnotes, picture frames etc.

(d)    Using Tools menu you can access to various utilities of word such as spell check, macros and mail merge etc.

(e)     Window menu allows you to work with two documents simultaneously.