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Old 22nd July 2008, 22:27   #1
Smeggle
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What makes a 'Computer' ? Hardware or Software?

Was reading this article earlier - http://equiliberate.org/?q=node/3 - which got me to thinking - just what makes a 'Computer' - 'A Computer'?

Is it the hardware? or is it the Software? essentially the hardware is capable of running any of the software available and it doesn't need to be windows, it can be any number of of different operating systems, which is essentially software...

With the different Operating systems that are now in existence are manufacturers right to insist on the one O.S? Are they themselves helping to maintain the monopoly Microsoft has in the computer market?

Just throwing this out there in a few places I visit to get some opinions on it.....

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Old 22nd July 2008, 23:27   #2
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Hardware. Remember that the idea of programs as data came after the invention of computers.

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.
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Old 23rd July 2008, 00:17   #3
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com·put·er
–noun
1. One who computes. 2. A machine which computes.




But seriously, that's a term that is surprisingly nebulous nowadays, as it depends greatly on context to determine what comprises a "computer".

If you ask me, in most modern contexts a computer is a hardware device with at least the following components:

1. A processing unit, whether it be centralized or distributed. A computer must have the means to compute, right?

2. Memory. Any computer needs some form of storage to use for input/output handling, caching, providing workspaces to programs or subsystems, knowing where it left its keys, etc. Trying to compute without memory would be like trying to............. to............ what was I saying?

3. An IO (input/output) interface. The person or device using the computer must generally have the means of inputting data, controlling the computer system, and getting some form of output.

Most computers in the world today have much more to them than just these simple components, but still, anything more is luxury.

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Old 23rd July 2008, 00:32   #4
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_completeness
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Old 23rd July 2008, 00:35   #5
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If we use turing completeness as a guide, then nothing is a true computer. Unless you happen to have one of those new infinite memory modules, of course.

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Old 23rd July 2008, 01:00   #6
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Yeees, that's not the way it's commonly used though, since then it simply wouldn't be applicable to hardware.

(I like how Wikipedia says "truly Turing-complete machines are very likely physically impossible, as they require unlimited storage")
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Old 23rd July 2008, 03:21   #7
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I consider anything that has the minimum requirements to run an OS to be a computer. Anything less and it's just a bunch of parts.

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Old 23rd July 2008, 03:36   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by gaekwad2
(I like how Wikipedia says "truly Turing-complete machines are very likely physically impossible, as they require unlimited storage")



I guess that means there's a chance we'll find the infinite memory module after all.

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Old 23rd July 2008, 05:24   #9
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Some Wikipedia articles have some wry humor in them (whether or not it is intentional is another question). For a while, the article on the Year 2038 problem included
Quote:
Using a (signed) 64-bit value introduces a new wraparound date in about 290 billion years. It is not widely regarded as a pressing issue.

powered by C₂H₅OH

Last edited by mikm; 23rd July 2008 at 05:40.
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Old 23rd July 2008, 06:13   #10
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HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE

Hardware is a physical component of a computer whereas the term software refers to the collection of computer programs or computer applications. Both hardware and software are essential for a computer.
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Old 23rd July 2008, 12:35   #11
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soft toys(that make sound), toys, fridges, TV's, VCR's, microwaves are technically computers aka anything with a microcontroller is technically a computer.

that doesn't make them usable computers in the same comtext.
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Old 23rd July 2008, 15:27   #12
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Re: HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE

Quote:
Originally posted by marvin08
Hardware is a physical component of a computer whereas the term software refers to the collection of computer programs or computer applications. Both hardware and software are essential for a computer.
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Old 23rd July 2008, 15:35   #13
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Time for another wordfilter.
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Old 23rd July 2008, 22:59   #14
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Thats mostly my thought on it also but HP are basically saying that the 'hardware' is all but useless without windows vista installed. essentially they are saying the hardware was designed specifically for vista. (Very erroneous statement imho).

They even say that it may not be possible to run windows xp on the machine even though the owner stated they were going to use a form of Linux.

So, on that evidence is it right to constantly give out about MS monopolizing the computer industry when essentially it is the computer hardware industry itself that is causing that monopolization - (Heh Teh Shmeggles defending MS - thats a first lol ^_^ )...

Seriously though that even leaves the European judgment earlier in the year very doubtful on that score. Whilst personally I think they work hand in hand, (hardware manufacturers and MS), and that is an issue that should be looked at and addressed accordingly.

Yes Dell made a very poor and small effort with there Linux offer in the last year, but that was minimal and hardly an effective consumer move.

Personally I look forward to the day when the operating system and hardware are sold as separate items. When that happens (If it ever did) then I believe the competitive edge will come back into the world of computing. Which in turn will lead to more innovation in operating systems and in the hardware itself...

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Old 24th July 2008, 01:15   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by Smeggle
Personally I look forward to the day when the operating system and hardware are sold as separate items. When that happens (If it ever did) then I believe the competitive edge will come back into the world of computing. Which in turn will lead to more innovation in operating systems and in the hardware itself...
To their credit, the corporations are only partly to blame for that. The average computer buyer is so tech-illiterate after 13 or so years with the quite easy-to-use "modern Windows desktop" that was established with Win95/98 that some would not know how to begin, and most simply don't want, the additional work of installing an OS onto a raw storage volume.

Some companies do offer PCs with a choice of operating system, or even none at all. But when they do the latter, they're severely limiting their market base to people who are more technical AND who have more than an average amount of free time on their hands - i.e., technically-inclined teens and early-twenty-somethings. People who are more than willing to "tinker" to create potentially better solutions than what comes in a shiny box from Redmond. Hot-rodders and car-modders - that's a good automotive industry analogy for it.

"You can buy this car over here for much less money, but you'll have to buy and install the engine yourself." The upside of that is you can customize things just the way you like - if you're willing to put in the work, that is. The downside is that over 98% of the world doesn't have the patience for that - just make it so they can drive it off the lot. Less than 2% of the market usually garners less than 2% of the interest of company management. And rightfully so in most cases.

And this all varies over time, influenced by, among other things, the current state of stability of the latest "monopoly offering". In the most recent of timelines, before April 2008 that was a problem, and since then it's not once again. Same thing happened with Pre-SE-Win98 and Pre-SP2-XP. Once the "dominant" operating system works well and easily enough, the vast majority of people in the world aren't going to want to play "sys admin" with a PC for which they've always been happy to pay the seller to configure for them.

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Old 24th July 2008, 01:38   #16
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A computer has a processor and memory. Data in, different data out. This process requires both software and hardware.

Without software, you have a machine. Without hardware, you have a concept.
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Old 24th July 2008, 01:48   #17
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Actually the IO interface can be handled by a very limited instance of what we know as "BIOS" on our PC - which is more often described as "firmware" than "software" (although that's more of a reference to how it's implemented rather than how it's created or what it's "made of").

But, regardless, you don't need any form of software to provide an input/output interface, nor do you need an operating system as we know them today. ENIAC and UNIVAC were "computers" by most reasonable definitions of the word, yet they had not a bit of what we'd come close to calling "software" in them. And the guidance computers on the Apollo missions had an "operating system" about equal to the "operating system" on any modern digital wristwatch/calculator. Yet they were arguably "computers" just as well.

Processor + Memory + Basic IO. Those are all you need to build what can reasonably qualify as a "computer". Any other computing capabilities are luxury items.

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Old 24th July 2008, 03:01   #18
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Software exists merely as the manipulation of the physical states of parts of a machine which can also, indirectly, manipulate the physical states of parts of a machine. Therefore, software is hardware.

There is this strange tendency for people to separate software from hardware and, even further, data from functional code, which is really quite silly.

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Old 24th July 2008, 09:21   #19
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Software is a luxury item. It's just for people who are too lazy to rewire a manual input interface on their computer over and over to perform various activities. Damn slackers.



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Old 24th July 2008, 09:49   #20
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Quote:
Originally posted by Vil
Software exists merely as the manipulation of the physical states of parts of a machine which can also, indirectly, manipulate the physical states of parts of a machine. Therefore, software is hardware.
Everything is a file.
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Old 24th July 2008, 21:48   #21
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Quote:
Originally posted by gaekwad2
Everything is a file.
Implementation detail!

In any case, the hardware makes it a computer, and the software makes it useful. Blah blah blah.

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Old 25th July 2008, 00:51   #22
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hardware. its hard to draw the line at what hardware though...

a cpu on its own is a complicated computer. does a timer count as a computer? what about a calculator? must a computer be some approximation to the turing machine? etc...

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Old 25th July 2008, 02:03   #23
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The CPU doesn't have it's own memory subsystem outside of a small working cache, which actually counts as part of the second required component: memory. It also has no input/output interface. It has communications and processing protocols, but no infrastructure of its own for data input or output. In a modern personal computer, this is what it relies on BIOS for.

So a CPU isn't a "computer", but rather, it's 1/3 of a computer.

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Old 25th July 2008, 02:36   #24
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Quote:
Originally posted by ScorLibran
The CPU doesn't have it's own memory subsystem outside of a small working cache, which actually counts as part of the second required component: memory. It also has no input/output interface. It has communications and processing protocols, but no infrastructure of its own for data input or output. In a modern personal computer, this is what it relies on BIOS for.

So a CPU isn't a "computer", but rather, it's 1/3 of a computer.
So, you don't think instructions going into a cpu and results coming out of a CPU count as IO? Because, now I guess I could be wrong, that does seem to be exactly what it is... Without IO, a CPU would be an expensive piece of junk.

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Old 25th July 2008, 07:27   #25
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The standardized infrastructure that transports instructions into and out of the CPU is the IO interface. That the CPU can process said instructions is simply the its raison d'être.

On a personal computer, BIOS firmware - and to an extent, software drivers for the computer's hardware devices - provides the IO infrastructure; a means for people and devices to communicate and exchange data with the computer, with expected results. Also true of any handheld computer, cellphone or portable MP3 player, although the BIOS and drivers on such devices are more limited than on their modern PC brethren.

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Old 25th July 2008, 16:41   #26
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This is quite correct. The stream of bytes going in an out are not analgous with the tape of the Turing machine, since you don't read the bytes you send out of the CPU to do stuff, you recieve new bytes from the I/O subsystem.

However, is a Turing machine a necessary definition for a computer? I prefer the simpler, and more sensible "something which computes" definition... its more sensible in everyday terms since it allows things like hand held calculators, watches or even abacuses (abaci?) to qualify.

This may not be the most scientific approach, but you would have a much easier time arguing it with 99% of the population.

I don't think either approach is intrinsicly more correct than the other... however most people don't know what a Turing machine is, and for them "computer" is just a noun formed from the verb "to compute", used to describe an object which does computing (maybe amongst some it is simply a label applied without thought... ??). No different to how "writer" describes an object which does writing, or "runner" for running, "dropper" for dropping etc...

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Old 25th July 2008, 17:42   #27
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If you go by most people, the common non-techy doesn't differentiate between hard- and software at all.
The physical box, the OS's surface, the installed applications, all that simply is "the computer".
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Old 25th July 2008, 18:27   #28
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Quote:
Originally posted by ScorLibran
The standardized infrastructure that transports instructions into and out of the CPU is the IO interface. That the CPU can process said instructions is simply the its raison d'être.

On a personal computer, BIOS firmware - and to an extent, software drivers for the computer's hardware devices - provides the IO infrastructure; a means for people and devices to communicate and exchange data with the computer, with expected results. Also true of any handheld computer, cellphone or portable MP3 player, although the BIOS and drivers on such devices are more limited than on their modern PC brethren.
Yet, if you really wanted to, you could build a device to allow you to manually input instructions to the CPU and receive output from said instructions.

A CPU is the evolution of the original, mechanical computers. All those devices actually do is logical computation. All modern CPUs do is logical computation. The memory onboard of modern processors is simply a side effect of the method we currently use to do this, and exists to increase performance. The actual processing core is only different in its method of operation from original mechanical computers. It receives input and returns output, whatever form that is in is irrelevant to the fact that it happens.

A modern computer can be said to be made up of multiple computers. The graphics card, for example, is a very obvious instance of a computer. It relies on the rest of the machine for power and IO. However, the rest of the machine does not need it in order to function. Graphics cards are basically a reincarnation of a modern computer without all the extraneous ports and devices (hard drives, ethernet ports, etc).

You could also consider a hard drive a self-contained computer. It has a processor(s). It has an IO interface. The same could be said of a motherboard, it has processor(s), and multiple IO interfaces.

Just because the parts of a modern computer cannot be directly interacted with by a human does not mean they are not computers in the same way that Ancient Egyptians were still human irrelevant of the fact that you have no direct method with which to interact with them.

As for firmware, it is just software embedded into a device. It is basically a mini-OS for a specific device, and in the same way it would not be correct to say a computer with no OS is not a computer, it is not correct to say a processor with no firmware is not a processor (or that it is not a computer).

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Old 25th July 2008, 22:34   #29
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Quote:
Originally posted by Vil
Yet, if you really wanted to, you could build a device to allow you to manually input instructions to the CPU and receive output from said instructions.
That, you would have created, would be the IO stage. Then all you'd need is some form of memory buffer from which input and output can be transferred and processed in order to comprise a functioning computer.

But if we "really wanted" to create an IO stage, then there's no reason we wouldn't also "really want" to create some memory, as well, right? (The easiest way would be to select any modern PC CPU with its own onboard memory cache to fill that role in one step.)

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Old 26th July 2008, 00:51   #30
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Re: What makes a 'Computer' ? Hardware or Software?

Quote:
Originally posted by Smeggle
Was reading this article earlier - http://equiliberate.org/?q=node/3 - which got me to thinking - just what makes a 'Computer' - 'A Computer'?

Is it the hardware? or is it the Software? essentially the hardware is capable of running any of the software available and it doesn't need to be windows, it can be any number of of different operating systems, which is essentially software...

With the different Operating systems that are now in existence are manufacturers right to insist on the one O.S? Are they themselves helping to maintain the monopoly Microsoft has in the computer market?

Just throwing this out there in a few places I visit to get some opinions on it.....
Hardware + OS = computer.
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Old 26th July 2008, 09:31   #31
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The computer is the hardware, I am it's software

welcome to the wired

"I just want to lie in my own crusty filth, eating rancid egg sandwiches, until some unfortunate paramedic has to blow down my door to find my bloated and pasty corpse wedged between the nightstand and mattress stained with Bengay and Robitussin DM." - Greg Gutfeld on sex and seniors
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Old 26th July 2008, 12:42   #32
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Quote:
Originally posted by ScorLibran
The CPU doesn't have it's own memory subsystem outside of a small working cache, which actually counts as part of the second required component: memory. It also has no input/output interface. It has communications and processing protocols, but no infrastructure of its own for data input or output. In a modern personal computer, this is what it relies on BIOS for.

So a CPU isn't a "computer", but rather, it's 1/3 of a computer.
In a Von Neumann machine, it's more like a fourth or fifth (depending on whether you consider the ALU and CU one component or two)

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.
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Old 26th July 2008, 18:03   #33
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Quote:
Originally posted by MidnightViper88
The computer is the hardware, I am it's software

welcome to the wired
The earth is the hardware. We are its software.

welcome to the wired

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Old 26th July 2008, 18:21   #34
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Old 26th July 2008, 20:34   #35
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Quote:
Originally posted by Vil
The earth is the hardware. We are its software.

welcome to the wired
No, don't you remember? The earth is calculating the question!

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.
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Old 26th July 2008, 21:14   #36
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Yes, but its consciousness is a teenage girl with an identity crisis.
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Old 26th July 2008, 23:32   #37
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Shall we take a trip to the restaurant at the end of the universe?

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Old 26th July 2008, 23:48   #38
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Quote:
Originally posted by gaekwad2
Yes, but its consciousness is a teenage girl with an identity crisis.
I don't think such a person exists...

"I just want to lie in my own crusty filth, eating rancid egg sandwiches, until some unfortunate paramedic has to blow down my door to find my bloated and pasty corpse wedged between the nightstand and mattress stained with Bengay and Robitussin DM." - Greg Gutfeld on sex and seniors
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Old 27th July 2008, 00:15   #39
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Quote:
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I don't think such a person exists...
Think without typing next time.

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Old 27th July 2008, 00:21   #40
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It doesn't exist

IT DOES EXIST

I exist

In your printer

"I just want to lie in my own crusty filth, eating rancid egg sandwiches, until some unfortunate paramedic has to blow down my door to find my bloated and pasty corpse wedged between the nightstand and mattress stained with Bengay and Robitussin DM." - Greg Gutfeld on sex and seniors
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