A lot of what we do, at work, home or study is done on or is being moved to computers these days, certainly a lot of office work is done on computers using specialist apps. These apps include:
- Word processors (replacing typewriters) for typing documents
- Spreadsheets (replacing calculators and accounting ledgers) for budgeting and calculations
- Presentation software (replacing overhead projectors) for creating slides to present information
- Database software (replacing indexes and files) to store and access information
These individual apps are usually bundled together in suites. The most commonly used suite is Microsoft Office, though other office software suites are available.
A word processor is an app used to create, edit and print text documents that would have be prepared on a typewriter. You can do far more with a word processor than with a typewriter as word processors let you easily make changes to your text. Word processor apps have built-in spelling and grammar checkers that will allow you to correct these as you go along. It's also simple (once you know how!) to move, delete and change the font and format of the text in your document. The prepared document can then be printed and saved as a file on your device or in the cloud. Word processors are very simple in that you start with a blank sheet on which you can type, but are also very powerful (and perhaps confusing!) as there are many options and commands that you can choose and use, so perhaps they're easy to get started with, but complicated to learn in depth.
Spreadsheet apps analyse, organise, calculate and present data. Spreadsheet apps are based on and have replaced the ledger books used by accountants before computers took over. Spreadsheets can be used to set up tables of information and are useful for performing calculations. Spreadsheets can also be used to display data in the form of graphs and charts.
The main body of a new word processor document is blank. The main body of a spreadsheet is arranged in a grid. There are columns labelled with letters of the alphabet and rows labelled with numbers. Where a column and a row meet is called a cell. This is Excel, Microsoft's spreadsheet app.
Again, there's a toolbar with lots of (too many!) options, and then the grid. Cell A1 (column A row 1) has a heavy green border indicating that's the cell in which you are working (the "active cell"). Above the cell, and just below the toolbar, you can see "A1" displayed in the "Name box", which shows the name of the active cell.
Cells can reference each other, which is how you do calculations. Here's a simple calculation:
Cell A1 has the value 1
Cell B1 has the value 1
Cell C1 (the active cell) has the formula =A1+B1 and the answer 2
You can do a lot more than that just add the contents of cells; Spreadsheets can be used as calculators. and are good for automating calculations. They can also visually represent the data entered into them as charts or graphs which can be customised in various ways. Spreadsheets are also good for organising and sorting data.
If you go to a class or attend a lecture, chances are the speaker is using slides. These slides will be produced by presentation software, which allows you to present information, in an engaging manner, such as with text, pictures, sound and video, in the form of a slideshow. Presentation software has three main parts:
- A text editor for entering formatting and editing text
- A graphics editor for creating, inserting and editing images
- A slideshow system to display the slides
The best-known presentation software is PowerPoint, which is part of the Microsoft Office suite
Database software is a bit like spreadsheets, but vastly more powerful. Spreadsheets are good for calculations and organising simple data. Database software is better for storing and managing data. As an example, you could perhaps store a list of students on a college course on a spreadsheet, but you'd use database software to store the information about all students at a college. If you only store one address for each student, you might use a spreadsheet, but if you have multiple addresses, then it's better stored in database software, Because database software is used for managing more complex data, you probably won't use it as much, or at all. Access, Microsoft's database management software is probably the best known of its kind.
Different, but Similar
Office apps, like browsers, are all different but essentially the same. Here's the toolbar for Microsoft Word showing the options under the Home menu heading:
Gosh! It looks complicated, doesn't it? Don't be put off by all the buttons and menus, because many of them you'll never use.
Here's the toolbar for LibreOffice Writer (LibreOffice is an open source office software suite):
Here's the toolbar for Google Docs (Google's equivalent of Word):
They're all different, but similar. There's a menu bar with headings and some of the buttons are the same, even if they are in different places. Using apps like browsers or office software is a bit like driving a car; cars from different manufacturers look different and will have different dashboards, but all work in the same way: they all have steering wheels, headlights, windscreen wipers and so on. Even if you've only ever driven one type of car, you should be able to drive a different car; it might take a while to get familiar with where everything is, but you can still drive it. The same applies to different apps; browsers, office software - even operating systems - all do the same things, so once you're familiar with one app or operating system, you should be able to use others. Like with a car, it might take a little time to get know where all the options are, but once you are familiar with one app, you should be able to use similar apps.