What the F-Keys?

Function Keys

Across the top of your keyboard, you may have noticed a row of keys that go unused. Labelled “F1” to “F12”, they are known as the “Function Keys”, often shortened to “F-Keys”.

As you may suspect from the name, they do actually have a function!

So without further ado, I give you “The Functions of Function Keys”:

  • F1 – Help. Pressing this key will open the Help system for the program you are using.
  • F2 – Rename. In File Explorer, this allows you to Rename the highlighted File or Folder.
  • F3 – Search. In File Explorer, this activates the Search function
  • F4 – Address bar. In Windows Explorer, this will move Focus to the Address bar (or navigation bar).
  • ALT-F4 – Close. Holding the ALT key and tapping F4 will close the current program (or window).
  • F5 – Refresh. In File Explorer or an Internet Browser, this will Refresh the view, making sure that you can see any changes that have occurred. Also useful if a web page has not loaded properly, forcing the browser to attempt to load it again.
  • F6 – Address Bar. Similar to F4, this opens the Address Bar in Web Browsers.
  • F7 – Spell Check. Some programs (Microsoft Word, use this key to run a Spelling Check.
  • F8<No Longer Supported> Safe Mode. This key was used on Booting  to enter the Start-Up menu. Primarily to enter the diagnostic Safe Mode. Modern computers no longer support this.
  • F9<Outlook Only> Send/Receive. If you use the Microsoft Office Suite/Outlook for your email, this key will send any waiting emails, and check for new incoming mail.
  • F10 – Keyboard Mode. In File Explorer, and some other programs, allows you to activate The Ribbon and Menus using the keyboard rather than mouse. Activation Keys are displayed by the Menus. “Esc” (“Escape”) will leave this Mode.
  • F11 – Full Screen. Most Web Browsers, and some other programs, use this to hide “extraneous” parts of the program (such as toolbars and tabs) and display the the web page (or other data) on the whole screen. Pressing again restores the program.
  • F12 – Debug. Some Web Browsers use this to view parts of the Code of web pages, so that developers can hunt down bugs and errors.

The Ones to Look Out For

At the beginning “F1” is always useful for calling up help systems. Hopefully you will need this less as you learn more about your computer.

“F2” (Rename) is useful if you do a lot of Data Manipulation. Digital Photos from your camera will usually be named “DSC0004652.jpg” or similar. Renaming to “FamilyGathering2018.jpg” is a lot more useful.

PRO-TIP: NEVER change the File Extension (.jpg, .doc, .pdf, etc).

“ALT-F4” – Close. Rather than reaching fro your mouse, and pushing it all the way to the top right to hit the “Red X”, you can hold ALT with your left thumb, and tap F4 with your left middle-finger. It may sound tricky, but practice will make it almost second-nature. Particularly helpful if you type a lot.

“F5” – Errors on web pages can often be fixed by refreshing the page.

“F10”  – Keyboard Mode. Some people do not get on with Mice. If you want to reduce mouse-usage, this is a useful key to know (along with the CTRL keys).

Do you play any games that use F-Keys as quick-slots? The “Neverwinter Nights” adventure game uses them to swap your equipment, or cast spells without a complicated set of mouse movements!

Do you have any favourite F-Keys? Do you remember the days when Programs would come with their own strip of card to put by them, to show the program-specific functions?

Have you found any other uses for the F-Keys?

Let us know!

What Are Gigabytes?

An Explanation of Computer Measurements

NOTE: There are multiple Measuring Systems used in computers. Do not be surprised if you come across some that are slightly different to the ones I describe.

To begin, we need to look at the smallest piece of information a computer can deal with. A piece of Computer Memory can be either a One or a Zero, and this is referred to as a “bit (b)”.

Eight “bits” makes up a “Byte (B)”. This is a useful measure, as it is enough to store one Character (e.g. the letter “a” takes up a Byte. The word “Byte” takes four Bytes (one Byte per letter), and so on).

In the early days of computing, it was decided that a useful measure would be the KiloByte. S.I. Units work with multiples of 1,000, but to keep in fitting with the Binary working of computers, it was chosen that a KiloByte was 1,024 Bytes. That is, 2 to the power of 10 (often expressed as 2^10) Bytes, as Binary numbers are all powers of 2. This was close enough to 1,000 to make it seem useful.

Following the S.I. naming convention, but the Computer numbering convention, the following prefixes are used:

Prefix S.I. Measurement Computer Measurement
Kilo- 10^3 = 1,000 KB = 2^10 = 1,024
Mega 10^6 = 1,000,000 MB = 2^20 = 1,048,576
Giga- 10^9 = 1,000,000,000 GB = 2^30 = 1,073,741,824
Tera- 10^12 = 1,000,000,000,000 TB = 2^40 = 1,099,511,627,776

As you can see, there is a small difference between the S.I. Measurement and the Computer Measurement. When we say a kilogram, we mean 1,000 grams, but a kilobyte is 1,024 Bytes, 2.4% different! By the time we get to terabytes (as your hard disk drive may well do), it is nearly 10%!

Most of the time, this will not make any difference to you, and working with “approximately 1,000” is perfectly good enough. Although it is good to know the correct figures.

What you need to know is how much you can store on a hard disk drive, or a memory stick!

Device Size Example Capacity
Floppy Disk 1.44MB = 1,500,000 Bytes 700-1,000 pages of plain text
USB Stick 16 GB = 16,000,000,000 Bytes 10,000 Photos (average of 1.6MB each)
Hard Disk 1 TB = 1,000 GB = 1,000,000,000,000 Bytes Over 250,000 .mp3 music files (an average song is about 4MB)

Older USB Sticks only held 1 or 2 GB of data. While this is a lot compared to Floppy Disks, we didn’t have easy access to Digital Cameras back then! A 1 or 2 GB USB stick will soon fill up!

As you can see, modern storage devices can hold a huge amount of data.


What Do All Those Words Mean?

An Explanation of Basic Computer Terms


We’ll start with the physical items of a computer:

  • Dell Tower PC
    A Dell Tower.

    Case– The Computer. Usually a Black Box with a Power Button, DVD Drive and a couple of flashing lights. All of the work is done inside here.

  • Monitor – Also referred to as a “Screen”, this is the TV-like device that displays what your computer is doing. It does not store any information or do any calculations beyond showing you what the computer is doing.
  • Keyboard and Mouse
    Keyboard and Mouse

    Keyboard – An Input Device. It usually consists of about 100 “keys” marked with the alphabet, numbers, and some symbols.

  • Mouse – Another Input Device. This is used to move a Pointer around the screen, and activate Commands by Clicking the buttons.

The “Case” is NEVER referred to as the “Hard Drive”! There will probably be a hard disk drive within the case, but to conflate these two is to make a fundamental error that will confuse your tech-support person!

But you already knew these. Let’s move on to some of the things you will see on your screen:

On the screen

  • Windows Desktop
    Your version probably does not have the red Text all over it!

    Desktop – The “Main Screen” that you see when you switch your computer on. It will have a Task Bar at the bottom (usually) and Icons for your programs. There will usually be a nice picture as a backdrop, that we refer to as the Desktop Background, or Wallpaper. NOTE: This is NOT your “Screensaver”!

  • Start Menu – The section that pops up when you click the Start Button. This has a list of your programs, and many other useful features.
  • Icons – the little pictures on your Desktop that can be used to open Programs, Folders and Files.
  • Edge, Chrome and Firefox
    Edge, Chrome and Firefox web browsers

    Web Browser – A program used to access the Internet. The most common ones are Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. These all perform the same job, and I like to think of them as being different makes of car. They are made by different companies, but can all take you to the same places (webpages).

  •  Screen Saver – This is the name given to the pretty patterns that move around your screen when it has been idle for a while. Originally designed to stop Monitors from being damaged by displaying the same static image for too long (saving the screen), they are no longer necessary  for that purpose.

Windows and Office

Now, two that some people can get confused:

  • Microsoft Windows 10
    Microsoft Windows 10

    Microsoft Windows – The “Operating System”. The main software that runs your computer. Without an Operating System, your computer will not do anything at all! It will not “operate”.

The latest version is Windows 10, but some people are still using 8, 7 or even Vista or XP.

NOTE: There is no “Microsoft Windows 9”!

  • Microsoft Office
    Microsoft Office

    Microsoft Office – A suite of programs for producing documents. These usually include: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher. These are NOT part of Windows. They are additional programs that can be loaded (although some computers come with them pre-installed).

While these are both made by Microsoft, to call them by each others’ name would be like thinking that a Zanussi Oven and a Zanussi Dishwasher were the same thing!

So, we can now switch our computer on, using the button on the Case, see what it is doing on the Monitor, and give it instructions using the Keyboard and Mouse! We can click Icons on the Desktop to run programs (such as Word, from the Office Suite). We can use a Web Browser to access the internet.

Inside the Case

Do we need to know what is going on “behind the scenes”? Again, like a car, it can be useful. You don’t need to know how an engine works to drive a car,  but you can get a better experience if you have some understanding of what the clutch and gear-stick do! So let’s have a brief look under the bonnet!

  • Motherboard – Also called the Main Board, this is the large circuit board that holds all the other pieces together. You put the CPU and RAM in here, and connect the cables for Hard Drives and other components.
  • CPU – Central Processing Unit. The “Chip”. This is where all of the hard work, the calculations and processing is done. Yours is probably made by either Intel (of ‘Pentium‘ fame), or AMD.  There is much discussion about which chips are better. That is beyond the scope of this article!
  • Memory – There are two main types of memory in a computer. RAM Memory and Storage Memory. RAM is short-term memory, where the computer does its calculations, and where “open” documents are stored, while they are being worked on. When a Document is “Saved”, it is transferred to Storage Memory (usually a Hard Disk Drive). Storage Memory holds all of the information that the computer will need, but is not currently using.

You can find more information on how the internals of a computer work in my up-coming Article: “How the Internals of a Computer Work”. <Not currently available>

Bits of Bytes

Most people have heard the words Gigabytes, Megabits, etc. but how many of us know what they mean?

For a full explanation, visit “What are Gigabytes“.

The smallest piece of data a computer works with is called a “bit”. A “bit” can be a “1” or a “0”.

Eight “bits” are called a “Byte”, and this is the common measure of data, as it can use the combination of eight “ones” and “zeros” to make a useful piece of information.

Computers follow a system very similar to the S.I. Units that we are more familiar with.  A Kilo-gram is 1,000 grams. A kilo-byte is ~1,000 bytes.

In computer terms, “Kilo” actually means 1,024, rather than 1,000 as it is a neater Binary number. For most purposes, we can consider them close enough.

A Mega-byte (MB) is a thousand Kilo-bytes (KB), or a million bytes (B).

A Giga-byte (GB) is a thousand Mega-bytes (MB), or a billion bytes (B).

A Terra-byte (TB) is a thousand Giga-bytes, or a million Mega-bytes, or a billion Kilo-bytes.

Your hard disk drive is probably measured in hundreds of Gigabytes, or possibly 1 or 2 Terrabytes, telling us how many Bytes of data it can store.

Your internet speed will be measured in Mbps (mega-bits per second, or millions of bits per second), telling us how fast it can send/receive 1s and 0s.

Other Terms

So, what have we missed out?

Are there any terms that have you confused? Or any that you wish you understood better?

Let us know!