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20 Common Uses of Computers

Updated on June 19, 2017
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Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

The uses of computers today are as diverse as the forms of computers that exist in the market. From supercomputers to embedded miniature devices, computers can be used to accomplish complex chores like sending man to the outer space or indulging in simple pastimes like taking photos.

A computer can be used to access internet services via a modem and for file transfer
A computer can be used to access internet services via a modem and for file transfer

In order to grasp the full extent of computer use, it is important to first appreciate the functions of computers, vis-à-vis, the purpose for which they were made in the first place. Computers came into our lives largely because of four major functions: data gathering, processing, storage and information dissemination, which can be broken down into limitless computer uses.

The four functions, and processing, in particular, justified computer use in the past decades. In the 21st Century, and with the right computer hardware, software, and humanware, everything is now possible, from word processing to virtualization.

1: Arithmetic Data Processing

Arithmetic data processing, most commonly referred to as data processing is used to mean manipulation and conversion of mathematical data into useful information via output devices. Data processing however, is meant to cover all kinds of processing done by the computer, be it word processing, desktop publishing or media production.

In most cases though, data processing is used to refer to arithmetic manipulation of raw data for analyses, science and commerce. This probably stems from the initial concepts of computing where humans were obsessed by the need to manipulate arithmetic data more than anything else.

Besides, nothing suited scientists and philosophers more than constructing machines they could use to calculate complex tasks like reading weather behavior and sending man to the moon surface, starting in the 20th Century.

This analysis was created using MS Excel
This analysis was created using MS Excel | Source

Data processing hardware and software can be used to measure both quantitative and qualitative data in the following and other areas:

  • Processing of payroll using software like QuickBooks, Simple X Payroll and ADP Payroll.
  • Record management using Sage, MS Access and TurboCASH.
  • GIS and remote sensing using Maptitude, ArcGIS and Geosoft.
  • Sales management using Tactile CRM, Base and Sage.
  • Data analysis processing in research using SPSS, Statisca and Analytica.
  • Tax preparation processing using Turbo Tax, Drake Software and TacACT.
  • Creating billing and invoicing using Replicon TimeBill, Zoho, Billbooks.
  • Demographic analysis of population using Population Analysis System, NoreMark and Surviv.

2: Word Processing

Word processing is actually data processing only that it is limited to manipulation of alphanumeric text and how this text appears on the page. For the most part, Word processing involves manipulation of text related file types like:

  • Letters
  • Journals
  • Lyrics
  • poetry
  • Reports
  • Manuscripts
  • Articles
  • Resumes

Most personal computers in homes today are used to accomplish these basic computing tasks.

Word processing is done using software packages categorized under word processors. Common word processors are listed below:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Google Docs (online)
  • Apple Pages
  • Kingsoft Office Writer
  • Open Office Writer
  • LibreOffice Writer

MS Word can be used to type letters, write memos and create many kinds of text related files
MS Word can be used to type letters, write memos and create many kinds of text related files

3: Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing (DTP) is all about creating high quality and artistic documents based on page layout and vector graphics in target applications. These applications put emphasis on structure and display of document layout when compared to word processors which focus on text production.

Designers of desktop publishing applications use texts and vector drawings, and where necessary bitmap images for different effects. The processed documents can then get printed on paper and other surfaces, published online and shared in PDF file format.

Examples of DTP documents aimed for printing include:

  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Book covers
  • Brochures
  • Billboards
  • Fliers
  • Posters
  • Logos
  • Certificates
  • Seasons, business cards etc
  • Calendars
  • Embroidery

MS Publisher can be used for basic desktop publishing
MS Publisher can be used for basic desktop publishing

In order to produce the above documents, you will need one of the following or other desktop publishing applications:

  • Adobe illustrator
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Corel Draw
  • Microsoft Publisher
  • Adobe PageMaker
  • InPage

What is your favorite DTP software at home?

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4: Photo Editing

Photo editing is a popular form of image manipulation with the purpose of enhancing photo quality, fixing photographic errors and pranking people. Usually, editing of images is meant to be applied to photos that have been captured using digital cameras, but other types of non-digital images i.e. printed photos and illustrations can be scanned digitally and edited using computer software.

The art of photo editing became common place in the 90s following the release of Adobe Photoshop in 1987. Before then, editing of non-digital images was done manually by merging them or using brushes, ink and paint.

Popular Photographic manipulations involve the following changes to photographs:

  • Cropping
  • Application of contrast and brightness
  • Application of special effects
  • Removal of red eye
  • Sharpening
  • Color adjustment

Adobe Photoshop can be used to crop and apply other effects to photographs
Adobe Photoshop can be used to crop and apply other effects to photographs

All the above effects can be done by retouching and airbrushing select images using chosen computer applications.

There are many applications that can be used to edit photos. Below are some of them:

  • Corel PaintShop
  • Serif Affinity Photo
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements
  • Triscape FxFoto
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Filterra Phot Editor app

5: Communication

The dawn of computers and Internet transformed communication way beyond what humanity thought was possible. The shelving of traditional drums, telegraph and shortwave radio paved way for Internet, which in turn has made a global village out of our world.

Internet has also enabled information to pass from point A to B and from one person to another, faster and securely.

The evolution in computer technology has ensured that communication in the following areas is happening and will continue to happen seamlessly:

  • Voice communication through cell phone and VOIP protocols.
  • SMS and internet messaging through cell phones, WhatsApp and Messenger.
  • Video communication is possible using MS Skype, Google Hangout and chat platforms.
  • Audiovisual (AV) presentations in worship centers, political rallies, theaters, TV segments, stage performance, classroom presentations etc.
  • Official and informal mail correspondence using email services like Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo.
  • Photo and video sharing through the cloud, Instagram, Facebook and email based protocols.
  • Social networking services to over a billion enthusiasts, families and friends through platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Facebook unites friends from around the world
Facebook unites friends from around the world

6: Education

Computers and peripherals have become the mainstream tools through which knowledge is delivered to the young and old alike. Even better (or worrying!) children are learning to grow up with computing devices, and gone are days when computer lessons were treated only as modules.

Children now doodle or play the keyboard on the tablet rather than scribble on paper and ground.

iPads and other tablet are used by kids to learn and do other things
iPads and other tablet are used by kids to learn and do other things

Computer use in education is as diverse as the types of computers that exist and the tasks they solve. While the bulk of computers in homes are used to accomplish word and arithmetic processing, computers in schools are used for that and much more.

Computer Aided Learning (CAL) is also used in the classroom to further interactive teaching. CAL makes use of specialized software, embedded with graphical demonstrations, which gives students the opportunity to go back and forth without having to miss a step during the learning process.

All subjects in school curriculum now benefit from the depth of CAL.

To complement use of CAL, teachers can use interactive whiteboards commonly known as smart-boards to display computer data just like on a projector screen. Only this time, instructors and teachers can manipulate whiteboards using fingers to drag and drop items and scribble on the screen. Whatever is written or copied on the smart-board can be saved in the computer for later use.

From the administrative point of view, specialized school management information system software are used to monitor school activity and student performance. Parents and guardians can view record of student performance using online version of these software.

Elsewhere, education has become an integral part of the internet, giving rise to lots of eLearning opportunities. Students now pursue college and degree courses online in what is called distance learning. It even gets better when learners and instructors in different geographical locations conduct live audiovisual conferencing to get the feeling of classroom environment. Exams too can be conducted in this kind of environment.

Computer use in the classroom
Computer use in the classroom | Source

7: Entertainment and Leisure

One aspect of human lifestyle that benefited most from the dawn of computers is entertainment. It all started with the use of PC CDROM, disk drives and Creative Lab speakers, before graduating to Napster, iPods and Spotify.

With evolving technology, almost all kinds of entertainment can be achieved through computers.

Areas which have experienced growth in entertainment include:

  • Online and offline audio entertainment
  • Online and offline audiovisual entertainment
  • Mixing audiovisual files in parties and discotheques
  • Online and offline gaming on PCs, smartphones and game consoles
  • Photography using digital cameras, smartphones, Google glasses
  • Offline and online television

Audiovisual entertainment using computers
Audiovisual entertainment using computers

8: Computers in Sports

Different types of computers are used in sporting activities for administrative and technical reasons. If they are not used to relay live events online, they are tailored to monitor player efficiency or measure areas of improvements for sports as a whole.

Computer-based instructions and are used widely to help set nutritional and workout guidelines based on statistics analyzed from body height, girth and other measurements as modeled in the computer.

Other measurements are targeted at fitness of athletes as a result of concussions and other injuries sustained in the playing field.

Overall, computers are used:

  • To compile different statistics data about players and team performance.
  • To apportion appropriate dietary plans for players.
  • To study and design equipment for safety and efficiency reasons e.g. boots and helmets.
  • Embedded in training wear to monitor speed and temp during training e.g. smart clothes and shoes.· By scouts to assess
  • By scouts to assess proficiency of new players.
  • In soccer to identify legit goals in controversial circumstances i.e. goal line technology.
  • In news broadcast and analysis of popular games i.e. Barclays Premier League.

9: Software Development

Besides human ware, computer software is a very crucial part in computer ecosystem. Software is what drives computer hardware and the very reason for technological innovations that drive the universe today.

In order to ensure this ecosystem continues to thrive, new software need to be made and software programmers need to continue doing their work. Much of the software abound today would not have been possible were it not for the effort of software programmers or developers.

Software programming is mainly concerned with the coding stages in software development. Of course complete software programming involves research, planning, designing and implementation stages, under the umbrella of software engineering. Software engineering is a broad design framework much like any other professional engineering works.

The real process of creating software is called coding, where programmers use specialized programing languages to make, test, debug and implement new usable applications. The instructions written by a programmer is called source code.

There are different types of software programming depending on the programmer, platform and the client.

For example, different software can be implemented to run in different platforms listed below:

  • Desktop computers
  • Mobiles
  • Embedded systems
  • Operating systems
  • Browsers
  • Etc.

Below are a few programming languages:

  • C and C++ Languages, used for building operating systems, application software, Mozilla Firefox, Adobe software, video games etc.
  • Objective-C used mainly by Apple to create Mac OS X and IOS, and IOS apps.
  • C# is mainly used by Microsoft to develop software for Microsoft and Windows.
  • Python used for app development.

10: Web Design

Web design is the art of creating, publishing and maintaining websites to the internet. When ready to go live, websites are hosted online using webhosting companies. A website is presented visually across the internet from where online visitors can access them.

Once complete, websites are accessible through web browsers like Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge, which are optimized both for desktop and mobile.

Web designers and applications take into account appropriate layout, text, multimedia, color and graphics, in order to make their sites visually appealing, fast to open and easy to navigate through.

Websites can be created using various web programming languages and WYSIWYG editing software.

Below are some of the popular ones:

  • Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
  • JavaScript
  • Java
  • Python
  • Hypertext Processor (PHP)

Below are some of the popular editing software:

  • Weebly
  • Xara
  • Dreamweaver
  • Web Studio
  • Notepad++

Sample Notepad++ code.

When the Notepad++ file above is saved with .html extension, it can be launched in any browser and will display as below:

11: 3D Modelling and Animation

Computers are used to create 3D modeling and 3D animation for many purposes. To start with, the end result of 3D modeling is 3D models which can as well be transformed to 3D animation by use of specialized software.

Overall, the two are designed to create visually appealing models for many purposes.

-3D Modeling

3D modelling is the creation of three dimensional graphical objects by manipulating their height, width and depth. A 3D model is the product derived from such creation.

3D modeling is done using specialized software and is useful in many fields:

  • Architects use it to create photorealistic models of virtual products.
  • Publishers can turn 2D images to more realistic 3D pictures.
  • 3D modeling is used in animation by putting life in 3D models.

-3D Animation

3D animation is the computer design field which is concerned with animating objects that have been created in 3 dimensional models. Such 3D models can be manipulated to move and act like real life objects.

Areas that benefit from 3D computer animation include:

  • Animation films e.g. Toy Story, Ice Age and Smurfs.
  • Computer games e.g. Need for Speed, Call of Duty and Tomb Raider.

Besides animation in movies and game industry, 3D animation is used in most TV commercials, geology, science and in virtual reality.

Below are sample 3D modeling and animation applications:

  • 3D Studio Max
  • Maya
  • Houdini
  • Blender 3D
  • Cinema 4D
  • iClone

12: Computer Aided Vector Design

Computer aided design (CAD) is a field in computing where architects, artists, engineers and enthusiasts create vector based 3 dimensional (3D) and 2 dimensional (2D) technical models (shapes) that can be used for anything from industrial design to engineering calculations.

Unlike 3D and 2D designs in other fields, vector based CAD creations are meant to be scale-accurate both in their virtual state as in the real world. A suspension bridge to be created in real life should be modeled accurately in a CAD application for it to be deemed worthwhile for construction.

Usually, the process in creating CAD models start with constructing basic shapes in what is called wire-frames, and then made complete by adding colors and gradients in what is called texture mapping. Polygons, spheres, prisms, cylinders, curves and ovals are also exclusively used in most 3D designs.

CAD software then allows the designer to view his final product like it should appear in real life by rotating it in angles.

Sample 3D model and a rendered model
Sample 3D model and a rendered model

CAD is used under the umbrella of digital product development (DPD) in collaboration or independent of design modules like computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer aided manufacturing (CAM), motion simulation and product data management (PDM)

Common products that can be created using CAD include:

  • Architectural designs
  • Auto products
  • Mechanical designs
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Concept designs
  • Interior designs
  • Military hardware

Computer aided design for construction plans and interior designs can be done using these applications:

  • AutoCAD (CAD)
  • SkyCiv Structural 3D
  • ArchiCAD
  • Solidworks (CAD and CAE)
  • Sketchup

13: Music Production

Computers became a very important tool in music production starting in the 80s when they were used to digitally master and control musical instruments via the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI).

Songs were externally played, recorded and stored in the computer for further mastering and sequencing.

A PC sound card and MIDI cables
A PC sound card and MIDI cables | Source

Since then, musical creation has moved on, now with the development of a whole range of applications and hardware capabilities which can record multi tracks right inside the computer. These applications and hardware usually referred to as Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) are embedded with preset sample sounds and can be manipulated to create limitless drum beats, guitar sounds and vocal snippets.

Sample computer software that are used for music production include:

  • Fruity Loops Studio
  • Ableton Live
  • Apple Logic Pro
  • GarageBand
  • Cakewalk
  • Pro Tools

14: Video Editing

Video editing is all about manipulation of motion video by rearranging and adding special effects in order to produce meaningful audiovisual files.

Technically, video editing involves segment trimming, clip sequencing, adding transitions, special effects and sequencing related audio parts.

Video editing is useful in different fields and for different purposes. Beneficiary industries include television, commercials, films, music and other multimedia production industries.

Below are popular applications for video editing:

  • Pinnacle Studio
  • Adobe premier
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Corel Video Studio
  • Magix Movie Edit
  • CyberLink Power Director

15: Computers in Science Technology

When computers became integral part of society decades ago, none more than scientists embraced it whole heartedly. Up until then, they basked in theoretical glory until proven right or wrong.

Computers made it possible for theories to be proved right or wrong in the shortest time possible.

Modern scientists now use powerful supercomputers to put their theories to test through simulations and modeling.

Areas in science technology that have benefited from computers include:

  • Weather and climate modeling
  • Advanced GPS
  • Agricultural development
  • Exploration of outer space for research e.g. International Space Station
  • Medical research
  • Molecular Nano technology
  • Research in medicine
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Stem cell technology
  • Military weaponry
  • Ballistic calculations
  • Laser technology

16: Computers in Medicine and Health

The importance of computers in health and medicine cannot be overemphasized. Wide range use of computers in medicine and health is a necessity due to improved documentation, better clinical routines, improved accuracy and remote monitoring of patients.

Below are some areas that benefit from use of computers.

  • Mobile devices give doctors access to patient data while diagnosing and treating them.
  • Doctors can collaborate real-time during surgery and other medical routines by use of audio-visual devices.
  • Patients can reach specialist doctors online.
  • Computerized hospital management systems are built to sustain information and other data in medical facilities.
  • Specialized robots with AI are used in computer simulations to detect tumors.
  • Computers enable implants in patients.
  • Computers aid in diagnosis procedures by inserting ICD, drug pump, bionic eye etc.
  • Computer aided surgery helps in 3D modeling and simulation to make surgery safer.
  • Computerized life support systems help monitor heartbeats, blood pressure and brain in intensive care units.
  • Computerized smart clothes, shoes, and watches for health and fitness.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan of the heart and other body organs.
  • Computerized limbs and legs.
  • Computerized hearing aids.

17: Business and Finance

Most computers out there are used for some kind of business and have improved the manner in which transactions are done day to day. The addition of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets has helped matters by taking all kinds of businesses to the road. Traders are no longer restricted to desks and can churn out expensive deals while on the road.

When used efficiently, computers can improve business aspects like design, sales, planning, speed, cost, organization, document processing, storage, reports, communication, marketing, presentation etc.

Below are situations where computers are used to help in business and finance:

  • Shopping malls
  • Entertainment centers
  • Banks
  • Online banking i.e.PayPal
  • Electronic trade
  • Stock exchange
  • Offline and online money transfer
  • Mobile banking and transactions using cell phones
  • Work from home ventures
  • Business websites
  • ATM
  • Online auctions like eBay
  • Online ads

A mobile ATM in Germany
A mobile ATM in Germany | Source

18: Computer Automation

Computer automation is the use of control systems to operate a selection of devices in the home, office or industrial establishments. Common devices that can be controlled this way include telephone networks, ships, aircraft, domestic electronics and industrial facilities.

Of the sectors above, the one to have seen active automation early on is the automobile manufacturing industry, which has and continues to use automated assembly lines to build cars in big numbers.

Assembly lines use robotics to ease productivity costs and time. Robots assemble car parts faster than humans.

Robotics may be preferred to humans because they do not falter and tire and they ease on labor costs.

Below are a few situations where robots can be helpful:

  • Clearing toxic waste or diffusing bombs in dangerous environment
  • Welding and riveting in high precision jobs
  • Perform tedious assignments
  • Drones for surveillance
  • Product inspection and testing

Industrial robots in an
Industrial robots in an | Source

Besides industrial automation, modern homes and offices too benefit from robotics by automating repetitive and other tasks.

At home for example, proprietary systems like KNX, Zigbee and Control4 use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to enable user smartphone and other control systems, operate various home installations like lights, television, refrigerators, ovens, thermostats, CCTV cams and smart locks remotely.

19: Computers as Robotics and Humanoids

A robot is an advanced automated device which may be mobile and capable of sensory feedback and data processing. There are many types of robots out there, but two stand out: industrial and domestic robots. Robots which take the shape of humans are referred to as humanoids. ASIMO is a popular example of a humanoid.

The desire to use robotics has been with engineers for as long as computers have existed. Their use is deep rooted in the desire to have machines that perform humanly difficult chores or monotonous assembly line tasks. Miniaturization of industrial and other products requires precision and this has ruled out the human hand which is prone to error when used for many hours.

The Japanese ASIMO robot designed to help the ealderly
The Japanese ASIMO robot designed to help the ealderly | Source

Robotics can now also do basic tasks like vacuuming the house and taking care of the elderly in the house.

Here is a list of popular robots yet:

  • Kismet from MIT lab is capable of interacting with humans socially by recognizing body language and voice

  • The Japanese ASIMO is a walking humanoid and is designed to help the elderly and disabled

  • PETMAN is a robot made with the sole purpose to test chemical protection clothing

  • Caddy Trek carries all the golfing stuff in the golf course

  • iRobot helps with the house chores

20: Web Browsing

For many people, information is perhaps the most important aspect of desktop computers, laptops and smartphones.

Most people use these devices to calculate arithmetic queries, read electronic mails from friends or office, and to seek all kinds of information.

When computers and Internet became commonplace starting in the 80s and 90s, users rushed out to seek information through surfing via browsers like internet Explorer, Yahoo and Google.

By searching the database of the browsers above, they are exposed to limitless amount of information for education and research.

Below is a list of popular search terms used in search engines since the birth of internet:

  • Entertainment
  • Celebrity news
  • Health and fitness
  • How to make money
  • Sports news
  • The latest in fashion
  • Jobs and career search
  • Political news

Besides online search, offline encyclopedia on DVDs are available especially for students.

Popular encyclopedia in the market are:

  • Britannica
  • Microsoft Encarta

Other Uses of Computers:

  • Virtual reality
  • Computer virtualization
  • Computers in interior design

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