NET 101 - Networking Essentials I

Chapter 4, Programs and Apps


This lesson discusses programs and applications, categories that classify them, and features found in most items in major categories. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Program and application definitions
  2. Major software categories
  3. Operating systems
  4. Software categorized by cost and availability
  5. Productivity software features
  6. Graphics and media software features
  7. Communications software
  8. Security software
  9. File and disk management

    Concepts related to Student Learning Objectives
  10. Bandwidth types
  11. Cable characteristics

Despite the heading for this section, programs and applications (apps) are not necessarily different things. There are many kinds of programs. In general, they are all sets of instructions that tell devices what to do. Often, a program does not tell a device how to do something. Instead, it relies on another program to do that.

An example: I might be using Microsoft Word to write a document, and I want to save it.

  • Word is an application, because it is a particular kind of program. It is for word processing. (Hence its name.) Word can save files, as all word processors should, but technically, it does not know how to do that.
  • When I tell it to save a file, Word passes the request to the operating system of the computer I am using. In my case, and in the case of the computers in our classroom, the operating system is Windows 7. An application generally passes requests to read and write files, to use a computer's display, to access storage media, and use any hardware connected to the computer to the running operating system.
  • This information is repeated in the large graphic on page 154.

As you might imagine, an operating system is not one program, but a collection of them. It is not an application, because it does not do the specific, specialized things an application does. It does, however, provide generic services to other programs that are applications.

Consider the table on page 153. It lists several categories that a program might belong to, and several subcategories within each group. When you are shopping for a program/application to meet a particular need, it helps to know what kind of program it is, so you can research reviews and ratings for programs of that type.

The text lists some operating systems on page 154. Note that the versions that run on smart devices may be different from "similar" versions that run on laptops and desktops. In all cases, an operating system is loaded into memory when the device is turned on, and a user interface is presented, which is used to start applications.

There is a pretty strange bullet list on page 154. It blends two concepts: software that is for sale or free (to some degree), and software that runs on the device or the web. Let's break that up a little.

Software by cost:

  • freeware - software that can belongs to someone (or some organization) but anyone can have a copy at no charge, usually by downloading it from a web site. An example is the 7Zip utility program. 7Zip will take large files and compress them so they take up less space. It will also decompress such files so they can be used. The text points out that the "free" in freeware means there is no charge for it. As opposed to what, that it lives in a non-totalitarian country?
  • open source software - software that is not just free, but that a programmer is free to change and improve, then share the changes back to a group of users (usually the original programmers) who decide whether to include the improvements in the next version. In a sense, this is crowd-developed software.
  • shareware - software that you can try out for a while (or maybe you can try out some of its features for as long as you like), but you have to pay for it eventually if you want to continue using it (or to access the rest of its features). This kind of software is usually a download, and usually priced lower than retail software.
  • retail software - software from a publisher, typically written for a mass market audience, and typically available through stores of all kinds and as downloadable software. Some software of this type comes in bundles, like Adobe's Creative Suite, which has been available as four different combinations of their products.
  • public domain software - sometimes a publisher decides that a program just won't sell any longer, and it may make sense to make that program available to users for free; The Electronic Arts company makes some of its games available for free through their Origin game download and management web service. I suspect that they restrict the downloads to their site only for two reasons: it keeps the games clean (uninfected), and it brings users to their site who may see something they want to buy

Software by how it runs:

  • installed app - the software must be installed on the device in order to use it
  • web app - the software runs through a browser window, so a user must access a web address to use it and prove they are allowed to do so; remember that you need connectivity to use it
  • installed mobile app - like the installed app above, but with less overhead; typically a smaller set of functions are presented in a simplified user interface, so it runs better (faster, or at all) on a smart device
  • mobile web app - like the web app above, but with less overhead; typically a smaller set of functions are presented in a simplified user interface, so it runs better (faster, or at all) on a smart device; remember that you need connectivity to use it

The text mentions license agreements. Most software, during its installation process or when it is first used, will present a long, boring, complicated legal agreement to the user in a window on the user's display. The only thing the typical user wants to do at that moment is to use the program, so most people breeze past this step saying that they agree to whatever the publisher wants, clicking whatever button is required to get on with it. It is worth knowing that even if you do not read these agreements, you are bound by them, and you are responsible for actions that violate the agreement. Feel more like reading one now?

The text warns us that there are web sites that will offer software for download that may turn out to be pirated, infected, or worthless. Most of us want to avoid such problems, so we should consider the advice on page 157 about this subject. How do you determine that a site is safe to take a download from? How do you tell that a web site is reputable? In searching for a driver for a printer this week, I found a site that looked like it belonged to a printer vendor, and found that it was instead a front for a vendor of an automatic update product that would "provide better service once I purchased the full version". I deleted the ridiculous thing and scanned the computer for viruses.

Assignment 1: read the Secure IT section on page 157, and write a short response to each of the four questions at the end of it. This should be done as a group assignment, provided that you represent the opinions of everyone in the group. If some in your group have no experience in this area, they should be the interviewers for this assignment.

The text continues on page 157 with a discussion of common features found in several kinds of Productivity Applications. At this point, the chapter becomes a survey of software types, to help the student become more familiar with many of them. Review this section for any ideas you are not familiar with already. The section discusses software made for several specific purposes:

  • project management
  • word processing
  • presentations
  • spreadsheets
  • database management
  • note taking
  • calendar and contact management

In addition to the types of programs listed above, there are several more specialized types of software that are often used by professionals and less often used by non-professionals, because of the special training needed to understand the data being collected and reporting required.

  • accounting software
  • tax software
  • legal software
  • enterprise management software

On page 170, the text moves on to Graphic and Media applications. This category includes some very broad subcategories:

  • Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  • Desktop Publishing
  • Image Creation/Editing
  • Photo Editing
  • Image Management
  • Video and Audio Editing
  • Multimedia Authoring
  • Web site Authoring

The categories listed above are concerned with creating art of one kind of another. The text includes two more types in this section that are not really part of that concept:

  • media players - programs that play audio and video files (such as Windows Media Player, QuickTime, RealPlayer, and VLC.)
  • media recorders/burners - software that allows you to record your work on optical discs

There is a chart on page 171 of communications applications. Note that they all require access to and use of a network.

Four aspects of security software are presented, all of which are useful for users and professionals:

  • firewalls - can be software or hardware that watches for odd or threatening behavior on a network device, such as an attack from outside your network or a virus inside it
  • anti-virus software - needs to be updated often, and should run at all times
  • anti-spyware/adware - may be used to remove problem software that is technically not virus software
  • Internet filters - used to prevent access to questionable sites and known malware locations

In addition, note the Secure IT discussion on page 181 about virus hoaxes.

Assignment 2: Read the Secure IT section on page 181. Take a trip to Viruses are not the only things that people make up stories about. Sometimes it is about a charity, a famous person, or a news event. Browse through some of the material on this reliable site, and pick one that you might use to refute a false story you received in an email. (If you have not received such an email from a friend or relative yet, you will.) Write a short summary of the story from Snopes, and include a link to it in what you turn in.

The last section of this chapter concerns what we might call examples of utility software. There is no common theme to the examples, other than their not fitting very well in the previous categories.

  • file managers
  • search tools
  • image viewers
  • uninstall tools
  • disk cleanup tools
  • defrag tools
  • screen savers
  • file compression tools
  • backup and restore tools

We will discuss these briefly in class.

Since the book is not covering several topics that we are supposed to cover, let's look at a few facts about cabling.

Network Cabling

Networks are often discussed in terms of models, like the ISO Model, which breaks the subject into layers, topics, and methods. The bandwidth topic can be split into two methods for using the bandwidth of a medium. It relates directly to cabling.

  • Baseband - this method uses the entire bandwidth of the medium to send one signal at a time. This means one transmitter at a time, so users have to take turns or contend for access.
  • Broadband - this method uses separate channels in a medium, such as frequencies, to send multiple signals simultaneously. Users have little need to wait for access in this kind of system.

Computers use electric currents and various forms of electromagnetic waves to communicate. We can class networks as being cabled (wired) or wireless, for obvious reasons. We should consider five attributes for each type of medium to make a good choice:

  • Cost - which media cost more or less than others
  • Ease of installation - how easy is it to set up
  • Capacity - also called bandwidth, this means how much data can be on the net at once
  • Attenuation - When a signal passes along a medium, it tends to fade (attenuate) over distance. We compare media to see which ones have better (longer) attenuation rates.
  • Immunity from EMI and RFI - Electromagnetic Interference happens when your medium picks up static or bad data you don't want. Radio Frequency Interference means that you are getting the interference from an actual radio signal source, not just from stray static electricity. Media that are susceptible to EMI and RFI are also susceptible to eavesdropping (also called signal capture).

There have been several types of cable media used in networks over the years. (Follow the link to a Microsoft TechNet article about media. It is not perfect, but it is pretty good.)

  • twisted pair - has been used in two types:
    • unshielded - UTP does not have an EMI resistant sheath
    • shielded - STP has an EMI resistant sheath, which can be foil or braided metal
  • coaxial - Coax similar to that used for cable TV, and now used by cable providers for network access as well
  • fiber optic - glass or plastic channels that conduct light, often red laser light

Short physics lesson: In a copper wire, electrons don't actually flow from one end of the wire to the other. What happens is more like the movement of a large ripple or wave in water. Imagine a wave moving toward a shore in a lake or an ocean. Do specific water molecules make the whole trip? No. The energy of the wave is passed across a series of molecules. The energy passes across the medium. For the purists among you, I will note that the speed of electromagnetic waves through the electrical media varies with the nature of the conductor. It can be over 90% of c in a UTP wire, and a bit slower in coax. What's c? The speed of light in a vacuum.

The graphic shown here illustrates several twisted pairs of wires. Each wire is covered with an insulator, and the two wires in each pair are meant to be used as a circuit. These wires suffer from crosstalk, leakage of signal. The twists help cancel out such leaks. The graphic shows a UTP cable with eight wires in it, making four pairs. As is typical, there is a green pair, a blue pair, an orange pair, and a brown pair. Other color schemes are used, but this one is common.Twisted pair wire

The wires in each pair are twisted around each other. This type of cable comes in several varieties: two pair, three pair and four pair were common, but four pair is the current standard. Also, each variety may be available in grades, such as CAT 1 (Category 1, which is pretty useless on modern networks) and CAT 5 (Category 5, which has been a standard for several years). There are several such categories, and a major difference between them is the number of twists per foot in each pair. CAT 1 will have less than 5 twists per foot, CAT 5 will have 25 or more twists per foot (so it is better, and costs more). Note that the better the class of cable, the less leakage, and the more bits per second can be passed across it.

Connecting a system with twisted pair wiring is easy. A possible problem is that the wiring closets in any building are often in need of being "cleaned up". The "closet", typically on each floor of a building, contains punch-down blocks, patch panels, and hubs (or switches). Many are disorganized and messy. People who try to clean them up, however, must be careful not to disconnect circuits that are needed.

The factors for UTP:

  • Cost - inexpensive
  • Installation - cheap and easy
  • Capacity - 1 to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps), but 10 Mbps is common in home networking. Gigabit throughput is possible if the other network equipment (network cards, switches, routers) support it
  • Attenuation - nothing is perfect, so this is high (poor)
  • Immunity from EMI - also poor. Recommendation: run UTP lines perpendicular to fluorescent lights to avoid a constant static buildup.

RJ-45 ethernet connectorUTP cables are usually connected to devices with RJ-45 connectors. Your text does not show an RJ-45 connector (or any other) very well. In the enlarged picture on the right, note the eight gold-colored conntacts for the eight wires usually found in UTP cables. The wires are used in pairs to form two to four circuits.

RJ-11 connectors are typically used for telephone service connections. They look like RJ-45s, but they are narrower, and typically have only four (or six) contacts instead of eight.

An STP (Shielded Twisted Pair) cable is very similar to a UTP cable, except that it has a metal foil sheath around each pair of wires, or around the entire set of wires. When the sheath encloses all the wires, it resembles the ground sheath in a coaxial cable, but its purpose is to shield the cable from interference..
This cable is more expensive than unshielded cable, and is less flexible due to the stiff shielding. The shield, however, makes it more EMI resistant than UTP.

The factors for STP:

  • Cost - Moderately expensive
  • Installation - harder than UTP, needs special connectors (note the IBM-style Token Ring connector shown here)
  • Capacity - 1 to 500 Megabits per second (Mbps) is possible, but 16 Mbps is common (for Token Ring)
  • Attenuation - high (poor)
  • Immunity from EMI - also poor, but not as bad as UTP.

IBM data connectorIBM Data connectors were typically used with Shielded Twisted Pair cable on a Token Ring network.
Coaxial cable is called that because it has two conductors, one wire in center and a conductive sheath around it, that share a common axis, hence coax. Most people have seen this style of cable used with cable television.

The wiring standards used for network coax have been different from those used for cable TV. This is a list of cable used through networking history:

  • 50 ohm cable, available as RG-8 and RG-11. Used in Thick Ethernet, also called "Ether Hose".
  • 50 ohm cable, available as RG-58. Used in Thin Ethernet
  • 75 ohm cable, available as RG-59.
  • 93 ohm cable, available as RG-62. Used in ARCnet.

The number associated with each RG specification tells you the relative size of the central conductor. Smaller numbers mean thicker wires.

  • The coaxial line is essentially a single bus, going from one station to the next.
  • At each end of the line, the cable has to have a terminator on it.
  • At one end, it also has to be grounded.
  • If using thin Ethernet, T-connectors are used.
  • If using thick Ethernet, vampire taps are used. They are called vampire taps because little teeth bite into the cable (to contact the shield), and a big tooth bites deeper to contact the central conductor when you screw the clamp down.

The factors for Coax:

  • Cost - Relatively low to Moderately expensive (depending on thickness of the cable)
  • Installation - simple to install, hard to modify
  • Capacity - high rates are possible, but 10 Mbps is common
  • Attenuation - high, but less than twisted pair
  • Immunity from EMI - moderate

BNC T-connector The example on the right shows a typical T-connector with BNC fittings. The fitting on the bottom of the image might attach to a port on a NIC that looks like the barrel on either end of the top of the T. Attachment is achieved by pushing the connector onto the barrel of the port, then twisting the collar of the connector to lock onto the pin that is part of the port. In other words, it mounts like a bayonet.

BNC connectorThe next (enlarged) picture shows a BNC connector attached to a thin Ethernet cable. Such a connector would be used to attach to one of the T-connector barrels in the photo above. The other end of the cable would run to the next node on the network.

Fiber optic can be glass or plastic, and is meant to conduct light instead of electricity. The conductor is called a waveguide, and is covered with cladding, a material to reflect the signal back into the center of the conductor. Two configurations exist. Loose configuration has a liquid filler between the outer sheath and the conductor. Tight configuration has wire or stiff fibers around the conductor to add strength to the cable.

Fiber optic comes in two modes: single mode conducts a single signal, while multi-mode conducts many signals simultaneously. You may want to know that the most common type used is 62.5 micron core with 125 micron cladding, multimode.

The factors for fiber optic:

  • Cost - Expensive, mostly for installation
  • Installation - difficult
  • Capacity - 100 Mbps at up to 20 kilometers per segment
  • Attenuation - very low
  • Immunity from EMI - immune. This is light, not electricity.

Assignment 3: Answer the questions below about cable types. Use the material above for reference.

  1. The most popular type of twisted-pair cable is ____________ (STP, UTP, PPT).
  2. STP uses a foil wrap for __________________ (ground, signal conductor, shielding) .
  3. The RJ-45 connector has _____ cable contacts while the RJ-11 only has ____ or ____.
  4. Coaxial consists of a core made of solid or stranded ____________ surrounded by ______________________.
  5. The electronic data signals are actually carried by the ________ in a coaxial cable (shield, insulator, core).
  6. Fiber-optic cable transmissions are immune to electrical ____________________ (interference, control, conduits).
  7. Fiber-optic cable systems use ____________________ pulses to transmit data (electric, light, vibration).