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IT Essentials: a Practical Guide



Both mobile apps and desktop programmes are applications enabling you to do a multitude of different tasks. There are millions of applications available to download and they often do very similar things, so it is useful to think about what you want to achieve when choosing an application. Here we look at some common applications and how to choose what is best for your needs.

Click Next Steps for how to put the tips into practice.

Software at York

If you are a member of staff, you will use Software Centre to get new applications that aren't already on your work computer.

Information on which applications are available at the University of York on university computers and which can also be used on home devices can be found on the IT Services web pages.

Applications you might use

As well as the applications mentioned on this page, there are a vast amount of other kinds of software you might use at York. Here are some that might be useful to you:

Next Steps...

Browse the Software Center on your work computer or App Store on your personal device. Choose an app to download and install.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is a very common package of applications that can be used for various tasks including text processing (Word), working with data (Excel and Access), and creating presentations and posters (PowerPoint).

Microsoft Office at York

At York Microsoft Office is available on all university machines and also staff and students are able to get a free copy of Office 365 for home use on personal devices. For more information on getting Microsoft Office at York, see the link below.

At York we offer a range of IT training that includes some of the major MS Office applications. See the IT Services Training page for details and links to printable resources.

Google Workspace

Google provides a range of apps as part of the Google Suite that can be used to create a range of online documents. All of these can be accessed through Google Drive.

These may be similar to apps you have used before; for example, Google Docs is a text processor that is similar to Microsoft Word.

Google apps at York

All staff and students at the University of York have access to Google Workspace. This includes a range of connected apps such as Google Mail for email and Google Drive for online storage of documents and sharing files with others.

These are all accessed using your University email address and password. This also means that Google can recognise who is part of the University and allows you to only share documents or other items with members with the University of York, if you wish.

What file is it?

A file type is the way data is stored in a computer file. The file type can be determined by the file name extension, which is the letters at the end of a file name after the period. These tell the computer which application to open the file in.

Examples of files in Windows File Explorer showing the file name extension and the file type

Different file types

Some common file name extensions are .doc or .docx, .pdf, .jpg, .xls, and .mp3. These will commonly be opened with certain applications, but you can change which application this is: for example, .docx files open with Microsoft Word, but can also be opened in other text processing applications.

University computers have certain applications installed, which may mean that files don't open in the application you are used to. On Windows, you can right-click on a file and select 'Open with...' to see which applications could be used to open the file on the computer you are using. For example, the computer may have multiple ways of opening a .pdf file, including Adobe Acrobat Reader and any web browsers installed.

Next Steps...

Open up File Explorer (on Windows) or Finder (on a Mac) and have a look at your own files and at file types. Do an online search for any files you are unsure about.

Video Conferencing

For virtual meetings and working remotely, the university has access to two tools: Zoom and Google Meet. Video conferencing tools allow you to hold a virtual meeting with other people where everyone can share their video and speak to each other. Your device must have a camera and microphone to be able to interact in a meeting.


Zoom is the recommended tool at the University of York and allows you to connect to a meeting either by using the Zoom 'Desktop' app, the Zoom mobile app or via your web browser. While in a Zoom meeting, there is a text-chat function along with the ability to share your screen and recording the meeting. Every meeting has a 'host' which is either the person who created the meeting, or another person they have chosen. Zoom meetings can be created from the Zoom app or directly in Google Calendar. See our Zoom Wiki for full guidance.

Google Meet

Google Meet is a browser-based video conferencing tool that is built into Google Calendar. Although Zoom is our recommended tool, Google Meet can be used. Although it allows screen sharing, we do not have access to the full recording abilities. See the link below for how to use Google Meet.

Working with images

Photo of Ribblehead Viaduct

Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

Using digital images is vital for a huge number of tasks. You may be used to taking photos on your phone or cropping images to go in documents, but there's a lot more things you can do with images and technology.

Key points for digital images

Image resolution is an important thing to consider. Resolution is how much detail the digital image contains, which affects the maximum size the image can be displayed without losing quality. This is why you shouldn't just make a picture larger when you insert it into a document, as you may end up with a blurry, bad quality image.

On the other hand, images that have a very high resolution can mean very large files that take up a lot of space, so they may need to be re-scaled. Our page on understanding image resolution has more guidance on how to understand resolution and change the resolution of your images.

Images come in various file types, as shown by the .suffix after the file name. The two file types you will probably use are JPEG (best for photos) and PNG (best for graphs and diagrams).

When working with digital images, it is important to remember where you got the image from and think about copyright and reuse. Our practical guide to copyright can give guidance on what you need to think about.

Image software at York

If you are a member of staff or a research graduate, you can make use of image editing applications on university managed machines. These are CorelDRAW Graphics Suite and Corel PaintShop Pro.

You can also edit images using Microsoft PowerPoint, if you want a simpler option that may already be familiar. Once you've cropped and edited an image in PowerPoint, right-click and choose 'Save as Picture'.

What are your default applications?

You probably use a lot of applications without really thinking about it. For example, if you go to open a PDF file, your computer will use a certain application to view this file. You can change which application a file automatically opens in to suit your needs.

Changing default applications

The application that automatically opens a certain type of file (e.g. PDF files, image files, text documents) can be changed. In Windows, right-click on a file and choose 'Open with...' to change which application is opening the file at that point. At the bottom of the list should be 'Choose another app'. This gives you the full list of applications the computer thinks can open that file, and should have the option to tick a box setting the application you have chosen as the default way to open that kind of file in the future on your computer.

A dialogue box showing different options to open a PDF file: Adobe Reader, Microsoft Edge, Corel PDF Fusion, and Google Chrome

Next Steps...

Try out the different PDF apps on your device then change the default app to the one you prefer.