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University of York Library
Library Subject Guides

IT Essentials

Devices & operating systems


This page looks at the practicalities of using different devices and operating systems, and shares tips for using them effectively.

Working on different devices

Many of us now have access to multiple different devices such as laptops, desktops, mobile phones and tablets. It's important to consider which device is best for which task. For example, a small laptop or tablet would be more suitable out of the office, whereas you may want a multi-screen setup at a desk for more complex tasks.

Some applications will only be available on certain devices, but it's increasingly common for applications to be used across different devices (for example, Google has a range of apps that sync across your devices using an internet connection).

Let's take a look at some types of devices most commonly used at the University:


Many people work mostly on laptops, as they are portable so useful for working in different places, and can be connected to external monitors when working at a desk if a larger screen is desired.

University managed laptops are used by many staff at York. These are generally Windows devices, and have a range of University approved/licensed software available to install through Software Center. If you are using a recently issued university managed Windows laptop, anything you save in your desktop, documents and pictures folders are automatically backed up in OneDrive. There are also some University managed laptops available for students, such as the loan laptops in the library.

Many students also make use of personal laptops. While these are not managed by the university, they can be used to connect to the internet on campus and access university services such as the VLE and your university email account. It's also possible to install software on personal devices if it's software which the university has a home use license for.

Desktop PCs

Desktop PCs are less portable than laptops, as they are bulkier and don't have an in-built screen, so they generally stay in a set location at a desk. On campus, the types of desktop PC in use are:

  • Classroom PCs which are available for York students and staff to use in IT classrooms and study areas across campus. These are managed by the university and have key software pre-installed. Users sign in to these PCs with their username and password.
  • Office PCs used by staff for desk-based working. These are managed by the university and have key software pre-installed, but other approved/licensed software can also be installed through Software Center.
  • Personal desktop PCs which some students may use in their university accommodation. As with personal laptops, these can be used to connect to the internet on campus, access university services such as the VLE and your university email account, and install software which the university has a home use license for.

If you're using a university managed desktop PC, bear in mind that these are shared devices. Make sure you log out whenever you finish using a shared device in order to keep your account and information safe.

Mobile phones and tablets

Many of us carry mobile phones and tablets with us all the time, and while it often makes sense to work on a computer, many applications and services can now be accessed on these mobile devices too. This can be useful if you're on the move and wanting to check something quickly, but bear in mind that not all applications will run on these devices, and they weren't designed for people to spend long periods of working time on.

A few of the ways you might use a mobile devices for university purposes are:

  • Verifying your identity via two-factor authentication
  • Checking your university emails (e.g. using the Gmail app)
  • Checking a calendar event (e.g. using the Google Calendar app)
  • Joining a Zoom meeting if you don't have access to a computer with a webcam
  • Taking quick notes in a Google Doc or using Google Keep

Operating systems

An operating system (OS) is the most important software that runs on a device; in fact without an OS, the device tends to be useless for most people. Simply, the OS allows you to use the device and do things such as logging in, opening apps, moving files around, watching videos and visiting websites.

At the University, it is most likely that the computer you are using on campus is running Windows 10. However, there are some Mac and Linux computers. You may also have access to a laptop which could be running Windows, Mac or Chrome OS (installed on Chromebooks). If it's a phone or a tablet it will likely be running iOS, Android, or Windows.

Windows 10 desktop

Windows 10 desktop

Mac desktop

Operating systems tips

  • Operating systems will often have regular updates which you may be prompted to run. These updates can add additional features to an operating system, make small changes to the "look and feel" of the operating system, and make improvements to usability and security.
  • Some applications will only work on certain operating systems, so it's worth checking you can use the application you need to on your operating system of choice. However, most commonly used applications will be available on the major operating systems typically used on computers (Windows and Mac OS).

Multi-screen setup

A desk with multiple screens being used at once

If you've got a multi-screen setup with your desktop or laptop, here are some tips to get the most out of all that extra screen space:

  • If you prefer to see your email and calendar at the same time, now you can! Pull out Gmail and Calendar so they're in separate windows, then resize so you've got them looking how you like.
  • If you need to monitor multiple email accounts, pull out both inboxes into separate windows and place side-by-side.
  • Position your note-taking app next to your document when typing up your notes.

Using IT services off campus

There are various ways of recreating elements of working on campus when you are off campus. IT Services has a guide to working off campus which covers the options.

Some systems/services at the University are restricted to on-campus access only. However, if you need to access these when working off-campus, you should be able to do so by using the VPN (Virtual Private Network). You will also need to connect to the VPN if you want to access your University filestore off-campus.

The VDS (Virtual Desktop Service) is another system that enables you to access commonly used Windows applications and your University filestore while off-campus.


Keeping your devices and your personal information safe and secure are vital when using technology. This includes choosing a strong password and keeping it safe, protecting your devices with screen locks and virus protection, and looking after confidential data.

Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are keys or key combinations that provide an alternative - and often quicker - way to something on your computer that you would usually do with a mouse. This Microsoft support page provides all Windows keyboard shortcuts. Likewise, if you use a Mac, Apple has listed all of their shortcuts on this support page. Why not try a few?

For more information on Windows 10 keys and shortcuts, see our Windows 10 tips page.

What does it do? Windows shortcut Mac shortcut
Copy an item to the clipboard Ctrl + C Command + C
Paste an item that has been copied Ctrl + V Command + V
Undo an action Ctrl + Z Command + Z
Switch between open applications Alt + Tab Command + Tab
Lock your screen (will require user password to unlock) Windows key + L Option + Shift + Command + Q


There's keyboard shortcuts for a lot of things, including taking a photo of your screen: