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IT Essentials: a Practical Guide

Getting started

Getting Started

Are you lacking confidence with computers and all things IT-related? Or are you new to the university and struggling to get your head around how we do things at York? We've created these web pages in order to answer key questions you might have about IT but we also hope they encourage you to try out things that you might not have used before.

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

Email and Calendar

Email allows you to send messages or photos to people all around the world, at any time of the day. Calendar apps allow you to plan your time, create events and invite people, and easily make changes to existing events without the need to separately notify people. You can also view others' calendars that have been shared with you.

At York, both email and calendar are provided by Google. These work best on the web and via Google's own mobile apps. The link below gives a quick guide to the Google apps.

It is important to learn how to spot phishing emails and other email scams to protect your data when using email. Phishing is an attempt, usually by email, to steal your information. IT Services have a guide to spam and phishing emails including a quiz and videos.

Operating systems

An operating system (OS) is the most important software that runs on a device, in fact without an OS, the device is useless. 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.

Below are the Windows and Mac desktops, the screen you will see when you first log in before you open any applications.

The default desktops of Mac and Windows operating systems

Operating systems at York

At York, 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.


Troubleshooting problems when using a computer will always be a process of trial and error: you may find a fix first time, or need to try different options. There's always help and guidance when you get stuck, though.

A guide to troubleshooting

When you encounter an IT problem, there are many ways to look for help. Applications often have their own support, either within the application or on the company's web pages. Searching on the help pages for Microsoft, Apple, Google and others can be a good way to troubleshoot your issues.

The university provides IT help pages. These include guidance on setting up computers, using printers at York, and how to find and install applications (software). Our software pages are always really handy to check how to create accounts and sign into different applications.

If you can't solve your issues and need further support, the IT Support Office at York will be your first point of contact.


Applications (also called apps, programmes, or software) run on your computer/device and allow you to perform specific tasks. When you open an application, it runs inside the operating system until you close it.

Lots of applications do similar tasks and learning one will give you transferable skills to use across others. For example, if you're familiar with Microsoft Word, those skills will be helpful when using Google Docs.

Our guide to applications at York explains how to get software and gives guidance on some of the main applications you might use.

Browser essentials

A browser is the programme/app you need to view websites. You will already have a browser on your device. It will be Microsoft Edge if you have a Windows PC, or Safari if you have a Mac or iPhone/iPad. There are other browsers you can download including Google Chrome (our recommended browser) and Firefox.

Microsoft Edge icon Safari icon Chrome icon Firefox icon

Browsers at York

On all University of York managed computers, Chrome is the default browser. We recommend using Chrome at the University because Chrome allows you to log in with your York email account to keep bookmarks and settings across devices.

Next steps...

Log in to Chrome with your York email address and password, using the button next to the three dots at the top right of the window.

Cloud, Saving, and Downloading

The "cloud" is file storage you can access remotely over the internet. When something is in the cloud (a photo, video, file), it is not stored on your computer's hard drive but one you are connecting to via the internet. When files are stored in the cloud such as Google Drive, you often get to them using a URL link that you click on or enter into your internet browser.

Cloud saving at York

At York, Google Drive is our cloud service. We store and manage files at and via mobile apps. By setting the right permissions, Google Drive allows you to share files with others within and outside the university. We recommend that you use Drive over any other cloud providers such as Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive.

You may also use Filestore to share and manage your personal documents. When working collaboratively, we encourage all members of the University to think through the best option for saving files from an access and information security point of view.

Next Steps...

Access Google Drive at Create a Google Doc and share it with someone else.

Downloading and uploading

A file being downloaded from a free image site and then uploaded to Google Drive

Downloading means receiving data or a file from the internet on your computer. Uploading means sending data or a file from your computer to somewhere on the internet.

You might be used to receiving emails with attached documents and then needing to download those files. To send files to others, you might then attach files to emails by uploading them. However, to make sure you can access a file anywhere, upload it to Google Drive. Where possible, try to send people links to Google Drive files rather than upload them to an email as this reduces the number of copies of a file that exist and makes it much easier to collaborate on files with people.

Next Steps....

Find an image you like from (or another free image site), download, then upload to Google Drive.

Compressed (zipped) folders

'Zip' folders put files together in a way that takes up less space than before, so it is ideal for archiving PC files to free up space. If you need to email or send computer files, compressing them into a 'zip' folder first could help send them more quickly and easily. In addition, if you download multiple files at once, they might become a 'zip' folder to increase download speed.

If you're not sharing a file through Google Drive, sending files in a 'zip' folder is smart. It will save time it takes to send or receive the item as it will be much smaller.

To create a 'zip' folder, simply select the files you want to compress, right click and select Send to>Compressed (zipped) folder as you can see below..

Showing multiple files being selected, right clicked and then selecting Send to > Compressed (zipped) folder

In order to reduce the size, some features of the file(s) are restricted until you have extracted them and returned them to their original state/file size. So, to 'unzip' or decompress a 'zip' folder, just select the folder, right click and select Extract All. It will give you the option to choose where the new folder will appear, but will automatically assume you want it in the same place as the 'zip' folder.

Right click a 'zip' file and select Extract All

Next steps...

Open a folder on your computer and select multiple files. Make your own compressed (zipped) folder. Try interacting with the files - see what features and functionality have been removed. Finally, extract the files from the 'zip' folder and be amazed by the return of the file's complete functionality.

Top tip: You can select files quicky by clicking on the first and last item in your list while holding down the Shift key, OR by holding down CTRL while choosing the individual files you want.

Files and Links

When you’re creating and deleting files, it can all get a little confusing where that file is actually stored to know how to delete or move it. Sometimes icons and links that you click to access files stored in cloud storage are just a link to the file elsewhere, rather than the actual file itself.

If you have created and saved a file using a program on your computer, it often is followed by some letters, known as the ‘file extension’. For example a Microsoft Word document is saved as a .docx file or other well-known file types includes .pdf, .xlxs (Excel) and .ppt (PowerPoint). Some files you download from the internet may come in these formats too.

You may need to occasionally upload these files onto websites so they are accessible to others. One example is Yorkshare, our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). When you upload a file saved on your computer, it usually takes a copy of the actual file and stores it on the website. The way of spotting this is to look out for that ‘file extension’ at the end of the file name like my_lovely_document.docx.

In comparison, you can also add links to files which are usually stored elsewhere in Cloud storage, such as Google Drive. For example, if you create a Google Doc stored in Google Drive, access to it may be given by just sharing a link (which make look like ) . If you add this link to a website such as the VLE, it is not storing the file directly on the site, but it's just a link to easily jump to Google Docs. Removing this kind of link from a website won't remove the file completely. In this example, you would need to do directly to Google Drive and manage the file from there too.

Showing a link to an uploaded file that ends in .docx, and a different link to Google Drive