What is a Computer Lab?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 15 May 2020
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A computer lab is a cluster of computers that usually are networked and available for use by the public. Labs frequently are found in public buildings such as libraries, schools such as colleges and universities, community centers and some large churches that have many parishioners. Almost all computer labs offer users access to the Internet and provide software that students can use to do research and complete their homework or that others, such as traveling business people, might need for other purposes.

An Internet café differs from a computer lab in that users must connect to the Internet using their own computer or device, and users of a computer lab do not need any equipment of their own. There is the need for protection and restrictions within networks available to the public. Users might be denied access to websites featuring adult content or sites that demand too much bandwidth. Those using a computer lab also usually are allowed a limited amount of time to be signed onto a machine, whether surfing the Internet or using software to do other work. Seldom is there a charge to use a public computer lab, but labs in educational facilities tend to be available only to current students of the school, and they usually must sign on so that their activities can be traced and monitored if necessary.

Other hardware such as printers and sometimes scanners, compact disk (CD) drives and digital versatile disk (DVD) drives also are available free of charge or for a nominal fee. Headphones also might be freely provided for users who visit sites with sound or video files that need to be played or users who simply would like to enjoy watching a movie or listening to music while they work. Files created by visitors to a computer lab usually can be stored on a universal serial bus (USB) drive, also known as a jump drive, thumb drive or pen drive, so they can take their work with them.

Network administrators almost always are very concerned about security within a computer lab that is open to the public. Antivirus software to protect against malicious code and programs that allow lab monitors and administrators to immediately take remote control over a machine usually are installed and regularly updated so that the network is safe for all users and their files. Although most computer labs run on a Microsoft Windows® operating system, some labs, particularly those in educational facilities, run on a distribution of Linux, such as Fedora, Ubuntu or Debian.

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Post 5

I remember doing computer lab lessons when I was in elementary school. The whole class would look forward to computer lab time where we would learn to type and do fun math programs.

When I was that age, computers weren't as common as they are now (this was in the age of the floppy disc and black computer screens with green writing.) So most of us didn't have access to computers at home. Using the school computer lab was like a special treat, and of course I learned skills (like typing) that I still use today.

Post 4

I used to live in the city right near the main branch of the public library. The library had a huge computer lab that was pretty much always in use. If you wanted to use a computer, you had to sign up and wait until someone else was done. Luckily, there was a one hour time limit set on the computers (or maybe unluckily if you had a lot of stuff to do.)

I think it's great the libraries provide this kind of service to the public, especially for people looking for a job. Most companies post help wanted adds online, and expect people to email their resumes. That's kind of hard without access to a computer!

Post 3

@Ivan83 - You're right these days you really can't get through college without a computer, even if classroom computer labs are available. I graduated college only a few years ago, and when I was in school a lot of my work had to be done using a computer. I don't know if I could have gotten by just by using a computer lab.

I did use the on campus computer labs for printing papers when I was in school though. I didn't have a printer for the first few years, so every time I needed to print something I had to trek across campus and pay to use the computer lab printers at the library.

Post 2

My local public library has a computer lab but all of the computers are terrible. They are old computers running old programs. They even use Internet Explorer. They work if you are in a pinch and they offer free printing so sometimes it's worth it. But otherwise they are some of the slowest and most frustrating computers that you will still find in service.

Post 1

I was really lucky that my college had so many computer labs because for the first three years of school I did not have a computer of my own. I know that sounds kind of unimaginable these days but it was really not much of a burden.

I was always able to find an open computer in the library or one of the many computer labs that were sprinkled around the campus. I could write papers for as long as I needed or check e-mail or just goof around on the internet. All I needed was a flash drive so I could store some of my own files.

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