Also known as a public access computer, a public computer is any computer that is made widely available for use by the general public. Computers of this type are usually desktop models or some sort of custom designed computer that is made available in specific public settings. It is not unusual to find public computer facilities in libraries, schools and colleges, and even at rest areas and welcome centers operated along major roadways. Access to a public computer is also common at Internet cafes and public telecenters designed to allow anyone to quickly conduct a web search, check email, and manage other basic functions.
One of the benefits of access to a public computer is the ability to make use of the many resources found on the Internet. People who do not own personal computers or are far from home and cannot access their own systems readily can utilize these computers to manage simple tasks like browsing the Internet or sending and receiving emails from an Internet-based email client. Typically, owners of facilities which offer public computer access do place some limitations on how the computers may be used. Failure to comply with those limitations can be grounds for being ejected from the facility and banned from using the computers in the future.
In many settings, the use of the public computer does not require any type of login code or paying any type of fee. This is true of public access computers at welcome centers or similar telecenters that make use of the devices as a courtesy to travelers. A number of fee-based options are also found in many countries, including the Internet café which may charge an hourly fee in order to make use of the systems. A similar approach is used in a business center set up in a hotel, with guests paying fees to use the computers and related equipment in the center.
While use of a public computer is relatively easy and convenient, care should be taken when making use of this type of service. Just as with personal computers and business networks, each web browser and other activity is recorded. This makes it unwise to access proprietary web sites or otherwise leave a trail back to personal information that could be harvested by others who use the public computer later. While some centers providing this type of public access to the Internet do configure the browsers to delete history when the browser window is closed, this is not universally true. For this reason, care should be taken when visiting sites, including online access to email accounts, and make sure the data is not captured and cached for easy retrieval later.