When I was still an IT instructor the European Computer Driving License had a module that could best be described as an introduction to computers, where the idea of an operating system was introduced as distinct from application software. Many students just couldn't understand the distinction and took a long time to get their heads round the concept.
That's pretty sad, and probably a direct result of the way computers are sold lately. Back when you got yourself a computer with DOS on it it was a lot more obvious.
Unfortunately people don't understand the basics, but then on another level why should they, a computer is a tool, if it gets the job done then what does it matter if they don't know their browser from the make of the computer builder?
"The computer as a tool" is just a lame way to say you don't want to learn working with your computer. Much like a craftsman has to clean, oil, sharpen or modify certain tools you have to learn how to use and take care of your "tool". It's not just a tool though; it's one of the most versatile tools ever built. Even more versatile than a Swiss army knife
. It's so versatile that it can't do a much useful without a program that tells it what to do and how to do it.
A computer can't just magically "surf the web", no matter what make it is. it needs the right software to do so (amongst which a browser). If you say Dell is your browser you are either too afraid to admit you don't have a clue what it is or too lazy to find it out. That is not necessarily a bad thing, except if you're looking for support.
That being said I dislike the word "browser" as it doesn't clearly state what it does, it's a bit of a techie word. Perhaps we (the more computer literate) shouldn't be asking people what browser they're using, but "what program they're using to surf the internet".
If I would ask you for details of the automotive unit of your car, how many can tell me details about Otto, Diesel, Common rail, Fuel injection, RamAir, disc brakes, TC, ESP, AAIJG etc.
Egg-squeeze me, but the things you are now asking for are of a completely different type than "what OS are you using", which is more like "what sort of engine is in there", I'm sure most people will know if it's a 1.6 4 cylinder that takes gasoline or a 2.5 liter TurboDiesel. That being said, if I had a car I could answer these questions. I think todays cars are still evil gas guzzlers though, so I'll avoid getting one as long as possible.
Fiddling with the tool is not their purpose nor interest.
People tend to treat a computer as something like a radio, just turn it on and it should work. But even on a radio you'll see fiddling going on, searching for another station, changing bass/treble, perhaps more advanced surround settings too. It isn't a radio though. A radio can do just one thing and hardly ever fails in doing so. A desktop computer on the other hand is meant to do a whole lot of things at virtually the same time, and without proper setting up will fail doing some or all of it. This means there are a lot of ways for it to not function properly. Even though fiddling is not their purpose or interest it is in their interest to have it set up properly (note: I don't fiddle for the sake of fiddling either).
I have to say I got some of my friends to understand that Linux is an operating system, and so is Windows XP. I try not to talk too much about computers with them though, most of them are not very good with computers and use it as some of the typical users described earlier this thread.
I do occasionally help some of them to set up their windows computers. They don't have an internet connection to find out the cause and solutions to their problems. Without this internet connection it's a lot easier to keep their boxes running without much trouble though. But I bet they'd be more advanced users by now if they did have an internet connection.