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Computers & Laptops

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Buying a Computer -- What To Do And Why

It isn't fair, but buying a computer is just plain easier for some than it is
for others. Those who've purchased and used a computer in the past already have
an idea of what they need in a new computer. But those who are new to the
computer world could get lost in the myriad of choices available.

The short answer to "What should I buy?" is "The best." Of course that answer
is extremely subjective because "the best" to one person is certainly different
to another. Our definition of "the best" is the fastest and the biggest, but
even that leaves the computer newbie confused. Here's a quick rundown of what
the computer novice should do and why.

1. Buy a computer that includes basic peripherals. Every computer can be broken
down into four major components: CPU unit, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. For the
novice, it's best to buy a computer that has all of these components included so
that when it's taken home, assembling the computer is a simple matter of
plugging things in where they belong. Save the individual purchases of these
components for those who have more experience.

2. Decide what you'll use the computer for. If you want to use your computer
for cruising the web, sending email, or performing simple word-processing or
spreadsheet tasks, a computer with the basic components that we just described
should suffice. If you want to use a computer to help with a career in
multimedia however, you're going to need to accessorize your system with a
scanner, printer, digital camera, tablet, or digicam for example. If you want a
computer to help with a career in music, you will need a quality microphone and
set of speakers.

3. Create a budget and stick to it. How much can you afford to spend on a new
computer? Although the prices of computers are decreasing, they can still
create a hefty expense especially if you need additional peripherals described
above. In addition, you'll need to figure in costs for maintenance, servicing,
and insuring.

4. Start comparison shopping and look for the "fastest and biggest." By
"fastest and biggest," we mean the computer with the fastest processor, the
fastest modem, the biggest memory, and the biggest hard drive capacity. Even if
you think that you'll never need the amount of speed or space available on the
market today, it's important to have in the event that you truly do need that
much in the future. Having such a large reserve will cut down on costs when the
time comes to upgrade for more than what you may settle for in a computer that
offers less.

5. Stick with the better-known brands. Venturing off the beaten path with
lessor-known brands is again, an adventure for those who have more experience
with computers. Although those better-known brands may be a tad bit more
expensive, the computer novice will appreciate the comfort in purchasing a
computer from a business that has a long record of building quality products,
and that has the funds available for fulfilling returns, trades, servicing, and
warranties.

6. Select a store. Having an idea of what you want in a computer and what kind
of computer that you want, your only task left is to select the place in which
you want to buy it. There are a number of places available including computer
store outlets, online stores, auction sites, used computer stores, or your
friendly neighborhood yard sale. For the computer novice, we recommend buying a
computer from a physical store. In a physical store, you have the opportunity to
see the computer of interest in person and ask questions. New computer buyers
also have access to store warranties, returns, trades, and services.

These suggestions should give the computer newbie a great start in selecting a
quality computer for the first time and they apply to either Windows computers
or Apple Macintosh computers. After making these decisions and finally
selecting one that fits your needs, you can then venture into the fascinating
world of software -- a world that is just as grand as the world of hardware!

Basic GUI Terminology Knowing What You're Working With Helps Technicians

Getting help with your computer software can be easier when you know the
correct terms to use. One of the biggest problems that new computer users have
with technical support is not knowing how to correctly describe the problem
that they're having. And it isn't fair to expect a tech support person to
automatically know what a "thing-a-ma-jingy," or "whatcha-ma-call-it" is.

The following describes the correct names for common components of software so
that when you experience a problem, you can effectively describe an issue that
you're having and a technician can readily resolve it.

User interface -- this is the visual design of a program. It may contain
squares, boxes, words, icons, and buttons. If you're experiencing insufficient
memory for example, you might see black rectangles across the user interface of
your software programs.

Title bar -- this is the top-most part of a program that displays its own name
or it may describe the contents displayed in another part of the interface. If
a program is incorrectly coded, you may see a wrong description in this part of
its interface.

Menu bar -- this part of a program displays menu items and menu options. Some of
the most common parts of a menu bar grants access to File commands, Open
commands, Save commands, and Print commands. An example of an error in this
part of an interface would be if an option was missing or grayed out (lighter
in color).

Tool bar -- this part of a program displays small icons across the top which
represent tools. Clicking an icon will open a tool or process a command that
might also exist on a program's menu bar. Problems in this part of an interface
are uncommon, however if you find yourself repeatedly clicking an icon with no
results, you can correctly describe the problem by referring to the toolbar.

Minimize, Restore, and Exit buttons -- these three buttons are usually located
on the right-most upper part of a program's interface and each allow you to
minimize a program's screen, restore it to its original size, or shut down the
program completely.

Scroll bar -- this convenient tool allows users to move data up and down the
computer screen.

Status bar -- this part of a program is located at the bottom-most part of its
interface, and it usually displays small messages that indicate the progress of
a command or task. If programmed incorrectly, an application might display the
wrong information in this area.

Context menu -- like the menu bar, a context menu displays when a user
right-clicks on something. It displays commands just like what you see on a
File menu or a Help menu.

Input box -- input boxes are usually small rectangles that allow you to type
data into a simple interfaces like a webpage or browser window. If you find
that you can't type information into one of these, you can effectively resolve
the issue with a technician by calling it an input box, rather than a "white
rectangle," or "place to put in text."

Button -- buttons perform a command after a user clicks them with a mouse.
Problems occur when the text of a button is grayed out or if it doesn't appear
to sink into the screen when clicked.

Check box -- a check box is a small box that allows a user to indicate several
choices among many. When clicked, a small "x" displays inside a box. Similar to
the check box, a radio button allows a user to indicate a single choice among
many. Problems with radio buttons and check boxes occur when a user makes one
choice, but the interface reacts as if the user made many choices (or none at
all). When describing a problem to a technician, be sure to indicate whether
the problem occurs with a check box or a radio box. Computer novices mistakenly
interchange the names of both of these controls.

Accessorizing Computers What Comes Out of the Box is a Really Just a Starter Kit

Yesterday, we spent about three hours trying to convince a client of ours that
brand new computers just don't come equipped with the all things that most
computers need in a PC. We tried to convince him that a fully functional
computer is one that is personalized with specially selected hardware and
software accessories -- and that the computer purchased at the store doesn't
come with these things. Unfortunately, all of our convincing was to our avail.
Our client insisted that he should never need more than what came with his
boxed product and that we were just trying "bilk" more money out of him.

As computer consultants, it's our job and mission to make sure our clients are
100% satisfied when they walk out our offices. But our job is unnecessarily
made harder when people don't take the time to learn about computer accessories
and familiarize themselves with the limitations of store-bought computers.
Hopefully by the time you finish reading this article, you'll understand the
lesson that we were trying to teach our client: "What comes out of the box is
really just a starter kit."

The typical computer package comes with a CPU unit, keyboard, mouse, and
speaker set. That may be just fine for some, but most people require more than
that especially in today's "connected" society. Today's users require full
multimedia capabilities, a wide range of graphics tools, and accommodations for
the various portables we now enjoy. These extras aren't included with "what
comes out of the box," and the only way to get them is to accessorize.

To illustrate the importance of accessorizing, we like to use the "plain dough"
analogy. Let's say that a brand new computer is a batch of plain dough -- waiting
to be flavored and baked into something useful. If we want to use this dough to
make a delicious batch of chocolate chip cookies, we would need to
"accessorize" this dough with chocolate chips and a little brown sugar. If we
want to use this dough into in a warm loaf of sesame seed bread on the other
hand, we'd need to "accessorize" the dough with yeast and sesame seeds.

Like "plain dough," the brand new computer isn't very useful by itself. It
needs accessorizing.

Depending on what's needed, accessorizing doesn't need to be expensive. In
fact, you can get away with paying a minimal amount for extra software and
hardware if these accessories are for children. It's when these accessories are
work requirements or when they're needed to produce works of quality for any
other reason that they can become rather expensive. And this expense applies to
microphones, digital cameras, PDAs, scanners, video cams, and more.

Regardless of cost, it's important to understand that accessories can become
"necessities," and that the best time to get them is the moment you buy a new
computer. Waiting too long to accessorize can cause more problems than
necessary because while you wait, manufacturers continuously develop new
technologies -- technologies that your computer won't be able to accommodate in
the future. Once you're ready to accessorize, the new products on the market
are too advanced for your computer and they just won't work. This is a typical
problem experienced by those who want to use hardware designed for Windows
Vista on a Windows XP or Windows 2000 machine.

A Few Common Computer Errors (And What They Mean)

Computer errors can pop up when least expected, they can cause the entire
system to suddenly shut down, and they can inadvertently corrupt data to the
point where it can't be deciphered. Although they can't always be avoided, it's
important to remember that computer errors can be corrected. The key is to
understand what computer errors are, understand what they mean when they show
up, and understand how to minimize their occurrence in the first place.

Basically, computer errors are the result of a number of things that may or may
not have anything to do with the way the computer is used. They "operate"
whenever there's a conflict among commands. Remember that computers essentially
run off of a series of commands and it's usually a smooth process. But when one
command conflicts with another command -- or when one command asks for a process
or information that isn't available, the computer returns results that aren't
useable. That's an error.

A prime example of this kind of error is when users attempt to use software
that isn't applicable for their system. Almost all software accompanies a list
of system requirements which dictates what a computer needs to have in order
for the software to work properly. To minimize errors of this sort, always
verify that your computer has the required components. A project management
program that you're interested in may require a specific operating system, like
Windows XP for example. And although this program may install just fine on a
Windows 98 machine, it will generate a multitude of errors once its started.

Insufficient memory will cause errors as well. That's why software programs
include minimum memory requirements. A program that needs 14MB of memory will
generate errors on a computer that only has 4MB of memory if it runs at all.
The same goes for disk space, monitor color depth and resolution. In these
situations, problems occur the moment that a piece of software attempts to
access the things (hardware, memory, space, resolution, etc.) that it cannot
find.

Because some programs share common files, errors can also occur when these
shared files are not up to date. For instance, let's say that Program A is
already installed on a computer and it's working just fine. Then let's say that
the user of that computer downloads and installs Program B. Program B uses a
file that Program A installed much earlier, but when Program B is run, errors
popup. Those errors are the result of Program B attempting to use an outdated
(shared) file that was installed by Program A. In order to fix that problem,
the user would have to download an updated version of the shared file (which to
say the least -- is not an easy thing to find or do).

Sometimes, errors occur because a system doesn't have the required drivers or
the drivers that are on the system are the incorrect version. Both errors in
these cases can be resolved by updating the computer on a regular basis.
Microsoft provides a section on its website that can automatically update a
computer online and it does this at no cost in an effort to reduce errors like
this. Always try to keep your computer updated so that should a program share a
file, it will share a file that has been updated on hundreds of thousands of
computers, like yours.

This article doesn't even begin to cover the entire gamut of computer errors -
but additional information regarding how to get help with a computer issue
(including computer errors) can be found in our article titled, "Computer Help"
no matter what the problem is.

Cheap and Fast Software An Introduction to Shareware

Visit any computer store today and you'll find what seems like miles and miles
of software on sale. Certainly enticing buys, there are a few problems with
buying software off the shelves. On the shelf, software -- otherwise known as
"commercial software" -- can be expensive, and incompatible, and outdated when
compared to what's available online. Fortunately, there's an alternative to
commercial software and although it isn't new, it's one of the most
under-exploited opportunities in the computer industry.

We're talking about shareware -- software that you can try before buying.

Shareware has a long history and was rather popular in the days where BBS
(bulletin board systems) reigned the online industry. It hasn't gone anywhere,
but its competition with commercial software is fierce -- so fierce that it
tends to fall on the back burner among new computer users. This is unfortunate
because shareware has so many advantages over commercial software.

One of those advantages is its cost. On the whole, shareware is generally
cheaper than commercial software. But don't misinterpret the cost. With
shareware, cheap does not equal low-quality and there are plenty of examples
that prove shareware often outperforms the quality of commercial software time
and time again. How much savings are we talking about? You could purchase a
quality word processor, spreadsheet, database program, or system utility
anywhere from a mere $15 to under a hundred. This is almost unheard of in
stores like Best Buy, Circuit City, or Egghead, yet the shareware programs
offered within this price range rival even Microsoft's Office suite.

Another advantage that shareware has over commercial software is its
compatibility. We're not saying that shareware is compatible with all operating
systems. What we're saying is that since we can try shareware before paying for
it, we can determine if the software is completely compatible with our systems
first. In other words, we can discover whether the software performs the way we
want them to and should anyone try to do the same with commercial software,
they'll be in for a big disappointment.

Commercial software policy doesn't even allow for returns, let alone
"borrowing" them to try them.

The last advantage that shareware has over commercial software (but certainly
not the least) is its applicability. Plain and simple, shareware is the best
bet when you want to keep on top of the latest release of a particular program.
Sure, computer stores do their best to keep their inventory up to date, but when
you can download version 5.6042 of a shareware program as opposed to buying a
commercial 3.0 version from the local computer shop, there's just no comparison.

Which brings up our next point. Just where does one get shareware? Shareware is
all over the Internet and it's really hard not to bump into it. The most popular
places to find shareware is within thousands of download libraries, however the
companies (and even independent programmers behind shareware) are increasingly
offering shareware from their own websites. A simple Google or Yahoo search for
a particular type of program will yield all sorts of results that point you
toward items that you can try before you buy.

Be aware however, that because shareware is not commercial software, you may
not experience a full program the way you would if you bought the software out
of a box. Shareware may or may not be limited -- meaning that some functions may
not be available to you until the program is paid for. These limitations are
often small and don't interfere with the way its full version operations.
They're really just implemented as a way to prompt payment. Remember that
shareware is not freeware. You shouldn't try to use shareware as commercial
software without paying for it.

About the only thing that's similar between shareware and commercial software
is the way in which they may be bought. With a credit card, you can be the new
owner of your own software within minutes.

Dust Kills Cleaning the Unit Fan is Essential Computer Care

Between taking care of the household, the kids, the pets, and the district PTA,
computer care is probably one of the last things that you think of doing on a
regular basis. Without a regular maintenance schedule however, you could find
out (the hard way) that a neglected computer is an energy hog -- one that works
harder than it needs to and one that could be a financial burden to replace.

Let's talk about maintaining hardware. So much emphasis is put on maintaining a
computer's operating system that we sometimes forget how important it is to
maintain a computer's hardware components. Since there can be quite a few
components to take care of, let's talk about the most important one.

The most important component of a computer's hardware system is its fan. The
fan is located on the computer's CPU unit and when that thing gets clogged with
dirt and dust, it can run down a computer faster than you can say, "Something's
wrong with my computer and I don't know what it is!" In short, the fan is
responsible for keeping a computer's motor cool and this motor is what keeps
the computer's hard drive and peripherals functioning the way you need them to,
which translates to "fast."

A dirty fan doesn't rotate fast enough to keep that motor cool and a completely
clogged fan just stops rotating altogether. This causes the computer's motor to
work harder -- and a harder working motor can raise the electric bill! Worst
case scenario: the motor can overheat and stop working as well. No motor equals
no computer.

Keep your computer's fan clean by preventing the fan from getting dirty or
dusty in the first place. Use the computer in a dust-free environment and never
smoke around it. Nicotine and tar mean certain death when it comes to computer
fans, however should you find a need to clean the fan, do so with extreme care.

It's quite easy to cause more damage from cleaning so if you're not comfortable
with cleaning your PC yourself, take it to a shop for servicing. Otherwise, you
can unplug and disassemble the computer to do it yourself.

You'll need a can of compressed air and an anti-static rag to remove stubborn
clumps of dust. Hold the can perfectly vertical and spray the fan being careful
not to spray the dust off the fan onto other sensitive parts of the computer
like circuit boards or inside the motor casing. Wipe up remaining dust with
your anti-static rag and then reassemble the computer.

One thing that you certainly don't want to use to remove computer dust is a
vacuum cleaner. Although using a vacuum cleaner seems to make more sense, the
strong suction of a vacuum cleaner can actually spark damaging static
electricity or dislodge loose cables. You also don't want to use oil-based
cleaners. Although Pledge may dust your wooden tables and cabinets to a perfect
shine, the oil inside a cleaner like this will erode sensitive computer parts.
Stick to a liquid-free dusting method and your dusting routine will be safe
enough to repeat as often as you need.

As previously mentioned, preventing dust from entering the computer is
extremely important and will reduce the need to open and dust your system in
the first place. The severity of outside elements (smoking, humidity, pets,
etc.) will ultimately determine how often you'll need to de-dust your machine.
But as an average, you shouldn't need to perform this procedure any more than
once or twice a year.

The entire exercise should take no more than twenty minutes tops and once
complete, you'll immediately see and hear the difference in your machine. The
computer's keyboard and mouse will run more smoothly, hardware won't take as
long to connect, and the entire machine won't be as loud as one that's corroded
with ugly dust bunnies.

Customizing Your Computer with Preferences Making Your Computer Work with You -
Not Against You

Although you did not design or build your computer, you can turn it into a
device that responds to your way of using it as if you were its original
engineer or programmer. This is because the computer is a mere platform -- a
blank canvas, if you will -- waiting for you to direct its operation or paint
the picture of the perfect machine. All this is possible from making just a few
changes in your computer's current configuration.

Your computer's main configurations are housed in Windows Control Panel. Within
this small section of Windows, you can make some major changes from the way that
your computer looks to the way that your computer responds to the people who use
it. But your specifications don't just apply to Windows, they also apply to the
many software programs that are installed onto the computer (not to mention
that many software programs can be further customized through their own
configurations). We aren't going to cover them all, but we will introduce some
of the most popular so that you can get a feel of the control over your system
that these configurations give you.

Users. Before we get into the individual settings, it's important that you
understand that each set of configurations you make is specific to the users
that sit down in front of a computer. Changes made to a system by one person
will differ from the changes made by another. Enabled by a username and
password, individual desktop settings (icons, background picture, and other
settings) are available after logging onto Windows.

Display Properties. Through Display Properties, a user can change the
background of the Windows Desktop, add a screensaver, change the overall color
scheme and fonts of Windows, and adjust a computer's color depth and/or
resolution (screen area). Not just a bunch of preference settings, display
properties help individuals who have to deal with visual problems.

Accessibility Options. Speaking of visual problems, another setting that's
useful is accessibility options. This setting allows people with disabilities
to use a computer that accommodates vision and hearing problems.

Keyboard and Mouse Options. The keyboard and mouse controls give users the
option of speeding up or slowing down the movements of both of these
peripherals. For those entering the United States from a foreign country, users
will appreciate how Windows grants use of keyboard layouts native to their
original language. Other uses will appreciate the different selection of
cursors and the ability to add additional ones.

Passwords. Since the computer in use may be shared with others, Passwords gives
the almighty administrator the means to determine whether all users will share
the same preferences and desktop settings or if users can customize preferences
and desktop settings.

Regional Settings. Things get really personal in Regional Settings -- as this
configuration makes changes according to a user's location and language.
Options available can accommodate a person's preference for the display of
numbers, currency, time, and date format.

Sounds Properties. Multimedia fans can create a rich PC environment filled with
sound through this setting. Sounds can be assigned to numerous events and they
don't even need to be the default sounds installed by Windows. Users can
download sounds from the Internet or create their own sounds with a microphone.

Dialing Properties. Even the way a user connects to the Internet can be
customized. Through Dialing Properties, users can determine how a phone and
modem dials into an Internet service provider.

From just these basic configuration options, you can create your own experience
with a computer each time you sit down in front of one. Customizing your PC is
what makes using a computer truly unique and enjoyable, so have fun and build a
situation at home or a work in which you'll love to work with everyday. Should
you feel a little nervous about it at first, remember that your computer's
original configuration can be saved to a back up file should you ever want to
restore it to the same state that it was in when you first bought it.

Computer Security In Today's Society, Protecting Your Computer Is A Requirement

Advances in computer technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it
affords us quick and easy access to numerous conveniences such as bank
statements, favorite shopping centers, school and health records, and more. On
the other hand, it can also grant the same access to those who aren't supposed
to get it. Although it's a rare occurrence, hacking has become the biggest
criminal nuisance in computer history.

Make no bones about it. There's nothing innocent or cute about the hacker.
Today's hackers aren't the pimply-faced teen rebels that you might be thinking
of. Instead, this generation of hackers are grown individuals who are more than
likely earning a living by stealing the identities of innocent, law abiding
individuals and then selling those identities to others who want to slip by the
system. And the only protection against these seedy people is prevention.

Computer security couldn't be more important than it is today and that's why
we've taken the time to introduce it to you. You can reduce the probability of
experiencing identity theft by making your computer as hacker-proof as
possible. All that's needed is a little software and a lot of common sense.

1. Install an anti-virus/anti-spyware program. Anti-virus/anti-spyware software
will stop malicious code from downloading and installing onto your computer
while you peruse the Internet. Known as viruses, worms, or spyware, this
malicious code can destroy important files and render your computer good for
only one thing: sending sensitive data back to the server of an identity thief.

2. Don't store sensitive data on your computer in the first place. Should your
computer get infected with a virus, worm, or piece of spyware, you can thwart
the individuals responsible by not storing your personal information on your PC
so that when and if your computer does send back data -- it won't be anything
valuable. Hackers look for things like full names, social security numbers,
phone numbers, home addresses, work-related information, and credit card
numbers. If these things aren't saved onto a computer, there's nothing critical
to worry about other than restoring your computer to a non-virus condition.

3. Don't open files without scanning them with an anti-virus/anti-spyware
program. In the past, the warning was to avoid opening files from people that
you don't know. Today it's really not safe to open files from anyone (without
scanning the files) because that's how viruses get spread -- through files -
even by mistake. So even though your co-worker may have emailed a funny video,
it's no more safe to open than a video downloaded from a complete stranger. Be
safe and scan each and every file you download from the Internet or receive
through email regardless of where it came from.

4. Create a barrier between your computer and prying eyes.
Anti-virus/anti-spyware programs are only effective after the effect. But you
can prevent identity theft from occurring by installing a firewall. A firewall
is software that checks all data entering and exiting a computer and it then
blocks that which doesn't meet specified security criteria (user-defined
rules).1

5. Don't click on website links in spam messages. In an effort to obtain
personal information, some spammers will send email that asks you to click on a
link. The email messages are often disguised as important messages from
well-known online establishments, and they often try to scare their readers
into clicking links with threats of closing an account of some sort. Sometimes
the links are harmless and attempt to con the reader into volunteering personal
information (credit card number), but other times the links attempt to download
harmful software onto a computer.

Your best protection against computer crimes is your own knowledge. Hopefully
the suggestions above will prompt you into taking appropriate action and into
protecting your computer with the suggested tools. In doing so, you'll not only
protect yourself, you'll prevent the spread of these malicious activities and
protect others at the same time.

1 Source: Copyright (c) 1996-1998 Mecklermedia Corp.

Automating Things with Batch Files They Work on Today's Computers Too!

If you're familiar with MS-DOS at all, you'll recall that it's a command-driven
operating system that performs functions issued at the C:> prompt. The only way
to get an MS-DOS computer to do something was to type a command at this prompt
and if you can imagine, it was a rather cumbersome way to use a computer.

As an example, to load up Microsoft's simple editing program, you had to type
the name of the drive that the program was on, the directory that the program
was in, and then the name of the program. So if Microsoft Edit was in a
directory or folder named "Process," you could start the program by typing,
"C:>process\edit.com" Then, and only then would the program load up for use.

This is a small command, but just imagine if you had a program that was deeply
nested within a series of folder. You could end up typing a command as wide as
your computer screen or worse, long enough that the entire command would have
to wrap onto the next line! Now imagine having to type these long commands
every time that you wanted to start a program. Yikes!

That's one of the reasons why batch files became so popular. Batch files are
small text-based documents that contain a bunch of these commands on their own
lines. When executed, they would process each command without the user having
to type each and every one of them.

When Windows was developed, the need for typing commands was essentially
eradicated thanks to the introduction of the point-and-click (mouse) interface.
But this didn't stop the batch file fever that started under MS-DOS -- and in
some small circles, batch files are still as popular as they were in the
beginning.

Even though you may use Windows XP or Vista, batch files can save you tons of
time by automatically starting multiple programs and performing different tasks
at the single click of a button. They don't require any extensive programming
background and they don't need to be encrypted with some weird, expensive
compiler. Batch files are plain text files, and you can build one for your own
personal use with Windows' Notepad.

You could make a batch file that loads up your favorite websites at once for
example, or you could make a batch file that fills your desktop with the most
important applications for the day. To do so only requires a little knowledge
about the locations of these applications.

Let's say that every day we need to load up the Yahoo web browser, Microsoft
Word, and then the calculator that comes with Windows. Instead of doing this by
hand, we could write a batch file to do it for us.

First, we'd load up Notepad and type in the following:

START "http://www.yahoo.com" START "c:/program files/microsoft
office/office/winword.exe" START "c:/windows/calc.exe"

We would then save this data into a file named, "mytasks.bat" onto the Desktop
for easy access. Each time we double-clicked on this file, the Yahoo website
would load up, Microsoft Word would start, and the simple calculator would pop
up.

Since we want these programs to load every day, we could create a shortcut to
this file and then place the shortcut inside our computer's Start Up folder.
That way, these three programs would load every time we turn on the computer.
If you wanted these programs to start minimized, you could type the following
into a batch file instead:

START http://www.yahoo.com /m START "c:/program files/microsoft
office/office/winword.exe" /m START "c:/windows/calc.exe" /m

This will run all three programs as before, however the "/m" parameter will
minimize them so that they don't clutter up the desktop.

Other people have found much more creative and effective ways to use batch
files, but the important thing is that you know they're a resource you can use
to save a few seconds or minutes in performing important tasks. We've come a
long way from MS-DOS, but it's still a valuable source of automation that
anyone can use with no programming knowledge at all.

Computer Help -- Where and How to Get It

Well there's no denying it -- No matter how new or how well maintained our
computers are, we all encounter computer problems sooner or later. The good
news is that we don't have to face them alone. There are a ton of resources
available to walk us through computer issues but it may take a little knowledge
in knowing how to access them. This article will show you how.

1. Remember help files. It's funny, but people seem to forget that every
computer and every program installed on a computer comes with its own help
file. Even the operating system of a computer has a help file and it really
should be the first place to look for answers. Help files are designed not only
to guide the usage of a computer, they're also designed to solve problems.
Inside a help file, look for a section called, "Troubleshooting" (or something
similar) when you need to resolve an issue. This section is reserved for
solving problems specific to the software or hardware that you're using.

2. Product websites. If you're having a problem with a piece of software or
with a hardware part, try the website of that software's or hardware's
manufacturer. Most (if not all) manufacturer's reserve a portion of cyberspace
and dedicate it to support the products that they build. Microsoft's help desk
is good example.

3. Fan sites. Fan sites probably isn't a good name for this resource, but you
can find websites that are dedicated toward supporting the users of a
particular software program or piece of hardware. We've called them "fan sites"
because the maintainers of these sites have no affiliation with the
manufacturers that they support! Call them what you will, but their free help
is immeasurable and without it, we wouldn't have some of the wonderful
workarounds and unique problem solving techniques that we have today.

4. Usenet newsgroups. Another underused resource on the Internet, Usenet
newsgroups have hundreds of discussion groups dedicated to some of the most
popular computer systems, operating systems, hardware manufacturers, and
individual software programs. Sometimes, the representatives of these companies
participate, but most of the time, the support in this group is user to user,
which is just as valid because you're working with a team of experienced people.

5. Support Lines. Another source for help that we shouldn't forget are the
support systems of various manufacturers. You can reach these systems by
calling the phone number associated with the product that you're having trouble
with. Calls may be free (1-800 or 1-877 number), or they may cost a small fee
(1-900).

6. PC support groups or user groups are another option for help. These are
groups that meet in libraries, computer stores, or other local areas and they
discuss all sorts of issues related with a particular product. Even if you
aren't experiencing a computer or software problem, user groups are fun to
participate in and they can help you network into other interests such as job
or teaching opportunities.

7. Surprisingly, you may even get a helping hand from the salespersons at your
local computer store. We don't recommend that you make this your first pit stop
when you experience a problem, but we don't recommend that you rule this option
out altogether either. Computer salespersons are hired for a reason -- and
that's their knowledge. Often, these kind folks can help you resolve an issue
over the phone and prevent you form having to buy a costly solution.

As you can see, help is easy to find -- You've just got to know where to look
for it. Most of the contacts within these resources are extremely friendly and
willing to take the time to walk you through a problem at little to no cost.
From online discussion groups to the files on your own computer, help is often
just a click away.

What's That File? An Introduction to File Extensions

In an effort to be "user-friendly," Windows (and perhaps some other operating
systems) hides the most important part of a file name from new computer users:
the extension. Okay -- we're assuming that the reasoning behind hiding
extensions is a "user-friendly" one because we just can't come up with any
other reason for hiding them. No harm could ever come from seeing an extension,
but plenty could be learned from it. Fortunately you have this article to guide
you through some of the most common extensions that you'll run into.

But before you can see file extensions, you need to turn them on. From Windows
Explorer, click on the "Tools" menu, and select "File Options." Click the
"View" tab and then uncheck the box next to "Hide file extensions for known
file types." Click "OK" and you'll notice that the files in Windows Explorer
show a dot and group of three letters after their names. That dot and group of
three letters is known as an "extension," and the extension explains what kind
of file it is.

A file could be a plain text file, an image, a sound, a video, or program. But
without seeing the extension, you wouldn't know it unless you double-clicked on
it. The following list defines some of the most common extensions that you'll
find on your computer.

.au -- This extension indicates a sound file. Most sound players will load up
and play this kind of file.

.art -- This extension indicates an image file that was compressed with AOL
(America Online) technology. Both Internet Explorer and the AOL service
software can display this kind of file, however if you don't have AOL installed
on your system, Internet Explorer will display it.

.avi -- This extension indicates a video file playable by most multimedia
viewers including Microsoft's Media Player.

.bmp -- This extension indicates another image file that might have originated
from Windows Paint program.

.dll -- This extension indicates a Dynamic Link Library which may contain
additional programming code for software. Many different programs often share
Dynamic Link Libraries and you'll find a bunch of them in the Windows/System
directory (but don't ever delete them)!

.exe -- This extension indicates a program or an application like Microsoft
Word, Internet Explorer, or Outlook Express. Use extreme caution when
downloading .exe files from the Internet since malicious programmers like to
hide viruses in these types of files.

.gif -- This extension indicates another image file and it stands for "Graphics
Interchange Format." .Gif files are often smaller than .bmp files (described
earlier) and they're commonly found on Internet web pages.

.jpg -- This extension indicates yet another image file and it stands for "Joint
Photographers Experts Group." Like the .gif file, it's commonly found on
Internet web pages, however it's much smaller than both the .gif image and the
.bmp image.

.mid -- This extension indicates a sound file created with a Musical Instrument
Digital Interface. Windows Media Player will open and run these files, however
they don't sound like normal .wav or .mp3 files (described later). .Mid files
are designed to product synthetic sounds using a computer's sound card.

.mp3 -- This extension indicates a sound file that authentically reproduces
voice and/or music. Windows Media Player will open and run this kind of file.

.scr -- This extension indicates a screen saver file.

.sit -- This extension indicates a Macintosh archive StuffIt file. They will not
open on a Windows system without a special utility.

.ttf -- This extension indicates a font especially designed for use on a Windows
system. It stands for "True Type Font."

.txt -- This extension indicates a plain text file that can be opened with
Notepad.

.wav -- This extension indicates a sound file that like the .mp3 file, can be
opened with Windows Media Player or Windows Sound Recorder. .Wav files are much
larger than .mp3 files.

.zip -- This extension indicates a Windows archive WinZip file. They will not
open on a Macintosh system without a special utility.

Viruses What They Are And One Reason Why People Make Them

Over recent years, computers have become synonymous with viruses and viruses
don't show any signs of disappearing any time soon. In recent news,
LiveScience.com reported that "Before the month is even done, April has set a
record for virus e-mails."1 In the past, we would be comfortable in telling new
computer users not to worry about viruses and that catching a computer virus is
rare. Today, that would be some of the worst advice we could give anyone. As
reported in countless news reports, computer viruses are rampant and they're
extremely worrisome. This article will describe what viruses are and then point
you in the direction of some rather unique protection and prevention.

In short, a computer virus is a software program designed to destroy or steal
data. It attacks computers via distribution -- often unknowingly -- through email
attachments, software downloads, and even some types of advanced web scripting.
Viruses that destroy data are known as Trojan horses, viruses that explode
their attacks are called bombs, and viruses that duplicate themselves are
called worms. Some viruses are a combination of each, however they can be
further identified according to where they're located on a computer.

A virus originating from the boot sector of a computer is a boot-sector virus
and this nasty devil does its dirty work the moment a computer is turned on. A
virus that attaches itself to (infects) other programs is a file virus and
activates the moment that an infected program starts. File viruses may also be
referred to as parasitic viruses, however should a virus work from both the
boot-sector and from an infected program, the virus is then known as a
multipartite virus.

Why viruses exist remains a mystery, however we had privy access to the mind
behind a virus programmer who explained his motivation behind his destructive
inclinations. Apparently, this person had a deep grudge against a popular
online service which shall remain unnamed. In this hacker's mind, the online
service failed to do a quality job in protecting children from online smut and
as retaliation, he created and distributed a virus to as many file libraries of
this service as he could. His intentions were to disable the computers of the
online service's users so much that they wouldn't be able to connect for days.
In his mind, the loss of connection meant loss of revenue for the online
service.

Although the malicious code that this person generated may have worked for a
small percentage of users, sufficed to say, the online service continued on and
still exists today. Despite his motivation or intention, his efforts were null.

We wouldn't be surprised to learn if other motivations behind spreading viruses
were similar to this person's, but that doesn't justify the damage that viruses
do. Innocent people become pawns for the evil plans of others who've convinced
themselves they're doing the "right" thing.

To protect a computer from getting a virus, or clean a virus from a computer
system once infected requires the use of an antivirus utility. But may be
something else we can do. Perhaps we could make an effort to educate the people
who want put viruses into the public about ways to display dissatisfaction with
a service or product that don't involve harming innocent parties. In doing so,
we just might reduce the number of virus news stories and protect our own
investments at the same time.




Using Computers It's Not Rocket Science

These days it's strange to hear people say, "I'm just not computer literate,"
as computers have evolved from archaic scientific calculators to simple
point-and-click type machines. We suspect that today's "computer illiterates"
are people who haven't taken the time to experiment with such a machine. And we
strongly believe that spending just twenty minutes with one could turn the most
adamant technological caveman into any one of those who have fun wreaking
chatroom havoc on the Internet today.

Today, one only needs to learn how to manipulate a mouse, punch a few buttons
on a keyboard, or really just turn the thing on to use a computer. It's hard
for some folks to believe, but the computers of this generation almost run
themselves! For fun, let's investigate just how little knowledge these
thousand-dollar machines actually require.

Can an absolute newbie operate a computer without knowing how to use a mouse or
keyboard? Assuming that a computer is set up to operate on voice command -- sure!
Voice command software allows users to tell a computer what to do and the
computer responds by fulfilling the user's commands. Although it's pretty new
and still under development, voice directed technology has already infiltrated
consumer service related systems.

Think back to the last time that you paid a bill over the phone. Instead of
speaking to a human being, chances are that you spoke to a computer that not
only responded to what you said and followed the commands that you gave it, it
also asked you for more information such as your full name or credit card
number. In this case, a person (such as yourself) operated a computer without
even knowing it!

Can an absolute newbie sit down at a computer without knowing how to use one?
Assuming that a computer is set up to operate on touch command -- the answer is
again, yes! Touch command software allows users to literally touch objects on a
monitor and tell the computer what to do with a finger. Known as "kiosks," these
programs are already in use world wide at ATM machines, employment centers, and
in health monitoring systems.

Neither a mouse nor a keyboard is required. A computer user only needs to touch
various boxes on a screen to control a computer. Sure, the programming behind
such technology is extensive and advanced, but to the end user, it makes
computer use less intimidating and plain easy.

Of course when we talk about operating a computer, we envision more involvement
than speaking on the phone or touching things on a screen. The above
illustrations were just a couple of examples of how far computer technology has
grown, and how far we've pushed "user-friendliness" to its limit. Eventually,
the keyboard and mouse will have to play a role when computer newbies have to
work with one as a cash register, as a hotel booking program, or as a library's
catalog system.

These requirements don't make computers any less easier to operate, but they
don't make them that much harder either. So much of today's software is
designed to accommodate the experience of a new user that anyone could get
connected to the Internet, send an email message, and download an MP3 file
within the first five hours of purchasing a personal PC.

Understanding Operating Systems

Every new computer that's brought home from the store has an operating system
installed onto it. But what most new computer users don't realize, is that
without an operating system, that computer would be a simple shell of
possibilities. A powered computer lacking an operating system wouldn't display
anything more than a bunch of confusing text messages that describe the
computer's boot process. At the very end of this process, the computer looks
for an operating system and if not found, it will prompt the user to tell it
where it is.

Earlier computers didn't have an operating system and if you have experience
with the computers of the early eighties, you'll remember that most to them
didn't even have a hard drive! These old computers booted an MS-DOS type
operating system from drivers stored onto a floppy disk, and in order to use a
program, users would remove the boot floppy and then insert a new floppy that
contained the program. The floppy not only stored the program (word processor,
spreadsheet, etc.), it also stored the drivers that the program needed to
communicate with the computer's hardware. As you can imagine, the cumbersome
process of switching from floppy to floppy prompted the birth of the operating
system.

An operating system is a software program that controls how the computer's
hardware (and installed software) works. It manages the activity of every
component and then displays that activity as a user-friendly interface (GUI).
It keeps track of where things exist on a computer's hard drive as well. But
perhaps most importantly for the end-user, the operating system is responsible
for translating commands issued with a keyboard and mouse into binary code
(010110101 stuff) that can communicate with a set of speakers, a printer, a
scanner, and more.

With an operating system installed onto a computer's hard drive, users no
longer need to boot a computer with a floppy disk, nor do they need to run
programs from a floppy disk. All the drivers of a program are stored onto the
computer and used whenever a program is started.

Apple's Macintosh computer was among the first of a couple systems to establish
a user-to-hardware relationship through a user-friendly interface. Today, we
have quite a few operating systems. Some of the more popular ones are Windows
Vista, Mac OS X, ZETA, IBM, Unix, and Linux. But even still, operating systems
have extended onto to non-computer devices such as game consoles, portable
music players, and PDAs. Regardless of the device, the operating system
installed onto it serves the same purpose across the board: to enable
user-to-hardware communication.

When you think about upgrading your computer to a new operating system, be
careful to make sure that you have the necessary hardware components. We tried
to upgrade one of our Windows 98 machines to Windows XP, but we were cautioned
that the former may not be hardware compatible with XP technology. Apparently,
the Windows XP operating system requires components that weren't developed at
the time Windows 98 was distributed and if we were to install Windows XP on
this machine anyway, the new operating system would look for hardware that the
computer didn't have. And that would be an instant recipe for failure.

Also be careful about installing operating systems that are incompatible with
existing hardware. The hardware of Macintosh computers is extremely different
from the hardware of Windows computers and under no circumstances will a
Windows operating system work on a Macintosh machine!

Understanding Compression What It Is and What's Involved

Downloading files from the Internet has always been one of the most popular
activities on the Internet -- third to sending email and browsing the web. We
download files from software libraries, ftp directories, YouTube and Google
Video, MP3 sites, and we download files sent to us as email attachments.

Being so popular an activity, it's imperative that you compress the files
destined for another computer. File compression combines a number of different
files into one file, and it can also significantly reduce a very large file to
a smaller one. As a result, the transmission of a compressed file across the
Internet is faster and smoother. This article looks at compressed files a
little closer and it describes how to compress and decompress them using two of
the most popular archiving programs.

Identifying Compressed Files

Most files are compressed in .zip format (if you're using Windows) or .sit
format (if you're using a Mac). The two most popular software programs used to
compress and decompress files are Winzip and StuffIt respectively. There are
other programs that do the same thing and there are even programs that can
compress and decompress files for both the Windows and the Mac system. However
since Winzip and StuffIt are the most popular, we will assume you will use
either one to compress and decompress your own files.

If you download a compressed file from a website or file library that ends in
an .exe extension, take note that although the file is compressed, it's
typically a file that will install a program onto a computer. .Zip or .Sit
files don't install software -- they merely archive a collection of them into
one, or they significantly reduce the size of a larger one.

Decompressing Files

Assuming that you have Winzip or StuffIt installed on your computer, you can
access the files archived inside a .zip or .sit file by simply double-clicking
the archive (a file ending in a .zip or .sit extension). Double-clicking one of
these kinds of files will open up a window that displays the contents of the
archive. In most cases, you can double click a file inside this window to use
it, or you can select it and drag the file to a folder to view later.

Depending on how you elected to install Winzip or StuffIt, you may be able to
right-click a .zip or .sit file and have the program extract its contents into
a new folder for you.

Compressing Files

When you want to upload a file or email a collection of files to a friend, it's
best to archive it as a .zip or .sit file first. This will decrease the time it
takes for your computer to send it elsewhere, and it will also decrease the
time it takes for someone else to download it.

To create your own .zip or .sit file, you can select a single file or a group
of files from within Explorer, and right-click the selection. Again, depending
on how you installed Winzip or StuffIt, you can click the "Add to Zip" or "Add
to Sit" option and have these programs automatically archive the file(s) into
one.

Some files compress better than others and in some instances, you may not
notice that much of a difference. The files that compress the best are images,
documents, and multimedia files. Executable files (files that end in an .exe
extension) don't compress that well, however when they're archived with a
sizable number of other files, they compress rather well. Go figure!

Software Piracy It's Best To Avoid It At All Costs

Like electronic identity theft, computer viruses, and the spread of other
computer crimes, software piracy is on the rise. The problem with software
piracy is that software costs make this illegal activity appealing to the end
user. After all, who is it going to hurt? Rich software companies? This
article investigates software piracy as a whole and the impact that it has on
the computer using industry.

The most vulnerable victims of software piracy are software businesses or
independent programmers who create and distribute commercial software or
shareware. We described shareware in another article, but because both
commercial software and shareware require payment, they're the target of
pirates who seek to make these kinds of programs free to use.

Depending on their binding legal agreements, licensing typically allows the use
of a single program on a single computer. This set up is usually fine for a user
who uses software at home on one computer. But in an environment where there are
five, ten, twenty or more computers, buying a license for each computer can be
down-right costly. So costly that the temptation to pirate a little software
here and there can be pretty tempting.

Co-workers are familiar with this temptation and they're often the ones who
"share" purchased software among those who need it. However the same temptation
also prompts others to knowingly or unknowingly buy bootleg copies of commercial
software or registered shareware.

As tempting as it is, it's still illegal and the punishments/fines for sharing
commercial or registered software is too much for one to bear. In recent news,
"Yahoo China loses music piracy case (AP via Yahoo! News) A court has ordered
Yahoo Inc.'s China subsidiary to pay $27,000 for aiding music piracy, the
company and a music industry group said Tuesday."1 Additionally, "EU lawmakers
approve prison terms, fines for major commercial piracy (International Herald
Tribune) EU lawmakers voted Wednesday for legislation that would set prison
sentences and fines for large-scale commercial piracy, but exempt patents and
copying carried out for personal use." 2

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Schools can research student versions of
commercial software or ask for a school discount. Just because school rates
aren't advertised, it doesn't mean that they aren't available. Freeware or open
source software (also described in another one of our articles) is another
alternative to pirating commercial-ware, as well as shareware. And using older
versions of programs could additionally reduce the costs associated with
commercial versions.

Up until recently, public opinion held little faith in freeware or open source
software -- often regarding it as low-quality knock-off's of better known
commercial products. But if you take a good look at what's being offered at no
cost, you may be in for a big surprise. The quality of today's freeware and
open source software created a strong rift among the commercial community and
it's literally driving the competition bananas! So much so, that even some well
known software development corporations have joined the cause and built a few
freeware open source products of their own!

If you can remember that there are hoards of alternatives to costly commercial
software (and you make the effort to get it), you'll discover that you can keep
up with the rest of the computer industry at a significantly cheaper cost than
if you attempted to pay your way down the software aisle. Software piracy just
isn't the answer.

1 Source: http://
news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070424/ap_on_hi_te/china_yahoo_music_piracy_2 2 Source:
http:// www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/04/25/europe/EU-FIN-EU-Piracy.php

Working With Computers In Today's Society, There's No Escape

Well, we've been warned that this time would come -- probably from the earlier
eighties on. Yes, computers have finally taken over and if you doubt it, we're
here to convince you -- but not because we want to or because we can. We want to
convince you that if you don't take the necessary steps to control that reign,
you're going to be left behind further than you could have ever imagined.

Computers are everywhere. Take a moment to try and think of a place a business
where you didn't see a computer in use. From the small local corner store to
the largest hospital, computers are in every gas station, grocery store, bank,
restaurant, beauty shop, and doctor's office around. From a consumer's point of
view -- you may not think that's much to worry about. But along with computers,
we've also been infiltrated with a little thing called "self-service." Today,
there are more self-serviced resources than ever and in an effort to
synchronize them with headquarter databases, they're provided via your
inescapable computer.

Here are some examples. Banking is self-serviced through the desktop-clad ATM
machine. Gas stations are self-serviced through a menu-clad touch screen kiosk.
Most cash registers are Windows XP or Vista machines that send purchase details
back to headquarters via the Internet (or a small Intranet). Having your
weight, blood pressure, and heart rate measured and recorded is now a digitized
process. Even ordering a pizza is now a simple matter of dialing from a wireless
cell phone and making a few selections from series of pre-programmed menus!

The important thing to realize here is that this phenomenon isn't a new
convenience -- it's a new requirement. And if you haven't jumped onto the binary
wagon, you're going to face a few problems. For just as this new lifestyle was
once predicted, we're going to predict that "the old ways" will slowly
disappear.

We're going to predict that all paper-based transactions (checks, money orders,
etc.) and documentation (think of the old filing cabinet system) will disappear.
We're going to predict that chips will replace everything that was once
transported from one location to another through the trusty post office. And
we're going to predict that homes will become less cluttered with stacks of
paper and that our natural resources will flourish as a result of it.

This all sounds fine and dandy of course, but if you're not computer savvy,
you're going to feel a little lost once the choice has past and the revolution
is 100% complete. Fortunately, computer systems are designed in a way that even
a child can manipulate them. In fact, if you can remember that most systems are
designed along the line of menus and the selections of a few options on these
menus, you'll do just fine no matter how many buttons there are to push.

For example, when you're faced with an electronic system, look for a main menu.
Most main menus display themselves as soon as a device is turned on, so chances
are that if you're standing before a device that shows a bunch of choices to do
something, you're looking at a main menu. The buttons on these main menus of
course take you to additional menus, which in turn give you even more choices
to make. And all of those choices will eventually bring you to the service that
you need. One very important choice you'll want to keep your eye on is the
option to return to the main menu. This way, you can return to the beginning of
a system and start over in case you get lost among the way.

Another important choice that you want to keep your eye on is the choice to get
help! This option may not be available on every device that you encounter, but
when it is available, be sure to use it.

There's just no way around it. Computers and computerized systems are here to
stay. There's no need to fear them -- but you surely can't avoid them. Just
remember the menu system and you'll soon discover that you can approach and use
these things as if you designed them yourself.

When Less Is More Clean Your Disk Drive of Unnecessary Files and Your
Computer's Performance Will Improve

When it comes to maintaining your computer, you've probably heard it all
before. "Run Defrag!" "Scan Your Disk for Errors!" Although these two
activities are important, there's more you can do to extend the life of your
computer beyond today's predicted two-year span. In fact, by following the
simple advice below, you can enjoy the use of your computer to up to five years
or more -- reserving expenses to simple software upgrades rather then complete
and costly hardware upgrades.

One of the easiest and least expensive things you can do to extend the life of
your computer is to get rid of unnecessary programs, folders, and files. A disk
drive that's clogged with unnecessary and unused files is disk drive that works
harder than it has to. Although Window's defrag system can ease some of the
stress that these files place onto the drive, it doesn't do much to get rid of
the problem in the first place. This is because the defrag program simply
organizes the files in a system that makes it easier for the computer to
access. (Thus cutting down on the work required to find and load them). But
this method merely "relieves" the symptoms that these files induce -- it doesn't
attack the cause. These files need to be deleted -- not "organized!"

Of course, deleting files can be a scary adventure to most users. Most computer
users don't know which files are safe to delete and which aren't.

The worst thing anyone could do is snoop around crucial Window directories and
haphazardly delete files that don't look familiar. Doing so could render
important programs inoperable, corrupt the Windows operating system, and
possibly prevent the computer from even starting. That's why using special
deletion software is so important. Deletion programs will analyze a computer's
operating system and installed programs to determine which files are crucial to
computer function versus which files are safe to delete.

You already have such a program on your computer and it's Windows' Add/Remove
Programs (available from the Control Panel). This software will assist you with
deleting programs that you not only no longer want, but additional files that
these program use as well (dynamic link libraries, database files, registry
references, shortcut icons, etc.).

But sometimes Windows' Add/Remove Programs isn't enough. Although this software
does a pretty good job of removing unwanted programs, it can leave some files
behind even after a complete uninstall -- files which become orphan files. And
it's these orphan files that can really clutter up a hard drive and shorten the
life of an otherwise, young and robust PC.

Orphans are usually files that contain temporary data created by a program,
files created by the user, partial files left over from a computer crash, or
any other kind of miscellaneous files created for almost any other reason. The
problem is that an uninstall program doesn't delete the orphan files it leaves
behind because they were never part of the program when it was first installed.
An uninstall program can remove only the files it placed onto a hard drive
during its install routine.

So while Windows' Add/Remove Programs can remove an entire program, you'll need
to get rid of those pesky little things with a more advance file cleaner like
CleanSweep for example. CleanSweep is a unique program that will specifically
seek out files that are no longer associated with a program, and then ask if
you want to delete them.

The only time that you wouldn't want to delete an orphan file is if the file
were an actual document that you created before deleting a program. If you were
to say, uninstall Microsoft Word, all the documents that you created with Word
would then turn into orphan files. Or if you were to uninstall a
graphics-editing program, all the pictures you made with the program would
become orphan files.

The smart thing to do when you don't want to lose the data that you created
with an unwanted program is to:

1. Save or convert your documents to a format that will work with different
program first (that is, a program that you intend to keep) 2. Archive them onto
a floppy disk, flash drive, or CD-ROM 3. Proceed with a program like CleanSweep.

Using CleanSweep or any other similar type of utility could delete anywhere
from less than a megabyte of hard drive space to over five megabytes and up.
That may seem like a small amount of "clog material" to you, but to your
computer, it's a lot less to process!

Selling Your Computer Looking At Alternatives

At some point, your needs are going to outgrow the capabilities of your
computer. You may find yourself in need of more hard drive space for all those
videos and mp3s that you download, for example. Or maybe that cool new
programming language you've been dying to try requires more memory than what
your computer currently has. Unless the activities on your computer are
restricted to pure textual output (plain text files), your computer is going to
get filled with a lot of "stuff" -- stuff that can overfill a PC's capacity too
much for the computer to function well.

The problem is that while upgrading a computer is always an option, technology
advances so fast that newer products (such as memory chips, new drives, etc.)
aren't always compatible with the machines that we own. This is a common
occurrence when newer pieces of hardware require the programming of a newer
operating system. Sure, one could upgrade the operating system to accommodate
the demands of a new piece of hardware, but trouble starts when that new
operating system requires new hardware in return. If we're not careful, we
could end up replacing almost every hard and soft part of a computer that we
own -- all in an effort to upgrade! Upgrading in this fashion is not only silly
to do so, it's also costly -- more costly than simply buying a new computer.

But once the decision to buy a computer is set in stone, what can be done with
the old one? There are alternatives to selling a computer and this article is
going to introduce a few of them.

1. Give it to the kids. This is of course, assuming the kids are too young to
whine about not having enough SDRAM or less than a 160GB hard drive. Today's
"older" computers are perfectly capable of accommodating the needs of young PC
users, and they're excellent machines for playing educational CDs, small
multimedia files, or games downloaded from the Internet. And don't forget the
most important role they play in a child's homework-clad life: A simple
encyclopedia CD on a used computer makes excellent research tool (not to
mention a rather fancy calculator!).

2. Donate it to a less-fortunate or less-literate family member. We often joke
around the office about the "grandma" who refuses to use a computer until she
can afford the "latest" one. Chances are, Grandma isn't ever going to shell out
the bucks to buy the latest computer on the market, nor is she going to know how
to use it once she gets it. What Grandma doesn't realize however is that a used
computer is an excellent training tool that she can use to prepare herself for
something "better" in the future. We always say, "'Tis better to screw up
something on an old, used machine than to screw up everything on a brand new
one!" A couple of errors on an old, used machine are easier to fix because
someone is going to have the experience and knowledge to fix it. Errors on a
new machine however can be a beast to fix because we're all knocking at
Microsoft's door looking for answers.

3. Convert the machine into a storage area. As another alternative to selling
that machine, we suggest that people disconnect it from the Internet and use it
to store personal documents, records, or files. This way, personal data (such as
bank statements, store receipts, health records, etc.) is protected from prying
viruses or hackers, while the newer machine is used to surf the net.

As you can see, old computers still serve a purpose either for you or for
someone else. And although selling an old computer is always an option, there
are a number of things that you can do with an old computer. All that's
required is a little "out of the box" thinking and a grateful recipient.

Protecting Children Online Steps Toward Making Your Computer "Weirdo-Proof"

It's an unfortunate fact of reality, but children are the most victimized
computer users on the Internet today. The good news is that there are some
practical steps you can take to protect your children from sexual predators,
hackers, and other seedy individuals who want to cause harm. This article will
describe a few of them.

The first step in protecting your children at the computer is to prevent their
access to passwords. This will keep them from sharing passwords with others and
inadvertently enabling hacking into your system. If you think about it, there's
no reason why a five, seven, or even twelve year old needs to know the
passwords to sensitive areas on the computer unless you've given them
permission! In fact, children don't need to know the password used to access
the Internet either. It may be a hassle to type it in each time they want to
get online, but it's better to know the times that they connect than to have
them sneak online without your permission and knowledge of their activities.

The second step towards protecting your children online is using the computer
together. Siting next to your child while he or she peruses the Internet, you
can guide him or her to make safe and intelligent decisions. You can approve
websites and bookmark them together. You can monitor the conversations your
children have with their friends and teach them appropriate online behavior at
the same time. You can make recommendations and create a private time for
quality time as well.

The third step involves blocking access to inappropriate areas altogether. You
and your children may not always agree about what's appropriate, but as a
guardian, you're in control and you're ultimately responsible for their safety.
Take the time to investigate software tools that put you in control and allow
you to block access to certain websites. If you use an online service like AOL
(America Online), you can use its internal Parental Control settings to block
access to various chatrooms and websites. You could even block instant
messaging and email from anyone who isn't a fellow AOL user.

Other tools available online operate similar to the way that AOL's Parental
Control settings work, however no collection of tools could replace the
reinforcement of mom and dad. Never let your children speak with strangers and
never leave them alone at the computer unattended. Children just don't have the
experience that adults have and they don't have the skills required to handle
inappropriate conversations, emails, or images found online.

NOTE: Some of these tools include kid-specific web browsers that will visit
pre-approved websites. Others include browser plug-ins that won't allow access
to online areas that contain forbidden keywords.

Another step requires teaching your children to never ever volunteer personal
information. Under no circumstances, should children give their personal names,
home addresses, phone numbers, or school information to anyone over the Internet
regardless of the situation. In the even this information is required to enter a
contest of some sort, be sure that you're the one who makes the decision to
supply it and that you're the one who does it.

Performing all of these steps won't be easy. However you can help minimize
resistance to your monitoring efforts by explaining why you're taking these
precautions. Smaller children will probably enjoy the time you spend together
at the computer, but older children and pre-teens may resent it. To help build
a case for your concern, you might want to show your older children a few news
stories that exemplify the dangers that unsupervised children are exposed to.
The newspaper is unfortunately full of examples but with your help, we can
reduce them world-wide.

Open Source Software

If you've spent any lengthy amount of time on the Internet, you've probably
heard of open source software but might not have fully understood what it is
and why it even exists. This article will describe this recent phenomenon and
describe some of its benefits for the software using community.

In a nutshell, open source software is software made by everyone -- for
everyone. The hopes behind its development is that through its open access, it
will evolve into something that represents the true desires of computer users.
Through a wide network of user involvement, the software in question is
enhanced and debugged without costs or administrative politics.

Traditionally, software is developed behind closed doors. A team of
professional coders build it but the community at large isn't part of its
conception. It's costly to produce and as you can probably guess, that cost is
passed on to the end user: the consumer. Open source software on the other hand
is free. Free to download, free to install, free to use, free to modify, and
free to share.

Started over twenty years ago, it's a phenomenon that is gaining in both
popularity and exposure. In its first conception, open source gave birth to the
World Wide Web as we know it today. The Internet as a whole is the result of
free permission to access the web, use the web, contribute to the web, and
share the web with others. But it certainly hasn't stopped there. In the not
too distant past, Netscape converted its once commercial version of its
Navigator web browser to open source. And today, open source is venturing into
the commercial realm as well.

At first thought, the idea of open source may sound just plain crazy to those
who earn a living from software development. But the facts point to a different
prediction. Open source software puts companies in a terrific position to
re-brand and re-position themselves in a market that they may have not been
able to reach before. In the business world, open source is all about image and
when consumers witness corporations contributing (instead of selling) to the
buying public, they gain big favor in the eyes of their users (plus tremendous
opportunities to sell other items).

Inviting the public inside a product's development builds community and trust.
It also sets the platform for increased reliability. Fans of open source
programs are adamant about reliable software and highly criticize
commercialized versions for being buggy and error-prone. Avid fans even
proclaim commercialism is the cause of shoddy software.

Another benefit that open source brings to light is the speed at which its
products are developed, enhanced, supported and distributed. This is because
the people who regularly contribute to an open source product do so for
unmotivated reasons (other than perhaps to feed the ego.) They're highly
talented, they're available, and they care. Bringing money into any project can
almost mean instant death. It can kill motivation, desire, and a true
willingness to create a good product. In a commercial setting, participants
work for a paycheck rather than for the product. And this is what puts open
source projects far ahead of its monetized competition.

As a software user, this means you can contribute to an open source project as
well, and help to develop it into a product that reflects your direct
preferences. You aren't "stuck" using open source software the way you would be
stuck using an expensive word processor or database. You have the same access to
open source software as its programmers have and in essence, you are your own
customer!

Perhaps at this point you're wondering where you can get in on this wonderful
opportunity. There are plenty of open source opportunities sprinkled across the
Internet and they can be easily found though any search engine. Google "open
source project" and you'll be sure to find more resources than you can shake a
stick at!

Networking Home Computers Increasing Productivity With the Whole Family

Have you ever thought about networking your computers at home? If you have a
small collection of computers around the house (and a small collection of
computer users), you can connect each one of those computers to one another and
share data, software, and hardware including a single Internet connection. There
are many creative uses for home networking, however it's an ideal situation when
upgrading each computer to the same capability is financially out of the
question. On a home network, each computer has access to the equipment of the
better machine in the group as if that equipment were their own.

Connecting computers with either an Ethernet cable or a Wireless connection can
create a home network. The easiest and cheapest method uses an Ethernet
connection, which requires a series of network cards, a cable for each
computer, and a router. The network card is similar to the old modems we used
in the past to connect to the Internet, however in a home network, it's used to
communicate with every computer that's connected to it.

You'll want to first, select the computers that will connect to each other and
then install the network cards inside each of them. Then you'll connect a cable
to each computer that will communicate with the server. These cables won't
connect to the server directly. Instead, they'll connect to the router. To
enable Internet access for each computer, this router will need to connect with
a modem of the host machine.

Once the hardware is set up correctly (you'll need to read the instruction
manual of your equipment for details), you can then setup the network from
Windows on each machine. Within Windows, you can set up a home network similar
to the way that you set up an Internet connection. Only this time, you'll set
up a LAN (Local Area Network) connection.

Windows should walk you through setting up a LAN after starting the computer
and once complete, you can begin to connect one of your machines to the
network. You can do this through Internet Explorer by typing in the address and
password required to access the router (the address and password required to
access the router will be in the router manual).

Connected to the network, each computer can send files back and forth, open
programs on a remote computer, play the sound files and videos located on
another computer, and share a single Internet account to browse the web,
download files, or chat with someone in an entirely different country. If a
single printer is available on only one computer in the network, every
connected PC can send documents to it and print them out. Kids will enjoy the
ability to play multi-player games and adults will enjoy the ability to blast a
single message to everyone at once or maintain a group schedule.

Since we're describing a home network that will connect to the Internet, you're
strongly advised to install a protective firewall program to thwart Internet
viruses, worms, or other damaging spyware code. Firewalls prevent -- but they
don't repair. Only anti-virus and anti-spyware programs can reverse damage. So
you should install a firewall on the computer that grants access to the
computer, and then install an anti-virus and anti-spyware program on each of
the remaining computers in the network.

If you have files that shouldn't be shared (bank statements, credit card
information, etc.), you can restrict their access in one of several ways. You
can put them in a new folder and then remove the "read" permissions for that
folder. Or you can specify who can (and who cannot) access specific files with
a password from within Windows Control Panel.

Introduction to Programming Controlling Your Computer with a Programming
Language

In a previous article, we introduced automating some tasks with MS-DOS batch
files. In this article, we're going to introduce programming and describe how
it can be used to control the way your computer works. Normally, computer
novices aren't interested in controlling the computer. New computer users are
typically interested in learning more about how the thing works. However they
may be surprised to learn that programming increases computer knowledge as a
whole and it can help to diminish the fear associated with using a new computer.

Programming a computer is creating a sequence of instructions that enable the
computer to do something.1 The people who program computers (called
programmers) use a programming language to communicate with a computer. You
might have heard of some of these languages in the past such as Visual Basic,
C++, or Fortran. There are hundreds of other programming language and neither
one is better than the other. Most of them are capable of performing the same
tasks and achieving the same goals. A programmer chooses one language by a
simple preference.

Each of these languages differ by the way they communicate with a computer
however, and the commands that they follow are very specific. Not a single
command of one language can be interchanged with the commands or language of
another. But all of them can be used to control a computer.

Now it would be impossible to teach you how to program any language in a single
article. But we can still introduce you to some of programming's most basic
concepts -- starting with the commands we talked about earlier. Commands are the
instructions that a computer follows to perform an action. 2 To make them work
inside of a program, programmers assign commands to objects like buttons for
example.

The commands in a program are pretty useless unless they have some data to act
on so programmers either give the programs some data to work with (list of
names or numbers for example) or they make the program generate it's own data.
Sometimes, the data comes from an outside source like the Internet or the
computer that the program runs on. The data that a program receives is called
input and data that the program generates is called output.

Other times, the data is unknown. If the program were working with a simple
algebra equation like, "x + 5 = y," the variables "x" and "y" would be unknown
pieces of data. Or if a program were to calculate a date "x" days from now, the
variable "x" would be an unknown piece of data until we tell the program what
"x" is. In programming, it's sometimes required to work with unknown pieces of
data.

That's when conditions come in handy. Conditions allow a program to perform an
action based on the outcome of a previous command.3 Using this type of
instruction, we could instruct a program to do one thing if the "x" variable in
our latter example turned out to be 7 days, and then do different thing if the
variable turned out to be 3 days.

Commands, data, variables, and conditions help build the most simple programs
and there are certainly many more components of any programming language. But
when they're typed into a programming language and compiled to create a an
executable file (a file ending with the .exe extension), they turn into a
software application.

As we mentioned earlier, you can use a programming language to control your
computer. By using simple commands, you can program your computer to perform
mathematical tasks, fill out web forms, compose an email message and send it
off, or any number of other things. If you're interested, you may find Visual
Basic is one of the most easiest programming languages to learn. Visual Basic
is an object-oriented programming language and it automatically codes much of a
program the minute a programmer drags a button onto a screen.

1 Source: WordWeb Pro 4.51 2 Source: http://www.neobasic.biz/basics.htm 3
Source: http://www.neobasic.biz/basics.htm

Programs Included With a New Computer Are they good enough to stand on their
own?

The Windows operating systems already comes with a useful collection of
pre-installed programs and even some games. But one of the first things that
people do is download a butt-load of new programs as soon as a brand new system
is plugged in the wall and connected to the Internet. This article looks at some
of the programs that are included with most new systems and then asks the reader
to consider if they're sufficient.

NotePad and WordPad. All Windows systems include the two text editors,
"NotePad," and "WordPad." Notepad is a plain text editor while WordPad is a
rich text editor. Both files are capable of opening plain text, however WordPad
can open Windows Write files (an earlier version of WordPad) as well as rich
text files. WordPad can also save documents as plain text, rich text, and MS
Word documents. So with WordPad having the ability to read and create rich
text; embed objects (sound, pictures, and video); and manipulate fonts, we have
to wonder if other word processors, which do the same thing, are really
necessary. Although WordPad is certainly no match for Microsoft Word's internal
spell and grammar checker or Word's Internet linking capabilities, we believe
it's a great introduction to word processing in general for computer novices.

Address Book. There are hoards of advanced contact database programs floating
around the Internet and on store shelves, but Windows provides a completely
competent contact database of its own simply known as "Address Book." This
small compact utility allows users to organize contacts by name, location,
group, or number and it give users ample space to fully describe each. Compared
to Microsoft's Access database program, its user-friendly Address Book is a
Godsend to new computer users.

Calculator. Calculator has been a Windows accessory even from its first debut
in Windows 1.0. For the life of us, we can't figure out why anyone other than a
rocket scientist would want to install a different version than this free one
that comes pre-installed. Windows calculator has two interfaces: an easy one,
and a scientific one. So perhaps a rocket scientist could fare well with
Windows Calculator after all!

Paint. Windows' Paint program allows users to make changes to existing
graphics, or create brand new ones at no additional cost. Interestingly, we can
count at least ten different graphics packages that are more popular and widely
used than this free one. While it doesn't offer as many editing tools, it does
provide the essentials and it can open/save graphics in .bmp, .gif, and.jpg
format (the latter two being the most commonly format used for Internet eye
candy).

Media Player. Real Player and QuickTime are the first programs we think of when
we think about multimedia. But Windows Media Player, also free and
pre-installed, does a fine job at transmitting Internet-bound sound and video.
With this application, you can easily listen to .wav files, .midi files, and
even tune into a little Internet radio if you like.

System Tools. Although there are too many to list here, Windows provides more
than a handful of useful utilities that will monitor system resources, organize
files, repair damaged disks, and more. Yet and still, you can easily find
similar tools for sale at computer outlets and download libraries.

What's going on here?

The truth of the matter is that the programs pre-installed are great tools for
the beginning computer user. At some point down the road, usage will dictate a
need for more powerful applications. We may need a word processor that can
convert a document into an HTML page or PDF document. We may need a calculator
that solves geometric problems. Or we may need a multimedia tool that lets us
create our own videos as well as watch them. These capabilities aren't included
with new systems, but there's no reason why we can't exploit the tools that
we're given to their fullest.

Smartphones What's the craze all about?

If you haven't heard of smartphones, we'd like to learn where you've been
hiding all this time. Smartphones have been all over the news and chances are,
you do know what they are -- only you know them under a different name.
Smartphones are mobile phones with computer like capabilities.

What's that? Aha! Yes, you've not only heard of them, you've probably seen them
as well. Packed with Internet access, email capabilities, address books, and a
whole lot more, cell phones have come a long way since their first debut. But
be careful not to confuse these newest toys with sandbox devices.

Sandbox devices are tools that come pre-loaded with things like calendars,
calculators, and a notepad. What differentiates them from smartphones is that
users can add (download and install) additional programs to smartphones and
they seemingly become mini portable computers for the people who use them. That
- and the ability to edit the content that sits on them -- is what makes these
phones "smart."

Some of the more popular brand names include the Blackberry, PalmSource, Nokia,
and Windows CE. Yet the craze is extending to even some off-brand company names.
Today, it's hard to find a cell phone that doesn't offer some sort of "smart"
technology because it's in such a high demand. The convenience of having
information at our immediate access is phenomenal -- so much so that thousands
of programmers have jumped on the opportunity to build unique applications
specific to these small machines.

As a result, you can find tons of games, databases, GPA systems, weather
reporting programs, and even small encyclopedias on these things -- each
accessible not at the click of a mouse -- but at a few presses of a free thumb.
Of course a mini keyboard is available for the text-messaging fan or for the
poor fellow who can't seem to get away from the office. In the latter case,
don't be surprised if you find the entire Microsoft Office suite displayed
within a screen no bigger than a matchbook.

Is this a phase? That's highly doubtful. The market for these devices extends
from the highly technical and professional all the way to the pre-teen
socialite. The product crosses all demographics and thanks to decreasing costs
- it sees no economic boundaries as well. The Wikipedia encyclopedia claims
that "Out of 1 billion camera phones to be shipped in 2008, Smartphones, the
higher end of the market with full email support, will represent about 10% of
the market or about 100 million units."

But what is it that makes smartphones so appealing? As mentioned, smartphones
give us the ability to not only carry our data around with us where ever we go,
it also gives us the ability to edit that data any place -- any time. In today's
"reality" based generation, we're always looking for the opportunity to capture
and relive a moment. And we want to share that moment with others. At best,
smart phones give us the opportunity to express ourselves impromptu with
entertaining results.

Attempting to do the same with a bulky desktop computer or laptop is to
cumbersome. Even some of the smallest peripherals (digicams, digital cameras,
etc.) don't give us the same opportunities that smart phones do. Being able to
carry around a device for communication, creation, recording, and editing
simply compliments the need for today's generation to do more and then do it,
faster!





Peace
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