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135. Computer 101: Back To Basics

By Andrew D. Wright

There are two kinds of computer user, the ones who know what they're doing and the new users who don't. This column is for the newbies.

Think of the modern home computer as an Anything Box. When computers were invented, people said they were calculators. When they found their way into offices, they were typewriters. The truth is they're anything we want them to be.

A computer is a machine that can do lots of mathematics very quickly. It so happens we live in a world where everything is made of math, so whatever you want to do - talk to distant relatives, paint pictures, play music - it can be done on a computer.

The biggest obstacle a new user faces isn't learning to use the computer, it's overcoming their own fear. Anyone who has passed a Drivers License exam has the necessary skills and smarts to pick up using a computer, but most new users are more intimidated by a computer than their car.

The best way to learn to use the computer is to just get one and start using it.

The first fear to overcome is breaking something or messing up. Pretend the computer is a box full of smoke: as long as you are not seeing that smoke pour out of the machine, you haven't broken it that badly. Yes, you will make mistakes and screw things up. This is the learning process: as you figure out how to fix things you'll discover that these lessons can be applied to solve other problems.

Programs are usually represented by a little picture called an icon. To open a program, double click on the icon. This means to click twice fast with the left mouse button with the arrow on the screen over the icon. To find out more about a program, clicking the icon once with the right button will usually open up a context menu, a listing of additional choices that can be selected by clicking on them once with the left mouse button. If you can keep that straight you are already most of the way to learning how to use your computer.

When in doubt, pressing the F1 key on the top row of your keyboard will usually open up a Help menu for a program.

New users often worry that they might get tricked into paying for something they don't want or need. There is some truth to this fear but the point to remember is that on the Internet, you can usually find what you need for free. If you are looking at something and they want money for it, look around for alternatives.

For example, every Windows computer should be running an anti-virus program to protect it. You don't need to spend money to do this. Several reputable anti-virus program makers offer free versions of their program, no strings attached. They also offer versions that cost money that have additional features, but solid basic protection can be had with the free versions. There are links to two of them at the end of this article. Remember to keep them updated every few days!

Finally, using a search engine is the best way to find out about things. Search for programs you might want to use but also search for reviews of these programs. Read several before making up your mind. Don't always trust what you read in ads and flashing banners and be sure you read the terms of a new program's license before you click to install it. You may find something there you don't like.


Search engines:




Anti-virus with free versions:




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Originally published 4 July 2008


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