Beyond my typical day-to-day programs like Google Chrome, Microsoft Word, maybe a game here and there, I have a selection of utilities that help me perform behind-the-scenes tasks and maintain my computer’s health. I have found each of the following to invaluable. Many of them offer paid versions with extra customer support options and a few extra bells and whistles, but you will find that the free versions offer everything you need, so be sure to get those.
I can’t believe I haven’t written about this sooner. Though consumers are buying tablet computers in greater numbers than classic computers, that hasn’t removed the necessity for a laptop or desktop computer. Sooner or later these need to be replaced and that will now mean buying a PC that ispreloaded with Windows 8. And I can say without hesitation, folks despise Windows 8. I might be able to help with that.
The American Library Association’s Choose Privacy Week was May 1-7. Oops—dropped the ball on that one. Still, one of the key points of Choose Privacy Week is that privacy awareness is something we all have to take seriously all the time, particularly online. A common mistake when considering privacy is assuming that it is something we possess naturally and have taken away from us by others. The reality is that privacy is something we have to actively claim for ourselves and work for every day. Our electronic world does not allow for anything less. People become understandably indignant when their sense of privacy is violated. I’m not trying to blame the victim—indeed, the potential victims are any or all of us. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that today’s world of hyper-connectivity and big data doesn’t allow us the luxury of treating privacy as a given.
First, let’s get real about privacy:
In the past I have lambasted Barnes and Noble's Nook products for a number of reasons, but none of them have to do with device itself. I dislike how eBooks purchased from B&N are encrypted with the credit card number used to purchase them (don't forget that number!). I dislike how stripped-down the app selection is. I dislike their severe lack of media offerings. But the device itself? It's got good specs! Nice HD screen, decent processor speed, expandable storage, slick design—it's got all the makings of a great tablet, save for the fact that it has been tethered exclusively to Barnes and Noble's horrible business practices. But that has now changed with a significant price drop and the addition of the Google Play app store. If you're on the fence about a tablet purchase, I now have to actually, grudgingly recommend the Nook HD over everything else!
You’ve probably encountered them - big flashing warning boxes on websites that inform you that your computer is infected with hundreds of viruses or malware or some such. Scary, right? You don’t want your computer to be infected with anything! And these nice people are offering to scan your computer to clean it with their free download - how thoughtful! So you click yes, please clean my computer, and it all goes downhill from there.
Microsoft Office maybe the go-to suite for businessy type things, but goodness gracious, it is expensive! And copy-protected! A single-PC license for the most stripped-down version of Office, the Home & Student edition which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, runs $139.99. That’s for ONE PC and lord help you if you need to reinstall it at any point - you’ll likely end up on the line with Microsoft tech support trying to re-activate your legitimately-purchased software. You’ve also got the option of paying $400 (or as I like to call it, my grocery budget) for the full Office experience with all its bells and whistles . . . again, for one PC. Please. Have some free software, on me!
From 2000-2003 I was a creative writing major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a university most well-known for its schools of engineering and computer science. Guess I could have thought that decision through a little better, but I’m glad I didn’t. I even lived in a private dorm adjacent to the engineering campus, Hendrick House, surrounded by some of the strangest, most intelligent and most wonderful people I’ve ever known, almost all of them engineers. When I arrived at UIUC, I knew the bare bones of computering—how to type, how to use a Web browser, how to use a word processor, and play a few games, but not much else. However, over the course of three years living with these technological elite, I picked up more than a few tricks not only about using computers, but about how to fearlessly teach myself more. And now I pass that on to you.
Attaining fearlessness in the face of learning more about the computer lies in the art of reversibility. The most common fear my students express is that they will press the wrong keys or click the wrong thingies and destroy their computers. I try to assure them this is highly unlikely, but that discomfort still remains. Certainly I felt that way 10 years ago. I discovered over time that there are particular steps you need to take to ensure that, if the worst happens and your computer stops working, you can back out of your mistake or recover your computer. With the following steps accomplished, you’ll find that you feel much less hesitant about stepping outside your comfort zone.
Tech is moving faster than ever and what we might still consider novel is, in fact, quite dated. Do you realize that the iPhone and iPad mobile iOS operating system is close to six years old? And Google’s Android is not much younger than that. While both companies continue to innovate marginally, it’s safe to say we know roughly what to expect from both platforms, being as entrenched as they are. Is the mobile market then ready for fresh competition or are newcomers (and a couple of “oldcomers”) just a flash in the pan against Apple and Google?
The Kindle Fire HD really is a fine piece of mobile computing hardware. Everything from the high-definition screen to the staggering Dolby audio fidelity to the grip of the device has been well thought-out. It’s designed with media consumption in mind, with access not only to Amazon’s vast library of ebooks, music, movies, and TV, but also to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and more. And it’s cheap too, starting at $200 for a 16GB wifi variety. It's a shame then that such a great device is paired with Amazon’s App Store, whose offerings are laughably, pitifully lacking when compared to the Google Play store. What’s worse, you can’t put the Google Play store on the device without some serious Android hacking chops and voiding the warranty in the process. But, if you or a friend own another Android device with access to the Google Play store, like an Android smartphone, there is a way around this!
If one of your New Year's resolutions was to finally get organized, you may be starting to feel frustrated with your progress and thinking of giving up until next year. If that's the case, here are some free organizational apps to help fight your case of Resolution Fatigue. A more organized you may be just a click away.
Free Computer Assistance
CRRL Training on Demand
The Very Basics
The Library Network's New User Training
SeniorNet How-To Tips
Firchild YouTube Tutorials
Goodwill Community Foundation Computer Training
In Pictures Computer Tutorials
Microsoft's Office Tutorials
Tech News & Trends
All Things D
Cult of Mac
Digits: Wall Street Journal Tech Blog
The Guardian Technology News
New York Times Technology News
This Week in Tech Podcasts with Leo Laporte
Washington Post Technology News