Common Computer Myths

Common Computer Myths

Part of my job at the library is helping individuals with computers through our free Training on Demand program.  I help patrons learn how to use their computers, how to surf the Web, how to use Microsoft Office, and even help them optimize their computers.  In the six years I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of misinformation regarding computers floating around.  Here are just a few of the misconceptions I’ve encountered: 

My computer is running slowly; it must have a virus.
That is a possibility, especially if you’re not running any Internet security software or you haven’t updated it in a long time.  If this is the case, you need to fix the situation as soon as possible!  However, it is just as likely that you’ve got too many background programs running at once.  Computer manufacturers and retailers like to treat new computers as advertising space for software that you don’t need; all that excess is probably clogging up your system. 

Try a program like PC Decrapifier (I didn’t name it!) to get rid of useless programs that are slowing your machine down. 

My computer came with Microsoft Office.
New Windows computers, especially those purchased in big-box stores, usually have trial versions of Microsoft Office that will expire 60 days after their first use.  When this trial period is finished, the software will lock up and refuse to work until you pay for a full retail copy.  If you weren’t explicitly told that the computer came with a full, working version of Office, it probably didn’t.  Fortunately, you don’t need to pay several hundred dollars for an office suite!  Try LibreOffice or Kingsoft Office, both free alternatives to Microsoft Office.

Deleting files from my computer will make it go faster.
Not necessarily! In fact, probably not.  Modern computers come with massive amounts of storage that most users never come close to filling up, but there’s no reason for them to not use as much as they need.  Pictures, music, movies, documents, etc., will not slow down a computer until the point when it struggles to find room for more.  The true culprit of a slow computer is usually an overload of simultaneously running background programs, as well as viruses and malware, and sometimes aging hardware.  If you’re really running low on space, uninstall programs that you never use before deleting or moving your personal files.  Refer to the PC Decrapifier link above for help!

Macs are safer than PCs and don’t even need security software.
This might have been true in the 1990s and early 2000s, but when Macs became popular again they also became much more attractive targets for computer criminals who now work just as hard at developing viruses and malware for Macs as they have been for PCs. 

Software that I pay for is better than free software.
Not always.  In fact, there is an entire movement on the Internet that develops, markets, and shares free software alternatives that are just as good, if not better than their paid counterparts.  You can find free, quality alternatives for almost every program you’d pay for: http://www.osalt.com/

I’ve got my files backed up
Are you sure?  Backing up implies that the files are stored in two different locations. Ideally your files would be stored on your computer and then again on either some sort of removeable storage (like a flash drive, usb hard drive, or optical disc) or even better, they’re backed up with an online service, like dropbox or mozy.  If you’ve only got one copy of any file or files or both copies are stored on the same device, they’re not actually backed up.

My anti-virus software keeps me safe on the Internet.
True, you absolutely must be using anti-virus software to stay safe online, but that by itself is not nearly enough.  You should also be running a firewall and anti-malware protection.  You should also keep all your computer programs up-to-date, regularly update Windows or Mac OS, avoid visiting Web sites of questionable repute, and not give your personal information to any person or organization you don’t know and trust.  The point is, true Internet security requires us to take responsibility for everything we do online. Merely installing anti-virus software and forgetting about it is a great way to compromise that security.  

Defragmenting my hard drive will make my computer run faster
Maybe.  If you’ve been using your computer heavily for a long time, by which I mean you’ve been frequently installing and uninstalling programs and downloading lots of files, but you’ve have never bothered to defragment it, you may notice a bump in speed when the process is finished.  It’s more likely that if you notice anything, it will be that your computer doesn’t choke quite as much when it comes time to multitask, but don’t expect your computer to be a speed demon after defragmenting it.  It’s important to do periodically, but don’t expect miracles from it. 

I hear FiOS is really fast. I should order it right away.
It is true that a fiber optic connection to the Internet has the potential to be the fastest you’ve ever experienced.  However, it is unlikely to be anything so grand.  FiOS provides some nice fat pipes to pour data through quickly, but the speed still depends on the quality of the provider.  If you can, ask neighbors who have the service how fast their FiOS connection is and, even more importantly, what speeds they’re supposed to be getting; use SpeedTest.net to check.  The service you signed up for could be for 30Mbps, but you may get significantly less than that; ISP customers pay for a potential speed, but no ISP I’ve heard of will actually guarantee that same speed all the time, or in some cases, ever.  So check before you buy; you may be better sticking with your plain cable connection or even DSL.

I have 500 gigabytes of memory.
This is a common computer misnomer. You have 500 (or 250, or 300, or however many) gigabytes of hard drive space or, more succinctly, storage.  Strictly speaking, however, this is not the same thing as memory.  In computer parlance, memory, referred to more completely as RAM (Random Access Memory), is used while the computer is powered on to store programs and files that are needed for quick retrieval by the operating system.  Once the computer is completely powered off, any changes to these programs and files are saved to the hard drive, and the RAM is emptied until the computer is booted again.  How to keep memory and storage straight in your head?  Current computers usually only have RAM in the single digits, and very occasionally in the double digits; when you get into triple and quadruple digits, you’ve moved on to talking about how much storage capacity your hard drive has.