When library customers ask me to show them how to use their laptops, I can't help but notice all the junk they've got that's slowing their computers way down. Some of this is manufacturer-loaded software, but the lion's share of it is from Web sites they've browsed to which inform them they need a particular program or plug-in to run correctly. This is something I addressed at length in my post on Avoiding Sneakware.
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.
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.
You wouldn’t know it by the state of things, but Adobe Reader isn’t the end-all, be-all of PDF. Standing for "Portable Document Format," PDF is a file format used to maintain the uniform appearance of a document no matter what type of hardware or software is being used to view it. You will see it used frequently for government documents such as IRS and court forms, job applications, ebooks and more since it looks the same everywhere. Adobe may have created the PDF format, but they made it a free-for-all file format in 2008, resulting in software for reading and creating PDFs that rival Adobe’s own.
You might be asking yourself ,“Why would I want to switch from Acrobat Reader?” Over the years Adobe Reader (once known as Acrobat Reader) has become a horribly bloated program that takes entirely too much space on your hard drive and, in my opinion, an unacceptable amount of RAM to use. It’s slow to load and slower to use. Furthermore, Adobe is constantly releasing updates for the program; it seems like every other time I turn on my Windows 7 computer there’s a notification for an Adobe Reader update, and I’m growing tired of it.