Every computer user needs a basic set of tools. I think these are multiple web browsers, antivirus, word processing, storage backup, and multiple email addresses. I also propose three more things that computer users need to do …
Then choose the one you like the best and use it as the default browser. Use the other(s) if you can’t get a site to work the way it should. Example: You go to a site and it says “click here” and you click and for some reason it doesn’t work. Switch browsers and do it again.
2. Use Antivirus / Antispyware / Antimalware
Boring, I know, but without this you’re naked in the brambles.
Windows Users: Microsoft Security Essentials – it’s free and it’s good. If you have Norton or McAffee, don’t sweat it. They’re terrific, but they charge. Run out your current subscription, uninstall NortAffee, and switch to Microsoft Security Essentials, which is free and just as good.
Mac Users: iAntivirus – There is some debate about whether Mac users even need antimalware software. Frankly, you can probably get by a little bit longer without much threat. The Catch: Macs are getting more popular, so they’re more interesting to bad guys to target. Get in the MacAntivirus habit now and you’ll be ready as the viruses come.
CRITICAL: Use only one. Installing more than one breaks them all leaving a big hole for the bad guys to get in. (Credit where Credit is Due: University of Colorado Security and ITS recommends the same software for all of their users that I’m recommending here. Thanks CU Security and ITS!).
3. Use a Good Word Processor
Word Processing isn’t very hard for computers any more, so for me the name of the game is compatibility and familiarity. Word processing is so important that I advise going with the software that everyone else is using: MS Word.
There are some really good alternatives to Microsoft Word (which is sold bundled with Excel and other software as MS Office), but this is one case where having what everyone else has is really nice. You know how to use everyone else’s word processor; they know how to use yours. Send your file across the world and someone else can open it because they have the same Word Processor. [I need to point out that this is the same argument that everyone used in the 80's and 90's to justify getting IBM Clones rather than Macs. Nowadays, Macs are so prevelant even little Blogs like this one need to take them into account all of the time].
Viable Alternatives: OpenOffice is terrific as a direct competitor. Download and install the software just like MS Office. Google Docs rocks as a web-based application (as does Zoho). Mac users may have iWork which includes Apple’s Pages word processor app. Pages is another very good word processor, but only the truly Apple-obsessed use it. Everyone uses Word instead, which is available on the PC or Mac.
One NONviable alternative: Microsoft Works. Blech.
4. Perform Basic Document Backup / Cloud Storage
The mantra of backup is this: Save your files in multiple locations. That way if one disk or location fails, the other one(s) can still be accessed. But it’s hard to remember to move your files around all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a tool that copied our files up to a hard disk on the internet? And wouldn’t it be great if you had multiple computers that it synchronized the files between them?
You need Dropbox! The free version comes with 2 gigabytes of space, which is plenty for documents and the like, but with only 2 gigabytes, you won’t be syncing your family photos here. There are some very creative ways people use this great service, but for the basics, just save your important documents here.
5. Have at least Two email addresses
Two email addresses so you can split your work and personal life. Or maybe you’ll divide them by putting mail from people you know whether work or personal on one and probable junk-mail generators on the other. In this scenario, when it comes time to register for that free bottle of wine at the Italian restaurant, give them the email address for junk-mail (spam) generators.
Get a gmail address if you don’t already have one. You’ll have to be creative with your gmail username at this point as many common names are taken (no firstname.lastname@example.org for me!).
Then get another address. Either get another one at gmail, or go to another place. You work? Hotmail? Mobile Me. It doesn’t matter.
Three other things you might want to consider:
6. Get Remote Access
If you have more than one computer, get LogMeIn so you can connect and control the other computer from wherever you are sitting. The free version is plenty good.
8. Try Phone/Video Call Software
This is a bit of a crazy one to include in the same list as antivirus. Antivirus is SO SO important. Making phone calls from your computer – not so much. But Skype is really great and it comes in handy when you’d least expect it. When I’m in a place with no phone reception, I sometimes can still get WiFi. Skype uses wifi, so I can place a call.
Skype lets you “call” others who are logged in to Skype on their computers (or portable devices). This is how you can make video calls: computer-to-computer via Skype. It’s great.
Skpe also lets you call to regular telephones at very good rates. You pay for every call to a phone number, but within the US calls are about 2 cents per minute. Calling overseas the rates are still very good. To use this you just need to put $5 or so on your Skype account and you can now call out.
That’s it for the very basics. What did I miss? Tell me in the comments section.