NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2012
So, Who Needs One?
By Wil Wakely,
President, Seniors Computer Group, CA
September 2011 issue, Bits and Bytes
Wilw31 (at) gmail.com (click to email author)

When I ask someone if they have a computer the infrequent answer is the subject of this article. It’s hard to convince them of its value because, until you have used one, you don’t know what you are missing. And when yours is broken, then you really know what you are missing. I made a list of just a few of the programs that are most useful and ended up with four pages, too many to list here. But here are the most popular programs that are considered essential:

Web Browsers – These programs connect you to the Internet, which is an invaluable resource that opens the world to everyone. MS (Microsoft) Internet Explorer (IE) is the most popular browser which is included in all Windows operating systems. Mozilla Firefox is the second most popular, with about a half-dozen other browsers available for free, and each with slightly different features. If for no other reason to own a computer, access to the Internet is at the top of the list and free “Google search” is a gem for the inquisitive. Almost every business today must have a computer and, most likely, a Web site for advertising and support of their products and/or services. Woe to everyone if the Internet ever shuts down for an extended period of time. Many stores close their doors when their computer is ‘down’. Most young human cashiers are mathematically crippled without a computerized cash drawer.

Next in usefulness would be Email programs, which have revolutionized our planet’s communications – these programs are called ‘email clients’. There are two basic types of email: ‘resident’, meaning stored on your computer, and ‘web-based’, meaning that the program and emails are stored on the Internet. A few examples of ‘resident’ client programs are Thunderbird, Outlook, Live Mail and Eudora. AOL, MSN, Yahoo and Gmail are examples of web-based email programs. Web-based email is more flexible in that it is accessible from any Internet connection anywhere in the world; however, the emails and contacts are not stored on your computer.

Everyone that types needs a word processor, which is the most convenient, smartest, easiest to use typewriter in the world. There are three versions of WP (word processors), two of which come with MS Windows. Notepad is the simplest with the fewest features, but for short, quick notes it works fine. Wordpad is a step up in that some formatting features are provided such as change of font size and style. MS Word comes with the MS Office Suite, which must be purchased separately. This is the most powerful of the word processors. However, Open Office Suite (free) has a Word clone included. There are many other word processors available, both free and fee based, that a Google search will uncover. Corel WordPerfect at one time was the leader of the Word Processing world, and is still available. It is not as popular, but it is equally as powerful as Word.

Photo processing is perhaps the third most popular of computer programs. Digital photography, rather than obsolete film, allows your photos to be manipulated with a computer. A host of these programs are available with prices ranging from free to over $500. (Much, much more if you are a photo professional). Some programs allow you to create albums and scrapbooks. You can store selected photos on a web site and allow designated friends to view them at their leisure. So it is not necessary to email your photos; just inform your friends where to view them on the Web, and provide a password if necessary. Picasa, a program from Google is perhaps the best overall photo manipulating program for the price, which is free. If you are a pro, Photoshop is one of the best programs, but it is quite expensive.

Spreadsheets, such as Excel and Paradox are essential if you do any financial or mathematical calculations. If you keep lots of lists by hand, you might find a spreadsheet very useful. Some people use it as an address book and for budgeting. Try it, you might like it, and it is not all that difficult to master.

Utilities to maintain your computer in top running order are necessary programs. Anti-virus, email Spam filters, Firewalls, file managers are all essential programs. A Google search on the Internet will list thousands in all price ranges. Many are available for free.

Just a few of the other useful computer programs, in no particular order, are: Draw/Paint, Legal, Genealogy, Tax preparation, Music, Video, FAX, Labels and Envelopes, Calendar, CAD (computer aided design), and databases. And I know you can think of many more uses for your computer.

Let your Board of Directors know which of the programs you wish to be presented at our Saturday meetings. You might even volunteer to present your favorite one to the membership. Don’t be shy. Happy computing!

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