135. Computer 101: Back To
By Andrew D. Wright
There are two kinds of computer user, the ones who know what they're doing
and the new users who don't. This column is for the newbies.
Think of the modern home computer as an Anything Box. When computers were
invented, people said they were calculators. When they found their way
into offices, they were typewriters. The truth is they're anything we want
them to be.
A computer is a machine that can do lots of mathematics very quickly. It
so happens we live in a world where everything is made of math, so
whatever you want to do - talk to distant relatives, paint pictures, play
music - it can be done on a computer.
The biggest obstacle a new user faces isn't learning to use the computer,
it's overcoming their own fear. Anyone who has passed a Drivers License
exam has the necessary skills and smarts to pick up using a computer, but
most new users are more intimidated by a computer than their car.
The best way to learn to use the computer is to just get one and start
The first fear to overcome is breaking something or messing up. Pretend
the computer is a box full of smoke: as long as you are not seeing that
smoke pour out of the machine, you haven't broken it that badly. Yes, you
will make mistakes and screw things up. This is the learning process: as
you figure out how to fix things you'll discover that these lessons can be
applied to solve other problems.
Programs are usually represented by a little picture called an icon. To
open a program, double click on the icon. This means to click twice fast
with the left mouse button with the arrow on the screen over the icon. To
find out more about a program, clicking the icon once with the right
button will usually open up a context menu, a listing of additional
choices that can be selected by clicking on them once with the left mouse
button. If you can keep that straight you are already most of the way to
learning how to use your computer.
When in doubt, pressing the F1 key on the top row of your keyboard will
usually open up a Help menu for a program.
New users often worry that they might get tricked into paying for
something they don't want or need. There is some truth to this fear but
the point to remember is that on the Internet, you can usually find what
you need for free. If you are looking at something and they want money for
it, look around for alternatives.
For example, every Windows computer should be running an anti-virus
program to protect it. You don't need to spend money to do this. Several
reputable anti-virus program makers offer free versions of their program,
no strings attached. They also offer versions that cost money that have
additional features, but solid basic protection can be had with the free
versions. There are links to two of them at the end of this article.
Remember to keep them updated every few days!
Finally, using a search engine is the best way to find out about things.
Search for programs you might want to use but also search for reviews of
these programs. Read several before making up your mind. Don't always
trust what you read in ads and flashing banners and be sure you read the
terms of a new program's license before you click to install it. You may
find something there you don't like.
Anti-virus with free versions:
The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community
Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about
computing, email firstname.lastname@example.org or
click here. If we use your question
in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.
Originally published 4 July 2008