Home computing. (Computer's Getting Started With)
by Richard O. Mann
WHAT IS HOME COMPUTING?
Having a computer in your home--as 25 million of us do--is a whole different adventure from using a PC in your workplace. For one thing, there's your family to worry about. You'll need to work out ways to share computer time among them, teach them how to use it, and protect it from them. (Have you ever seen a keyboard gummed up by a spilled root beer float? Pray you never do.)
Whole new worlds of software open up to you: games, educational programs, edutainment programs, reference works, home productivity programs, personal finance managers, religious software, and scores of wonderful things for your hobbies and other away-from-the-workplace interests. (There are thriving markets for scout troop management software and bowling league secretaries' programs, for example.) You'll also want to run your business software at home. After all, why learn a whole new word processor when you're already proficient with WordPerfect or Microsoft Word?
Buy a modem and sign up for America Online, CompuServe, or Prodigy, and a raft of new concerns will hit. Online time is billed by the minute, and even the least expensive services can run up appallingly large bills when teenagers and other susceptible persons (like you and me) get hooked on the network habit. And your phone's always busy--an irritating rarity in this era of call waiting service.
Other interesting problems await you. You're going to run out of money for software in no time, and--depending on how long it takes you to run out of money--you're likely to find your hard drive filling up faster than you ever imagined it would. Your kids are likely to discover the neighborhood shareware grapevine or start downloading shareware programs from local bulletin board services. When this happens, wave bye-bye to your hard drive space and gear up for virus detection and prevention.
while I've warned of impending problems, they're more fun than irritation (except for the part about running out of money). Integrating a PC into your home and family is a grand adventure, an opportunity to learn for everyone.
In the articles that follow, I'll offer assistance with these problems--make that growth opportunities. I'll discuss some basic guidelines for choosing the right computer (covered more thoroughly in COMPUTE's Getting Started with Buying a New PC in our February 1994 issue) and help you with strategies for finding software that does the job without totally draining your financial resources. I'll discuss how to set up the computer for effective family use--insulating the uninitiated from unpleasant DOS matters, for instance. I'll offer some tips on peaceful family coexistence with the PC, as well as maintaining and protecting your computer. When you're finished here, you'll have some useful ideas for living with a home PC.
Welcome to a journey of discovery and enlightenment (with minor side trips into frustration and brushes with poverty). Welcome to the world of the home PC.
HOW TO CHOOSE A HOME COMPUTER
Buying a computer for the home can be a daunting assignment, especially if it's your first venture into this fascinating area of personal technology. You're facing a jungle of odd jargon, even more choices of machines and options than breakfast cereals in the supermarket, and probably conflicting advice from those around you. It's so complicated that I can't begin to tell you everything you'll need to know in the short confines of these articles. This time around, I'll concentrate on the most frequently asked questions and considerations involved in buying computers specifically for the home, which is certainly an art unto itself.
How Much Should You Spend?
The first step in the process is to determine how much you can spend for this new addition to your home. You can buy excellent if somewhat Spartan computers for about $1,000, or you can spend as much as $4,000 if you feel you need the latest model, the fastest chip, and all the possible options. (Writing about prices is always scary; the PC market changes so fast that there's no telling what will happen in the two months it takes to get these words into print--except that prices will go down.)
The best advice I can give is to buy as much computer as you can reasonably afford. It often seems that all the hot new software products require state-of-the-art equipment. If you buy slightly out-of-date hardware today, by this time next year, you'll find yourself unable to run many of the great new programs that I'll be writing about here. In other words, don't buy a 386SX computer unless you're sure you want to run only last year's software, and you won't be catching upgrade fever.
And if possible, consider getting a chip-upgradable computer in case the upgrade pressure becomes unbearable.
Should You Get Multimedia?
Yes. That one was easy. Why get multimedia? Without it, you'll be on the outside looking in. You'll be unable to use much of the best of the new software. Multimedia software today is pretty spectacular, but I have the feeling that we haven't seen anything yet. Don't miss out.
Another good reason to include the CD-ROM drive and sound board as part of your computer purchase is that it's much easier that way. Until the planned Plug and Play standards become reality--at least a year, probably longer--installing a CD-ROM drive and sound board in an existing computer can be an exercise in frustration. Even if the thought of taking screwdriver in hand to open the computer case doesn't give you a mild case of the shakes, you're likely to have problems. IRQs conflict, DMA channels get crossed, tiny jumpers must be moved, and DIP switches must be changed.
Let your dealer worry about all that--buy the computer with everything installed and working. Happily, it's often less expensive to buy the multimedia kit built in. (But be sure that you know which components you're getting and that they're the ones you want. Many built-ins are old technology.)
How Important Is It to Match Your School's Hardware?
Often, one of the main reasons you're buying a home computer is to be sure your children aren't left behind in the virtual dust on the information superhighway. How important is it to have the same kind of computer the kids use at school?
Opinions vary. Kids are generally versatile creatures, able to switch mental gears as they move from old Apple II's still found in some schools to Amigas, Macintoshes, and IBM compatibles. They consider the varieties of computers to be part of the landscape and aren't fazed by the need to know how to use different varieties of tools. Get the computer that you know how to use; the kids will adjust without difficulty. That's my advice. Others may advise differently.
(Because this is a PC magazine, I'll assume that--after careful consideration--you've decided on an IBM compatible for your home.)
Can't Kids Get Along with a Smaller, Slower Computer?
Yes, but they won't like it. Kids will want the latest games, which are notorious for stretching your hardware to its limits. Current games often require absolutely the fastest, most RAM-rich hardware you can buy to play at even a decent speed. If that doesn't bother you ("My kids are going to use the computer only for educational programs," you say), be aware that reference titles and other educational programs are now on CD-ROM with fancy fullmotion video clips that play slowly even on today's fastest computers.
Even if the computer is only for the kids, get at least a 486SX-25 with 4MB of RAM and a 120MB hard drive. That's the bare minimum. Even for a second machine, I wouldn't buy anything less than a 486DX-33 with 4MB of RAM and a 200MB hard drive. If I anticipated heavy Windows use (and I do), I'd get 8MB of RAM if it were in any way possible. Those are the minimums.
Would You Be Better Off with Two Computers?
Many families are finding it necessary to have two computers. Usually, this happens as a longtime computer owner buys a newer, more modern computer. The old one is then relegated to the kids. (But Dad and Mom often find themselves doing their word processing on the old machine because the kids need the CD-ROM-equipped computer to do their schoolwork or play their games.)
At the Mann Mansion, it's not unusual for our family of four to be happily working away on four separate computers. (We own two and usually have several systems in for review.) Having at least two is an absolute necessity around here.
If you think you may need two computers for your family, consider making one of them a laptop computer. Today's laptops (primarily notebooks and subnotebooks) are surprisingly capable computers at relatively affordable prices. The minimum configuration mentioned above is fairly standard for notebook computers. (Give it another year or two, and you may even be able to afford a color-screen notebook computer.)
Where Should You Buy Your Computer?
Deciding where to buy your computer can be difficult. As I've advised dozens of friends on their home computer purchases, I've found that two factors seem to take a controlling role in the decision: price and available financing.
Local furniture stores do a brisk business in computers because they offer easy credit and many buyers already have accounts there. Little or no money down, immediate delivery, and easy payments carry a lot of weight.
Others who can afford to buy outright or charge the computer to a credit card usually go for the lowest price from a nationally known mail-order vendor (often Gateway 2000). Others search the local dealers for the best price and features, looking forward to having locally available service and advice--an excellent idea. The warehouse stores are also doing a brisk business in lowpriced PCs.
Buying a computer for your home can be a lot of fun. Involve the family, after explaining the basic constraints, and have fun sharing the anticipation of having one of these tool-and-entertainment-device combinations in your home.
HOW TO SET UP YOUR HOME COMPUTER FOR THE FAMILY
Not everyone in the family will have the same ability to control the computer. You, as the master of the computer, may want to assist family members by making it easy for them to get to the programs they want to run. You may also want to limit the things they can do. A well-meaning child set loose in the Windows Program Manager can wreak unlimited havoc on your carefully designed layout, for instance.
There are many tools to help you with this. If your concern is merely to make it easy for everyone to run the programs on your hard drive, you can write brief batch files to run the programs. Add a master batch file that lists the names of the other batch files, and you have a homemade menu system. It doesn't limit users from doing whatever they may want to do, but it does make it easy to run your programs.
To limit access only to programs that you've specifically set up for each family member, you need a menu program. In the days before Windows hit it big, menu programs were big business. Things have gotten lean for these companies now, but they persist, and first-class menu programs are still available. PC Dynamics' MenuWorks Advanced 2.0 (the one I use), is an extremely easy-to-use yet high-powered program. It offers passwords and security levels, logs all programs as they're run, and has a full-featured disk and file manager built in. You can limit any user's ability to shell out to DOS, thus effectively preventing him or her from installing new programs, monkeying around with your directory structure, erasing files, and so on. Fifth Generation Systems' Direct Access Menu offers similar features.
But what about Windows? The icon-filled Program Manager screen is designed to be the menu--you just double-click on any program's icon to run it. The problem with this is security. There isn't any. Anyone can run programs from icons, as well as add icons, delete icons, drag them around the desktop, and create all kinds of disarray. And anyone can even change your drivers, monkey with the WIN.INI files, and totally destroy your ability to run Windows. As if that weren't bad enough, clicking on the DOS icon gives a person access to the DOS programs.
There is a way to limit access while still running Windows: Fifth Generation Systems' Direct Access Menu for Windows, which offers the same features as the DOS menu program. It adds the ability to nest your menus (which you can't do with the Windows Program Manager), but it can put only a dozen or so programs on a single screen's menu. If the folks who'll be using your computer's Windows programs are well behaved, you probably don't need this extra layer of menu protection. If they're likely to be a little wild, however, you may want to maintain control with Direct Access Menu for Windows.
HOW TO CHOOSE SOFTWARE FOR THE HOME
Having a computer at home opens a new world of wonderful software to you, programs your employer would never allow you to put on the computers at work. Your biggest problems will be picking from the wealth of interesting programs, finding a way to pay for everything you'd like to buy, and fitting it all onto your hard drive after you bring it home. I can't help you with the running-out-of-money problem, but I can give you a quick overview of the kinds of software that are available and pass along some advice.
The Year of the Home Computer
There's a lot of excitement for home computing among the giant software developers. Both Microsoft and WordPerfect have established major product lines with scores of products, heavy advertising support, and hopes of getting their products into most of the homes in the country. After all, with over 25 million households (27 percent of all homes) owning computers and 40 percent more planning a computer purchase, there's a multibilliondollar market there waiting to be tapped.
Maybe all this attention will make this the year of the home computer.
A Basic Home Software Portfolio
You'll need a few basic programs as the core of your home computer's repertorire. In today's market, much of what you need will come bundled with the computer. You'll have a hard time, for example, buying a new computer without Windows already installed along with DOS. Beyond that, software bundles will differ.
A works program is often included in computers aimed for home use. Works programs, such as Microsoft Works, Claris-Works, and WordPerfect Works (also referred to as integrated programs), combine a basic word processor, spreadsheet, database, communications program, and often a graphics program into a single package. You can do most of the work a typical home needs (homework, correspondence, light household data tracking) quite well with these programs. If you didn't get a works program with your computer, one of them would be an excellent choice to give you a lot of power for your money, across the spectrum of basic computer tools. (On the other hand, many of us need our word processors and spreadsheets, for instance, to match up with what we use at work. Be sure to explore the licensing of these programs; many companies have agreements with the software companies allowing employees to legally make copies for use at home.)
Beyond that, a basic portfolio of software might also include home productivity software, games, school or educational programs, work software brought home, hobby-related programs, home business applications, and communications software--in order from most to least frequently used, according to a recent study. Let's run through a brief overview of the categories we haven't already covered.
Aside from the works programs, you'll find copies of several standard sorts of programs on most home computers. A few programs have been around since the beginning of the DOS era, continually upgraded and as common on home computers as Cheerios or Kleenex are in our homes. Take Power Up Software's excellent Calendar Creator Plus, for example. We've all seen those omnipresent monthly calendars created by this program--they come with PTA bulletins and church newsletters and are on countless company bulletin boards. The program is currently available in both DOS and Windows versions.
Another popular program is Broderbund's Print Shop Deluxe. The company has sold over 6 million Print Shop products since its introduction years ago. Print Shop makes signs, cards, and banners, and its various companion products add many additional graphics and fancy features, such as text art. Most of us are familiar with the old dotmatrix printer version; today's Windows version prints first-class color graphics, laser-quality images, and other high-quality graphics.
Serveral million copies of Intuit's outstanding personal finance program, Quicken, grace home computers. With it or other programs like it, you can control your checkbook, bank cards, and total financial situation. Quicken leads that market because of its single-minded pursuit of ease of use throughout the program.
Productivity titles run the gamut, from aardvark information (The Software Toolworks' Animals) to zymurgy (The Random House Unabridged Dictionary). You'll find drawing programs for creating graphics (Micrografx's Windows Draw), desktop publishing (Microsoft Publisher is the current bestseller), tax preparation packages (Meca's TaxCut for Windows or for DOS), home legal helps (Parsons Technology's It's Legal), address books (Power Up's Address Book Plus), language-teaching and translation programs (Road Scholar's Spanish Scholar for Windows), cookbooks (Arion Software's MasterCook II), gardening programs (Voudette's FLOWERscape), home building and remodeling design (Br0derbund's 3D Home Architect), genealogy programs (Banner Blue's Family Tree Maker for Windows), and, of course, the traditional items such as word processors, spread-sheets, and databases of all types and descriptions. The list goes on and on.
Personal productivity programs include the general category of utility programs, which are both popular and necessary. For those with hard drives that are getting crowded, Stac Electronics' Stacker 4.0 can stuff up to twice as much data as normal onto your drive through a process called disk compression.
In addition, you'll want a virus checker, though you can get an adequate one with DOS 6.21. LapLink V from Traveling Software comes with a cable that allows you to quickly move data between two computers--used most frequently with laptops, but handy whenever you want to transfer large quantities of data quickly.
General utility packages are perennial bestsellers. Symantec's Norton Utilities 8.0, Central Point Software's PC Tools 2.0 for Windows, and PC Tools Pro 9.0 for DOS combine nearly every useful utility known to man into a single package. They provide excellent tools for diagnosing hardware problems, finding and solving hardware and software system conflicts, recovering from and preventing system crashes, and recovering lost or damaged files. You'll want one of these on hand at all times.
Windows users may want to investigate Symantec's Norton Desktop for Windows 3.0, a utility that improves on and expands the basic Windows Program Manager, as well as adding other utility functions. Hewlett-Packard's Dashboard provides a nononsense, streamlined Windows interface.
Windows users will also want a screen saver. These wonderfully entertaining programs put changing images on your PC's screen when you haven't been working at the computer for a set time--ostensibly to prevent image burn-in. They've become incredibly popular over the last two years, spawning dozens of wonderful packages.
Of note is Berkeley Systems' fine After Dark series, which includes the famous flying toasters, a separate set of Star Trek screens with sound, and animated Disney scenes.
Second Nature Software sells an inexpensive series of 31 fine art sets, ranging from breathtaking photos of mountain splendor to classic aircraft to Monet and Renoir paintings. Each disk contains 22 images. A share of the profits is donated to environmental groups.
Go ahead and get a wildly fun screen saver. Chances are the boss won't appreciate Disney or Star Trek scenes at work, so let your spirit of fun run free at home.
Windows users will also want to explore TrueType fonts. Almost any Windows program can access any TrueType font, printing it in scalable sizes on virtually any printer. Swfte International offers 100 fonts in each of its Typecase I, II, and III packages, along with a font manager that helps keep the Windows overhead associated with these fonts under control. Ares Software's Font Chameleon and Altsys's Font-o-matic let you create your own fonts by altering or combining existing ones. Font-o-matic offers wacky options such as Swiss cheese, cactus, and cow spot effects.
Falling under both the personal productivity and the school and educational categories are computerized reference programs. Nowadays, most of these great programs come on CD-ROMs, where vast amounts of storage allow freedom to include massive amounts of data. The three major encyclopedias-- Microsoft Encarta, Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia, and Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia--are good examples. All include sound recordings, full-motion video clips, and thousands of color photos.
Of particular note in this category are Random House's Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition (the first American unabridged dictionary in decades), DeLorme Mapping's Street Atlas USA 2.0 (street maps of the entire country) and Global Explorer (detailed maps of the entire planet, though not quite down to street level), and Microsoft Cinemania '94 (a database of thousands of movies including sound and video clips and thousands of still photos).
I'm not going to be able to tell you much about games--there are just too many. Even listing the categories would take a full article. Go into any software store and scan the shelves--you'll see four or five racks of productivity software, lots of computer books, and the rest of the store full of games.
Parents, a few cautions are in order. Computer games run the gamut from innocent Mickey Mouse games that teach reading all the way to gory, violent, and (to some) disgusting games with little apparent redeeming social value. Most kids go directly to the least desirable programs, so you'll need to exercise some parental discretion here.
If you have gentle sensibilities, don't let the flood of fighting, shooting, killing games turn you against the whole category. Literally hundreds of intriguing puzzle games, card games, and other unclassifiable but delightful games are aimed straight at us mature folks who like a little relaxation now and again. My current favorite is Access Software's flagship game, Links 386 Pro, which provides gorgeous photorealist golf courses (Pebble Beach, Firestone, and so on) to test your talents.
School and Educational
Reference titles come into play here, as do many games designed to educate children on the sly. MECC's SuperMunchers games are always popular with the kids and are in most schools. You can count on Davidson & Associates' line of games, including its steady bestseller, Math Blaster: In Search of Spot, to be fascinating to the kids. Davidson also provides Your Personal Trainer for the SAT for teenagers preparing for college entrance exams. And Davidson's Cruncher is, of all things, a powerful Windows spreadsheet for kids, which should open many small-fry eyes to the logic and patterns of working with numbers.
Br0derbund's series of exploration programs, including The Playhouse and The Backyard, provides hours of fascination to preschoolers. The company's fabulously successful Carmen Sandiego series of educational games has even spawned its own television series. The latest incarnation is Where in Space Is Carmen Sandiego?.
Games from The Learning Company provide playful entertainment, subtly delivering educational values. The company's wellknown Reader Rabbit and Math Rabbit games are now available in Windows versions, too.
If you bowl, help with a scout troop, garden, cook, write poetry, do genealogy, participate in any of a hundred hobbies, or collect coins, stamps, or videos, there's software available to help you be more effective in pursuing your interests. Unfortunately, you won't always find these programs in the software store or advertised by the major mail-order huses. Check your specialty magazines and club publications, and talk to your fellow hobbyists--you'll find something useful for sure.
Using the computer and a modem to communicate electronically over the phone lines is great fun. The major online services provide a rich source of information, computer assistance, news, and other services, as well as making up an electronic community of friends.
You'll need software for this. Some of the online services provide their own software (Prodigy and America Online, for instance); others work through your standard modem programs. Data-Storm Technology's Procomm Plus is the champion in this arena; it's the easiest to use of any of the mainline programs. The Windows version is also excellent.
There's no way I can do more than give you a quick survey of the most popular software that's available. There's so much out there that you'll never get to see everything that interests you, but look on the bright side--you'll never be bored.
HOME COMPUTING DOS AND DON'TS
Bringing a personal computer into your home creates a whole raft of interesting new problems and opportunities. You'll want to encourage the whole family to use it and become computer-literate, but then you have to deal with occasional logjams when everyone needs the computer at once. You want the kids to enjoy using it, but you don't want them to become so enthralled that they abandon everything else. Kids want to try every new shareware game they find, but you want to keep viruses off the system. It's a real balancing act. Here are a few dos and don'ts to help you through the problems of family life with a new computer.
Do make family computer rules. Contention over who gets to use the computer is best handled by deciding ahead of time what kinds of things take priority. In the Steve and Susan Tufts family of Burley, Idaho, the rules say that homework is the number one priority. Susan had to finish writing her uncle's obituary at Steve's office, because 16-year-old Mark needed the computer for homework. They follow the rules.
In the Wayne and Jeanie Wood family of Salt Lake City, a more primitive system is in force. Wayne jokes that he's at the top of the food chain, so when he needs the computer, he gets it. When the youngest daughter can convince a larger family member (Dad is the most effective) that she needs the computer, the pair of them can put the figurative bite on a lower-order family member.
Whatever system you devise, having priorities set out from the start can prevent a lot of quibbling and hard feelings. Other effective methods of sharing computer time are sign-up sheets for scheduling the computer, daily allocations of time, and the use of prerequisites, such as no computer games until homework is completely done. Involve the family in setting the rules, and you'll get much better voluntary compliance.
Do find the right place in your house for the computer. The computer needs to be in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Avoid areas with a lot of dust or other airborne particles and stay out of heavy traffic patterns. On the other hand, recognize that it's possible that a family member may spend long hours at the computer. If the system is tucked away in the far corner of the basement, that person may soon feel estranged from the family while computing.
You'll need to balance opposing factors here. You want the computer near centers of family activity to keep the user feeling like part of the family, to allow parental monitoring of computer use and possible squabbling over whose turn it is, and to allow ready access at all hours of the day. On the other hand, you want it isolated from the family to allow a quiet, thoughtful environment for working and studying; to conceal the clutter that often accumulates around the computer; and to protect you from the raucous noise that many computer games generate.
I spend so much time writing that my family voted to bring the computer up from the basement so they could see me occasionally.
Do teach everyone in the family to use the computer. Teach your kids (or have them teach you) the basics of computer use. If there are reluctant family members, find a way to draw them into computer use, perhaps by getting a program that helps with some strong interest. Take classes, read computer books, and, of course, read COMPUTE magazine.
Do take steps to safeguard your physical health relating to the computer. Carpal tunnel syndrome comes from long, frequent keyboard use. A simple wrist-rest pad in front of the keyboard can help significantly. Get a good, comfortable chair and provide good lighting, angled to avoid reflection off the computer screen. Teach the family to take frequent breaks from the computer and exercise their eyes.
DON'T ignore the dangers of computer viruses. Kids have a penchant for trading shareware games and other programs through the neighborhood, each coming into your computer from a disk made on another computer. Computer viruses (programs designed to harm your computer) are spread in exactly this way. Establish rules and teach the kids how to run the antivirus program on every disk before running disk-based programs.
DON'T lose your work or data because you failed to make backups. Making backup copies of the programs and data on your hard drive requires seemingly superhuman effort. It must--why else would so many of us fail to do it? As reliable as hard drives are, they all fail eventually. When yours no longer responds to you, will you lose important work and information because you were too lazy to make backups? Buy a good backup program and use it. Consider a tape backup system if you have lots of information that you can't afford to lose.
DON'T let modem use get out of hand. You can connect to local bulletin board services (BBSs) and national online network services (such as America Online, CompuServe, GEnie, and Prodigy) through your computer and a modem. The information, services, games, and camaraderie available there are both fun and useful. These services bill by the minute. They're quite reasonable for light use, but if a teenager, for instance, gets hooked on them, astronomical bills can result. Several divorces are on record caused by adults who grew too dependent on BBS contact. By all means, use these marvelous services, but stay in control.
DON'T fail to plan for replacing the computer someday. In three to five years, you're going to need a new computer. Start planning for it now. You might need it sooner than that; if your family takes to the computer like many do, a second computer may be necessary.
A little self-education, planning, and family discipline can make welcoming this new little intruder into your home a painless experience, just as failing to plan can result in all sorts of uppleasant little problems. Think things through and make family rules, and your computer will be a successful addition to your home.
HOW TO MAINTAIN AND PROTECT YOUR HOME COMPUTER
Your home computer represents a substantial investment of more than just money. It takes a lot of time and work to set it up, load programs, create data, and create useful information from that data. It's also well worth a little of your time and effort to keep your computer happy and healthy.
First, a simple family rule that will save you a lot of grief: absolutely no food or drink at the computer. Crumbs, drops of liquid, and inadvertent bits of this and that can get into your keyboard and computer and wreak havoc. Even worse is the danger of a spill--imagine the sizzling light show that you'd get from spilling a mug of pop or coffee into the guts of your computer.
Dust and other airborne contaminants (such as cigarette smoke) are your computer's biggest enemies. It may take a while, but these little particles will find their way into your computer's hard drive and floppy drives, into the guts of your printer, and into other places they shouldn't be. Minimize exposure to these problem-causing materials as much as possible. In particularly dusty or drafty environments, you may want to consider a dust cover to put over the computer when it's not in use.
Protect your computer from injury that comes in through the power lines. I've seen the insides of computers and monitors burned out by momentary power surges. Buy a surge protector--a unit that plugs into the wall, providing protected outlets for you to plug your sensitive equipment into. Computer dealers, office supply dealers, and Radio Shacks have them in a variety of prices.
If you have a modem or fax machine, be sure to protect the phone line as well. I lost a fax/data modem and a stand-alone fax machine when lightning struck in front of a neighbor's house. Don't let this happen to you.
The Three-Finger Salute
Unfortunately, things will go wrong as you work with your computer, requiring you to reboot. When this happens, your first line of attack to cause the reboot should be the three-finger salute: holding down the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys together. This resets things and starts the computer over again, just as if you'd just turned it on.
If the computer has really tied itself in knots, as it sometimes does, that won't work. The next step is the computer's reset button-- most computers have them now. Withut shutting the power down completely, this button causes the computer to reboot.
Why not just turn the power off and back on? Doing so unavoidably causes your delicate computer components some extremely wearing shock. The hard drive motor, for instance, tries to grab already-rotating disk platters to start them spinning again. It's hard on the machine. Always try the other ways first and teach your family to stay away from the power switch.
For the same reason, don't be turning the system on and off all day. You'll use a little bit of extra power leaving it on, but it'll pay off in increased life for your computer.
The major utility programs (such as Norton Utilities and PC Tools) include preventive maintenance and diagnostic routines that can be extremely helpful. Chief among them are the hard drive-defragmenting programs. There's also one in DOS 6.x. To be safe, defragment your disk somewhere between weekly and monthly, depending on your usage patterns.
A Stitch in Time
Take the time and effort now to take care of your home computer, and it'll serve you long and faithfully.