Six things every computer user should know how to do.

I’m not expecting everyone to be computer experts and know how to do everything.  If they did, I would be out of a job.  But, there are many things that the average computer user should know to make their lives much easier and avoid frustrating time on the phone with tech support. Here is a lit of the more simpler skills that the average person can learn how to do on their own. I will not go into the very basics (how to turn on a PC, how to load Internet Explorer, etc.), if you are at this point of computer ownership then you should consider a basic computer course at a local college.

1: How to install basic peripherals.

You’d be surprised at the number of people who not only don’t know howto do this but also don’t know the safest way to do this.  Operating system are coming out with more and more generic drivers for common peripherals with standardized hardware.  These devices are pretty much plug and play – you plug them in and they work.  Like USB hard drives, USB hubs, and so on.  Sometimes they require extra software (or the manufacturer wants to load down your PC with their software).  This software will usually come on a disc but here’s a little trick – usually that software i old and out of date.  You can almost always go to the manufacture’s website and download the latest version for free (if there is a charge make sure you aren’t trying to order a driver disc).  Get these and use that to install drivers.  If you are unsure of where the manufacturer’s website is, it is usually printed on the box or in the documentation that is included.  Just make sure you are getting the drivers for the right model and operating system.

2: Keep your computer clean.

There are many ways to keep your system clean from manually deleting files to downloading software.  Personally, manually doing it, while giving you complete control, can be cumbersome software, while being more restrictive, is a much easier alternative.  I can recommend CCleaner (get their latest version).  This program (as far as I know) works well with Windows 7 (and Vista) and is rather thorough.  It also includes the Gutmann 35 protocol for the ultimate in data shredding (wiping a hard drive in such a way it is impossible to recover data).
Getting rid of the extra files that these cleaners get rid of (internet cache, temporary files, etc.) can help speed up your PC.  No, it’s not going to make your 10 year old computer surf the web as fast a today’s new systems but it will help keep your PC running as well as it can (because the computer won’t need to sort though tens of thousands of files searching for what it needs).  Also, most malware programs may hide out in your cache or other temporary areas.  Getting rid of malware is always a good thing.

3: Manage your wireless network.

This is most likely the most complicated thing I am going to mention but it is extremely important.  So often I check wireless networks and I see a whole list of unsecured networks called LinkSys.  Unsecured means anyone can get into it and if they’re named LinkSys then this means they didn’t change the broadcast name (SSID) and if they didn’t do this then I’m willing to bet they didn’t change the admin password either.
“So what” you may ask.  Simple.  First, anyone can access their network (if they are in range).  A neighbor, someone driving down the street, some homeless person with a WiFi enabled phone, or worse.  This could lead to a whole mess of problems.  The least of your problems is if they go into your router and lock all other IPs out except the one that they are using.  That’s right, someone can lock you out of your own router.  It can get worse, what if that person decided to put a keylogger on all your PCs?  Log into your bank account, they have your password.  Log into eBay, they have your password.  You think that is the limit?  It can get much worse.  Someone can use your open connection to browse sites of an illegal nature and when the feds check the IP address YOUR name is going to come up.

4: Copy, move, and otherwise manage files.

You wouldn’t believe how many people I know do not know how to do this.  It is one of the simplest (drag and drop) and most common procedures people do with computers but still, many do not know how to do this.  This will allow you to keep your own personal files neat and organized so you can quickly find that picture from the picnic 4 years ago or your more current resume.
The basic is simple, open two windows, right click a file, drag it to the other window, release and select copy or move.  You should also create folders that tell you what is inside them as well as subfolders to break them down (Pictures – Vacation, etc.).  There are many websites on how to do this.

5: Manage emails and PSTs.

This is up there with managing files.  Outlook (and other email programs) are becoming today’s file cabinet.  PSTs allow you to have separate personal folders.  Just like files and their folders, these can allow you to be more organized.  You can create subfolders in these PSTs for even more organization.  I recommend to my users to make one each year and name it for that year (2011, 2010, 2009, etc.).  This fits most people’s needs but some people need to have their emails organized differently.

6: Personalize your desktop.

Many people go though their computing lives with their desktop icons too large or too small, they don’t like the background picture, or just don’t like the color scheme.  Sadly, they do not know that it is quite simple to change all this with a right click.  Just right click somewhere on the desktop that isn’t an icon, select properties or personalize, and have at it!

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