Opinion » Cybernaut


Back to basics



KISS rule still the best

By Andrew Mitchell

Many years ago I sat my mom down to introduce her to something called the Internet Ñ I figured I could teach her enough that we could e-mail, she could read news and use a few websites online, do some banking, that kind of thing. After a few hours we were both so frustrated we gave up. Watching her use the mouse was like watching a 95-year-old with arthritis parallel park. She was unable to distinguish between the address bar on a web browser the search bar on a search engine, or to understand how the search engine was also a kind of web page like CBC.ca. When a few routine warnings popped up, including something about cookies, she wondered if she had somehow downloaded one of those viruses she kept hearing about.

IÕd still like to get my mom online, and with computer prices so low these days IÕm thinking Christmas. IÕd probably get her something like a MacMini with a flatscreen monitor and a cheap printer, because Mac is still the simplest system to use, and I imagine I can talk her through just about anything.

I think the problem before was that I had trouble explaining things because I was too familiar with computers. I understood them too well Ñ what keys to push, what to do if I need to find something or to go back, what to do if a system window comes up, where to find the things I need using toolbars, and, most importantly, what to do if things go wrong. Most importantly, I knew the language, and by using that language I think I scared her off Ñ it made everything sound a lot more complex than it actually was.

The problem with being so comfortable with computers is that you neglect the basics. IÕve forgotten a lot of the simple things that make life easier, as well as the rules that take away risks Ñ and new computer users are petrified by the risks.

Back up, back up, and back up

These are the three BÕs of safe and responsible computer ownership. You should never, ever assume that anything in your hard drive is safe because fatal crashes happen all the time. You donÕt need to back up your software and things that can be replaced, but you do need to store copies of all your personal files.

You can back up in several ways:

You can buy a back up system using an external hard drive, high density disks like Zip drives, or a tape drive system. If you use your computer for business, and have some big files kicking around, this is recommended.

You can subscribe to an automated service that will back up all of your files through the Internet at the end of the day. Highspeed is probably a good idea, but if your files are huge this is impractical.

You can buy a portable device, like a USB keychain device, that can hold up to a gigabyte of information Ñ more than enough for most people.

You can put your CD or DVD writer to good use by burning all your personal information to disks.

To be efficient, you want to keep most of your files in a few key areas. On Windows XP, keep all of your documents in My Documents, keep your pictures in My Pictures, etc. That makes it easy to copy folders onto your blank CD.

XP also comes with an XP Backup utility that allows you to regularly schedule backups, choosing which files in advance that youÕd like to copy. For more information visit www.microsoft.com/athom/security/update/backup.mspx.

Apple users have the same options as PC users when it comes to backing up files, including online storage through a .Mac subscription. Unfortunately OSX Panther doesnÕt have a free backup scheduling utility like XP Backup to use but maybe OSX Tiger will fill that gap.

Know thy shortcuts

Using a mouse to do everything always takes longer, even when it comes to something like surfing the web. Every piece of software you use has shortcuts, some preset and some programmable, as does your operating system.

For Microsoft XP users, you can find most of what you want at www.computerhope.com/shortcut.htm.

OSX users can find shortcuts at http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=75459

Both systems will also allow you to set up your own personalized shortcuts. I have shortcuts for the spelling/thesaurus feature, word counts, and for Save As HTML. Use the Help menu to help you find the shortcut window.

What theÉ?

For anyone who doesnÕt understand computers or what all the different words and expressions mean, I canÕt recommend the Webopedia at www.webopedia.com enough Ñ bookmark this site, and visit it anytime you get confused.

Last, but not leastÉ

Security is everything these days, unless of course you own a Mac. Get at least one of the leading anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on the market for your PC, use it for everything, and update it regularly. Everything you need can be found at your favourite computer store, or on www.downloads.com or www.tucows.com.

The software isnÕt free, but if you like your computer and your privacy itÕs quite