Techy Tuesday: Make your computers work for you, not against you

Change can be hard. One of Newton’s Laws of Physics says “for every action there is a reaction.” Newton was a real deep guy. Basically, he was saying that there is no such thing as inaction. By not changing, you cause a reaction, too. I call it The Law of Burying Your Head in the Sand. Everything changes around you, but you don’t know it.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21584085Take computers. Many people think once they have their computer setup just like they want it and know how to work everything, then they don’t have to do anything else ever again. Wrong! New computers keep coming out. New software is developed. New websites use new technology. Everything changes, and in the computer world, it changes very fast.

Every few years (sometimes every few months), software is upgraded with new features and fixes for old problems. Software has to keep up with new hardware, too. Nothing stands still, and if you do, then you can pay a steep price to catch up.

I  know of a business that used a software program critical to their financial success.  They were convinced they could use the program at its current version forever. Then, a new version of Windows came out. The older software didn’t work quite right on it. Since they had not performed regular upgrades, the software was four versions behind. Upgrading was not a matter of buying the newest version and installing it. The database from the previous version needed to be updated. A new support application needed to be purchased and installed to run some critical reporting features. The software company required upgrades to pay a penalty for not staying on the current version. All of this required many hours of consultation to prepare, backup, and restore the data, plus the actual software upgrade. Ouch!

The moral of that story is that it pays to invest some time each year to consider your current technological situation and what you need for the next year, including software and hardware upgrades. Now, I’m all for saving money and getting by with no more than I have to have, but ignoring problems, even potential problems, might end up costing more money than is saved.

Let’s take a quick review of your computer world.

Step 1: What is your main device? Most people have more than one, so don’t forget your smartphone, laptop, desktop computer, e-reader, tablet, iPod, GPS, and Fitbit. Obviously, all of these do not perform the same tasks and can’t. I mean, who is going to strap a desktop computer to their back to track their daily steps?

However, many of these devices do have some crossover technology. Know which device is really the backbone of the whole shebang. Then, work your way out through your other devices and see which ones you really need. Phone? Check. But maybe not an iPod if your music is also synced on your phone. Just one little step to scale back.

If you’re on the move and need on-the-go computing, consider your mobile options: laptop or tablet. They each have pros and cons. More on that in another post.

Step 2: What software and apps do you use? You probably have a small handful that you truly rely on and a crowded virtual closet of others that just take up space. Many computer problems can be fixed by just dumping all that bloat-ware, software that eats up space and memory without adding any real value. How many to-do lists do you need? Or note-taking apps? If you have a wide array of devices, choose an app that is compatible on all of them and syncs data so that you are never looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Carefully consider free vs. paid. There are some crazy good apps that are free, but others are just as crazy bad. Pop-ups, limited options, bugs, data harvesting. Read the reviews. Consider what you need the app to do, and find the one that meets those needs. If you don’t like, uninstall it.

Step 3: Few computer devices are stand-alone anymore. If you want to get on the Internet or share anything with anyone outside your physical presence, you’re going to need a connection. And that connection comes in the form of either a landline, like DSL or cable, or a wireless, like the cell phone carriers or satellite. Sure, you can scrimp and try to attach to the neighbor’s connection or spend a LOT of time at a Starbucks (McDonald’s, in my case) to catch some free wi-fi, but it gets old really quickly.

If you need dependable Internet access, you need to invest in dependable service. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done in some areas. Move a mile outside of town, and you’ll know what I mean. That’s where the McDonald’s comes into play for me. My kids enjoy the playscape. I buy a cup of coffee and soak up their wi-fi for an hour or so once a week. It’s not perfect, but it works for now.

Step 4: If you have two devices, they likely have two different adapters. Even Apple has two different adapters for their devices. In a large family with a lot of personal devices, save yourself the screaming headache of screaming siblings by labeling the cables by owner and device.

Check the cables before leaving on a trip to make sure you have ALL the right ones. I ended up with a dead laptop in Europe. I was not thrilled to lug it around for a week without the benefit of using it.

Also, invest in more than one charging cable for your most important devices, like your phone. I keep one at home and one in my purse. Never leave home without it.

Step 5: Besides the computers, you probably have what are called peripherals, like printers, scanners, USB drives, headphones, etc. This list grows exponentially. You might need multiples of things like headphones or USB drives, but printers and scanners should be considered more carefully.

For instance, what do you want to scan? Receipts and a few papers for documentation? Then, an inexpensive sheet-fed scanner may be good enough. But if you want to scan photos, then shop with discrimination.

Printers are another hot topic. Color sounds nice, but how often do you really need to print a rainbow? The ink is expensive, and it goes faster than you think. By all means, get it if you print brochures or handouts which require color, but run the numbers on what it costs to keep it working before making a definitive decision.

Now that you have a quick inventory of what you have and an assessment for what you might need, you can begin to look at your computer world with some impartiality, which translates into making informed decisions on the techy gadgets you need.

Georganne

P.S. I’m excited to announce the release of an updated version of my e-book on computers and setting up a home office. I expect to have it ready for purchase Monday, July 7.

“You gave some very good tips…it’s easy to read and understand.” Lori

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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