New Computer Owners Page
[last updated 2016.9.6]
This is for those of you who just got a new computer but have little or no idea what to do with it as far as software, connecting to the Internet, and all that stuff goes. This page is intended to be a little help for you, but nobody is going to sell you anything. It might even save you a little money, as well as hassle.
- It’s a computerized world these days, and you’re going to need at least a little computer knowledge to function well, here on campus, and in the future. UA Fort Smith is a great place to learn, or learn more. Take advantage of the courses, the instructors, and the librarians so you get the most from your experiences here.
- BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE: Backup your new computer, first using the usual function described in your computer information which creates a disk with the original as-you-bought-it setup on it. Then find a good backup program (free or pay) and use it regularly. This site has a tutorial on Cobian Backup, which is free and can be set to run regularly in the background, while you keep working.
- The Computer Help Desk has some help for you in connecting to the Internet while on campus, as well as some other useful advice. Start on their page.
Computer makers put different software on to “help” you connect, so if the information here doesn’t help you enough, check with the Help Desk for assistance. Remember — you need to be a currently registered student to connect to the campus network. The Boreham Library and many other buildings on campus will have wireless access available.
Another good setting-up resource is Out of the Box Laptop Tips from Laptop magazine.
- If you’re going to use a computer at all, you need to protect it, meaning an anti-virus program. (If the salesperson told you “it’s a Mac, it doesn’t need all that anti-virus”, then don’t ask that person anything else — even Apple recommends using anti-virus on Macs nowadays). There is anti-virus even for Linux systems.
Check this blog for anti-virus help. You probably have one or more ‘trial’ anti-virus programs already on your computer; you can continue with one of them (and start paying after the trial period), or you can try a free one suggested in this blog’s pages. Use it, keep it updated, and anytime you download something, check it with your anti-virus first by right-clicking on the file and selecting to scan it, before you open and install it!
*** The simplest answer is from Microsoft itself: Microsoft Security Essentials. It tested out as being, on the average, as good as the other freeware programs, and loads about as fast (according to a test, not a subjective guess), and about the same amount of memory used.
ZDNet blogger Jason Perlow prefers to “replace [the furnished pay anti-virus] with a copy of Avast! Free, along with Advanced SystemCare 3 and Spybot Search & Destroy – my standard triumvirate of PC prophylaxis.”
- You should also have a firewall for protection. One comes with Windows, but it’s not considered very strong. Some free suggestions are posted here. You’ll need to train it to let your regular programs through, but it’s an important precaution. It also helps to block malware (bad programs) from sending your confidential information out.
- You probably have a browser already included on your computer (the program you use to get on the Web). If you have Windows, you’ve got Internet Explorer (which should be version 7 or later); if you’ve got a Mac, it’s probably Safari (which should be version 4 or later). You should have at least one other browser besides the one you started with, because sooner or later the one you use the most will run into a problem with some website or other, and you’ll need to switch. A good alternative is Firefox — version 3 is okay for this campus, and it’s considered to be more secure than Internet Explorer (the U.S. government’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has discouraged using Internet Explorer due to security flaws). There is a version of Firefox for Macs, too. Another browser is Chrome from Google, which also has an increasing number of add-ons (extensions) and is considered very secure (the U.S. Dept. of State is using it now).
- A couple of neat add-ons/extensions for browsers: LastPass and XMarks. Just go to them with every browser you want to use, on every computer you can install software on, and they will install on IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari (and some others). LastPass handles all your passwords, across different browsers and computers, and you just remember one master password. Xmarks does the same for your bookmarks. You can also find these among the choices inside your browsers under “add-ons” or “extensions” — just another way to install them.
- University services, including the Library, may require you to approve your computer using programs, or install software. Watch the instructions carefully, and ask if you’re not sure if something is safe. You will need something called Java for many functions, and also a program to read PDF (Portable Document Format) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader (or another PDF reader program) — there are free ones available. Flash and Shockware are often useful, but be sure to get them from Adobe and nowhere else — there are some booby-trapped versions offered by some sites, so never get them from anywhere else.
- VLC is an alternate music and video player which we have on our library computers. When Windows Media Player chokes on playing a DVD (as it tends to do more and more often these days), we turn to VLC. It’s freeware but pretty reliable for playing DVDs.
- Keeping up with updates is a minor hassle, but it’s made easier if you let the computer do the checking for you. For that, you can install a couple of programs recommended by experts: Secunia Personal Software Inspector and FileHippo — these will check each time you boot your computer, and tell you how to update anything you need. It’s also a good idea to have Windows Update alert you about updates available (but be cautious about installing Windows updates — aside from Critical security updates — until you’ve done a backup, as sometimes these can complicate other programs unintentionally. You can check for reports on them using the Windows Secrets site first, to be really safe.) SPECIAL NOTE: if Secunia keeps telling you that a program is out of date (Java, for example) when you already updated it and re-scanned, the old version may still be on your computer (as some programs just add another version, not replace the old one, Java being a prime example). Use Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs, and remove the oldest (lowest number) version(s) — all but the latest. Then re-scan with Secunia.
- The University provides email services for you using LionsLink. You can, if you prefer, forward your email to your own Google’s Gmail or Yahoo or another service. Be sure to keep up with LionsLink email as this is the official contact the University makes with you, and also the way you are notified about expiring passwords and other important information.
- The standard software for most students is Microsoft Office Suite. There are student discounts through Microsoft and other sources. However, you can get a free group of similar programs by using LibreOffice, and simply save your work in Microsoft Office format (.doc, .ppt, .xsl, etc.) before bringing it on campus or sending it to your instructor. (While OpenOffice used to be a good alternative, it appears to be declining in support and may shut down soon.)
BTW (By The Way): The University has classes in Microsoft Office, including the parts such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You’re going to need these sooner or later, so take classes in them as soon as possible. The night before your assignment is due, you’ll be very glad you know how to use them already!
- The University provides you with a place to store your computer files such as your notes, reports, pictures, etc., while on campus, on the “R” drive you see listed in My Computer when you are logged into the campus network. HOWEVER — the R drive is NOT available (for security reasons) when you are off-campus. To take work home or elsewhere, be sure to save to your computer/disc/flash drive, or use other online storage you can access from off-campus. The Library recommends you consider buying a USB flash drive (also called “thumb”/”pen” drives or “memory sticks”) for this purpose.
Click here for online storage options. Many of these have free storage for a limited amount. Think cautiously about long-term storage or confidential data, however, before using sites such as these.
- You’ll receive information in class for using Blackboard and other services. Be sure to get all the information when it is told/handed out. Some of it will be very specific to each class, and only your instructor will be able to help you with it.
Some of this might seem a little intimidating, but that’s only because you’re getting it all at once. Fortunately, you have University staff, the Help Desk, and resources such as this blog to help you learn it as you need it.
For added help, you might consider my page: Suggested Setup for My PC.
For those with a wireless router, the trial version of Network Magic is useful for a variety of different brands and models of routers. It will take you through step-by-step for your specific brand and model. Select WPA2 type security (the older WPA and WEP are outdated and already easily broken into). If you do this right after you install it, you can decide to either buy or uninstall Network Magic at the end of the 7 day trial.