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Computers

Local ClubsComputer whiz

Like many others on the Sunshine Coast, we make good use of our computer and spend considerable time on the internet. I have joined the Maroochy RSL Computer Club and the computer group of the Buderim Probus Club, both small groups that meet monthly to educate members about computers, discuss problems and exchange ideas and information about web sites and public domain software. The Sunshine Coast Computer Club is a larger active group on the Coast with several sub-groups serving a variety of educational functions. The Sunshine Coast Macintosh Users Group serves a similar function for Mac users, who could also try the Ozemail Mac User Group support site. The Kawana Computer Club Inc. also holds monthly meetings and is a member of The Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association whose site has lots of useful information and links, especially for seniors. These clubs have small membership fees, are happy to welcome visitors and are very friendly sources of assistance, information and support for novice computer users. Other community groups may also like to send me their e-mail or web site addresses for inclusion here.

On-line help

Help Topics

Click on the links below to go directly to more specific help topics on this page.

General Help
Security
Search Engines and Directories
Newsletters
Downloads
Website Design and Development
 

General Help

There is no end of help available on-line. A good local starting point is the Sunshine Coast Home Computer Users Guide, which has information on beginning computing, where to shop, solving problems and computer maintenance, etc.

If you'd like to know just about everything about computers in a concise, humorous and readable form, check out The Secret Guide to Computers an on-line book worth revisiting often.

Australians considering a broadband internet connection can compare available offerings at Broadband Choice, but do realise that prices are coming down rapidly. You should check with the ISP you favour for the latest details.

Ever had trouble knowing what program to associate with a particular file extension? Try the FILExt site for help.

For interesting tips, reviews and links to free newsletters, you may find the Knowledge is Power site worth a visit.

Having problems getting the best settings to scan photos or documents? Try the tips at Scantips.

Those who find it hard to remember special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries may like to take advantage of the reminders and cards available from BirthdayAlarm.

It pays to be familiar with the web sites of your operating system manufacturer and to be aware of the free software updates that come out regularly to patch up problems with functions and security. There are also support sites for most of the applications software such as Internet browsers, office software, etc. 

All Microsoft Windows users should become familiar with the Microsoft sites. Follow the links under support > product support to see what is available. Learn how to access the Knowledge Base, FAQs (frequently asked questions) and Community Newsgroups where you can ask questions of Microsoft or users of Microsoft products who have similar problems to your own. Check the Downloads site for software updates and service packs.

Tired of all those annoyances that keep cropping up in Windows? Take a tour through the many solutions at annoyances.org.

Wondered what all the processes are that are shown in the Windows Task Manager and whether they are necessary? For answers to these and other questions, try Answers That Work.

Trouble with Microsoft programs including e-mail? You may find a solution at Rick Selby's General Help with Microsoft page or Outlook and Outlook Express Help page if you don't mind the religious and moral messages.

Upgrading to Windows XP? Visit Microsoft's Windows XP site. Check out Fred Langa's article on 10 more ways to make Windows XP run better. Type windows XP tutorials into Google or other search engine to access lots of tutorials on using Windows XP.

Tech Support Alert has links to a variety of sites with free and paid support and free utilities, all of which are reviewed.

Windows XP, under Help and Support, has the facility for Remote Assistance. This allows you to request assistance from a knowledgeable friend or guru to operate on your computer from his/her remote computer. For a free detailed account of how to request remote assistance, see ask Bob Rankin.

Apple Macintosh users should likewise be familiar with the Apple web site, its Support services, Knowledge Base and Downloads site. Apple also has a community Discussions centre for interaction amongst users and a series of Manuals on its various products. Another useful Macintosh site is Tidbits.

Mac problems are covered at MacFixIt. Anyone considering a Windows-based laptop might also benefit from some of the reviews there, too. Other useful tips for Mac users can be found at macOSXhints.

Mac OS-X flaws have recently been discovered which allow Macs to be attacked.

Courses

There are numerous sites that offer free courses and tutorials on computer topics. Try typing, for example, Microsoft Word tutorials in your search engine to find tutorials on that software.
HP Online Classes offers courses on various topics including digital photography, security solutions, home office, personal interests and hobbies, digital entertainment.
About.com, amongst its wealth of information, has several courses, including Windows BasicsIntroduction to Computer Viruses, Create a Greeting Card and Adobe Photoshop Basics.

Security

Be aware that some software (adware) is supported by ads and some contains cookies, small programs inserted into your computer to send back information about you and what is on your computer (spyware). Not all cookies are bad, as some allow sites you have contacted to record your details to save you having to enter them each time or to help provide the sort of information you require. Spyware sends information you may not want revealed. Look in the download sites for software that will screen the ads coming in (Ad-aware is a popular one) and software that will screen spyware from coming in (e.g., SpywareGuard) or search and destroy spyware that is already on your computer (e.g., Spybot - Search & Destroy).
A new version 1.3 of Spybot Search and Destroy has recently been released, but you cannot upgrade version 1.2. You will have to uninstall Version 1.2 and then download Version 1.3. This and other security programs can also be downloaded from Majorgeeks.

For a thorough review of anti-spyware and adware products, see the Spyware Warrior Guide to Anti-Spyware Testing.

Two recent additions to the available security software are Microsoft Defender and Prevx (a free home version), both of which are reported to prevent intrusions that may not be detected by other software. Another useful program is BHODemon, which identifies browser helper objects on your computer and rates them as benign or otherwise. Malicious BHOs can be installed without your knowledge and can redirect your browser to sites you don't want.

For an excellent summary of viruses, trojans, worms, spyware and other nasties, along with advice on preventing or removing them, see online and safe, which also has 5 steps to safety and links to free anti-malware software.

Is your computer secure? A home user's security checklist for Windows is available at SecurityFocus. Useful articles on other security issues such as browser hijacking, eBay and PayPal scams and reading the e-mail header are also well worth reading and saving as favourites.

Dire warnings about viruses often come in well-meaning e-mails, but most of them are hoaxes. Before acting on any of these messages, go to Hoax Encyclopedia.

A popular anti-virus program is the free version of AVG from Grisoft.

Everyone should have an effective firewall. One of the most popular is the free version of Zone Alarm. As with most free programs, trial and paid versions with more features are available.

Another approach to security is to use a virtual environment which allows you to download material from websites without anything being written to your hard drive. A popular example of this approach is the free program Sandboxie.

For a summary of how to secure your computer, go to ask Bob Rankin.

Search Engines and Directories

These are the programs that allow you to search for particular topics on the World Wide Web. Before you start searching, be sure to visit searchengines.com so that  you understand the basics of search engines and how they work. Take the brief course in Search Engines 101 or the search engine tutorial by Pandia. If you'd like to find out which search engines are most popular around the world, go to Search Engine Watch. Web searching tips on all aspects of web searching, including some fun stuff, are provided by Search Engine Watch.

If you haven't already done so, you might like to download the Google toolbar or search button to have a favourite search engine readily available on your screen any time you are on the Internet. Go to the Google options site for a look at the options and then choose Google toolbar or your preferred option. There are several other excellent search engines, but Google is currently the most popular and comprehensive. Others also allow you to download their toolbar or make them your default search engine.

Google has recently released a new search service that searches scholarly literature and research journals. Go to http://scholar.google.com for access to authoritative research in fields such as computer science, economics, medicine, sports science, therapies and other fields of study.

In order to tell whether sites you have found on your search engine are safe from viruses, adware and other malware, download and install the free McAfee Site Advisor. McAfee reviewers have already checked the safety of many, many sites and will give them a tick or a cross depending on what they have found.

For scientific information, another search site is http://scirus.com, which searches both journals and websites in science and can be limited to either of these. Surprisingly, I even found summaries of cricket batting and bowling records from my past.

For an account of how to write or refine a search statement and avoid being swamped, read Nick's Tricks, go to the Google Help page or try Soople.

Patrick Crispen's excellent Powerpoint presentations on numerous computer and internet topics are available at NetSquirrel. Also check how to use MSCONFIG, the weekly fab five weekly computer maintenance tasks, how to unzip a file and other useful how to articles.

Whether or not you have Powerpoint, if you want to do presentations, you may like to try the free and easy-to-use presentation program PowerBullet. If you just want to read and/or print Powerpoint presentations, download the free Powerpoint 2003 Viewer from Microsoft.

Yahoo! has recently released a new search engine, which, although it won't replace Google, may be a useful complement. For a comparison of search results of these two, try the Googleguy site.

Meta search engines are available that will submit your search query to several individual search engines. However, these have disadvantages as well as advantages. Dogpile is one meta search engine that has been well-regarded, but there are numerous others. 

An alternative to search engines is Answers.com, a site that allows you to type in a question or word and get a quick answer, explanation or definition on a wide range of topics from arts, business, medicine, science and sports, etc. You can also download the 1-Click Answers program which allows you to get answers even while offline.

Newsletters

A great deal of advice and information is available in the form of regular free newsletters from around the world: everything from computer advice; access to freeware (free software ), shareware (try and then pay a small donation) and tryware (try free for a limited period and then pay full price); on-line shopping including auctions; travel; financial advice; and much more. Be aware that to remain free these generally rely on advertising or having you visit their sponsors' sites.

Here I've included just a few websites with computer-oriented newsletters that I and my computer club friends have found particularly worthwhile:

  • About.com - an alphabetic index to almost anything you can think of, a series of free newsletters on literally dozens of topics plus forums, chat rooms and free tutorials and classes on topics including desktop publishing, graphics, web design, HTML and many others.
    If you are still learning Windows, try the free Windows Basics class.

  • RayShaw - Ray is a local Brisbane computer guru with a computer program on radio 612 ABC Brisbane at 2 p.m. local time on some Fridays and a useful newsletter with good recommendations

  • Tech Support Alert - tech support, how-to guides, freeware utilities and free newsletter

  • Tourbus - get the scoop on computer viruses, search engines, spam, cookies, urban legends, and the most useful sites on the Net

  • Tudogs - a regular account of useful freeware and shareware with good descriptions and links

  • Tucows - a daily account of freeware and shareware with brief descriptions and links

  • ZD Net Australia - ad heavy, but some useful information

  • LangaList - general information on computer use, solutions to problems and useful software

Link to Langalist

Downloads

There are many other sites that provide access to useful software, much of it freeware. Here are a few worth a look, mostly for Windows software:

  • Freeware Guide - a guide with links to the best freeware, shareware, download, webmaster and other sites. I've included some of them here and some others they haven't included. I don't know whether commercial factors influenced their choices at all.

  • All Freeware - an excellent site that lists, describes and evaluates all the best freeware programs that you are likely to want

  • Tudogs - an alphabetised directory of freeware with good evaluations and a free regular newsletter

  • Download.com - a very popular site for downloading freeware and shareware, with top downloads ranked.

  • Tech Support Alert - descriptions and links to the claimed 46 Best Ever Freeware Utilities

  • Nonags - tests and selects the newest and most popular freeware in a number of categories

  • Shinobi Resources - more well-selected freeware downloads, including security and anti-spyware programs and including a speed test

  • Free Serif Software - all freeware, including desktop publishing, imaging, drawing, web publishing

  • Blaiz Enterprizes - freeware and professional (paid) software

  • Simtel - mostly paid software

  • WinSite - software in many categories, including freeware

  • Skali - something different with a Chinese influence and including Macintosh freeware

  • Web Attack - freeware in many categories, distinguishes between freeware and adware

  • Freeware Home - freeware in a large list of categories if you don't mind the flashing ads

  • Jumbo - freeware and shareware for PC, Linux and Mac

  • Freeware Web - recent updates on freeware

  • Freeware Intrastar - freeware only with comments and update dates

  • 1Clipart - just one of many free clip art sites. Type free+clipart in your search engine to find many more

  • Gibson Research Corporation - technical expertise applied to security and other download issues, free security programs

  • Snapfiles - freeware and shareware with top 10, user recommendations and popular new releases.

To speed up your downloads and allow them to resume where they left off if interrupted, try the free Download Accelerator Plus or Star Downloader or Get Right.

Faster than the Windows program to defragment your hard drive is Diskeeper Lite. The easy-to-use free version is available from Majorgeeks.

If you'd like to know the details of all the hardware and software in your computer, download the free Belarc Advisor or Everest Home Edition, a system information, diagnostic and benchmarking program.

Concerned about the temperatures in your computer in the hot weather? Two free programs that will monitor the temperatures of your motherboard and case and your hard disk drive and show them continuously in the system tray are Motherboard Monitor 5 and HDD Temperature. You can also set alarms. Alternatively, you can run Everest Home Edition if you just want to do an occasional check.

A useful freeware program for rapid interpretation of Australian weather reports from the Bureau of Meteorology is available at Birdcage Software.

If you send photos or other images by e-mail or put them on a website, you should keep the file size fairly small. An excellent little free program that will do this and also allow you to change the image size, brightness and contrast or rotate images by degrees is Easy Thumbnails, which I used to put the images on this website.

Other useful free image editing programs well worth a look are Irfanview, Picas2, PhotoFiltre and VCW VicMan's Photo Editor.

If you have a need to convert files to Portable Document Format (.pdf), a universal format that allows files to be read by Adobe Reader on any PC operating system, try downloading the free CutePDF Writer.

Website Design and Development

I'm no expert, as this is my first attempt, but I have found a lot of resources on the WWW at sites like About.com. If there is sufficient interest expressed, I'll add a section here with all the free aids to help beginners like myself. A website can be very easily constructed with WYSIWYG editors that don't require any knowledge of the underlying HTML code. It can be as small as a single page and it's a lot of fun. A good learning experience, too! There are also plenty of tutorials on HTML as you gain in expertise. You can try yourself out by using the Composer program under the Window menu in the free browser Mozilla or Netscape. There is a tutorial as well as the Help menu to guide you.


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sunweb(at)dodo.com.au    Copyright Brian Quigley 2003-2006    All rights reserved.    Updated 4 October 2006.