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Getting Started with your PC

Many people regularly use and rely on Computers (PCs), but some older people are still unsure of what they can do with one, are afraid of using one, or are wary of using the Internet. But how many people who use one get the most out of it, understand many of the settings and programs they use, or know what to do when something goes wrong?

This is the first of a series of articles to get you started on the road to getting the most out of your computer - safely. Computers are not to be feared, whatever your age or level of education, they are just a tool, like a screwdriver or an electric drill; all you need is to give it a try and practice using it. We all have to start somewhere and the sooner we start, the sooner we get comfortable using one and the more we are likely get out of it. Firstly, lets get the whole name of the machines cleared up. A 'PC' is a Personal Computer, nothing more, nothing less - i.e., a computer made for personal use! A 'PC' can be an Apple Mac, one running Microsoft Windows, or even another Operating System (or 'OS', the software that makes it run) like Linux, Unix or DOS. It could even refer to a Laptop/Notebook or Netbook. 'Laptop' and 'Notebook' are interchangeable names for an average size portable computer with a built-in fold-down screen. A Netbook is a smaller, lower powered version of a Laptop. You can also have a Nettop (sometimes referred to as a shelf PC), which is a smaller, lower powered version of a desktop computer. Usually though, by calling our computer a 'PC', we are referring to a 'Desktop' Computer running a version of Microsoft Windows; i.e., XP, Vista, 7, etc.. A 'Desktop' PC can be any medium-large PC in a 'Desktop' case, usually with a separate Screen (or 'Monitor'), though some are an all-in-one System & Monitor. A vertical-cased unit (which usually sits on the floor) should technically be called a 'Tower' system, but these are also often referred to as desktop systems.

The hardware on which a computer is based depends on several things and is determined mostly by the market for which it is designed and, of course, when it was designed and made. Apple computers are made exclusively by (or for) Apple and some of the hardware is what is termed 'bespoke', i.e., especially made for them (though many parts will be the same, or similar to PC parts), whereas PCs that run Windows are based on a design which has evolved from the original IBM PC and it's copies (or 'clones') and can be built by any company or individual from an extremely large number of components parts, made by manufacturers from all over the world. The one thing that Macs and Windows PCs (and their component parts) have in common, is that they are built to 'standards'. That is, each part has to interface with (or 'talk to') the other component parts in a standard way. With Macs, this is easy, as they are all built by (or for) one company: Apple. With Windows PCs it is not so easy, but far more important, so that (for instance) a CD or DVD drive (& all other component parts) from any manufacturer will work in virtually any PC (of approx. the same age), no matter who makes it or what other components are fitted. This is done by sticking vigorously to standard interface and supplying a 'driver' where necessary for that piece of equipment. A 'driver' is simply a piece of software that enables an item of hardware to interface properly with the other parts of the machine it is installed in.

For this series or articles, I will be talking almost exclusively about Windows PCs, as that is what most people have and also where my expertise lies.

However, one of the most important things I will be delving into is security on the Internet and many people with Macs still think they are not affected by this and that only Windows PCs are susceptible to Viruses, Spyware and the like. While this was mostly true a few years ago, it is very wrong now and could get you into a lot of trouble! Whatever your system, it is very important to get yourself some decent protective software if you use the Internet/Web at all (there's plenty around for free on the web) and especially if you use it for Internet Banking or sites where Financial/Personal information is concerned - even more so if you use a wireless connection! I will talk more about Internet Security next time, but you can help yourself a lot simply by the way you work.

Most Viruses and other Malware (software that can potentially do harm) arrives on your PC via email, or from the sites you visit on the Web. The best way to avoid this is simply to be very careful what email you open, what links you click on and which sites you visit. If you use an email program like Outlook or Outlook Express, select not to have a preview page on your inbox, as even previewing a message can open you up to problems. Even if there is no Virus, it can sometimes be enough to notify the sender that you have received the message, which if it is Spam (unwanted email), is exactly what you don't want, as this is enough to identify you as a valid 'target' for yet more Spam!

The best way to avoid trouble is not to click on any link in an email unless you are sure you know it is from the person it claims to be from and that you can trust that person - and that is not as easy as it sounds, as there are many 'Phishing' emails around that claim to be from someone or an organisation (your bank, eBay, PayPal, etc.) that are not from them at all, but a person or company simply wishing to steal your login details - and lots more! They do this by creating a duplicate web site and tricking you into entering your login details into it. You don't get logged in of course, but you do give them your login details!

The usual way of tricking you into this is with a scare message, such as 'your account has been suspended, click here to correct this' or 'We haven't received the item we paid for and will report you for fraud if....'. You get the idea. Another one is the Courier trick; 'You have a parcel waiting collection, click here for details'. The thing is, not to even open am email if you don't know who it is from, didn't ask for it, or is not addressed to you! If you do get caught out and think your login details may have been captured, go straight to the real web site (via a saved link or by typing the address in direct) and change your password straight away, then notify the company that you think your account may have been hacked, but that you have changed your password. If you can't login, it may be too late, as the hackers may already have changed your password. Notify the company of this immediately. There are many other email scams, usually pretending to be someone in trouble asking for help (money!) and often pretending to be from someone you know. They do this by hacking into people's email accounts and sending their emails from there, making them look genuine! If you get one of these, or one from a 'Prince' or 'Princess', claiming they need your help, DON'T fall for it. Until next time, keep safe.




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