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Jan's Computer Basics:

On Your Own: Intro

In these lessons you've learned a lot about computers and the previous unit introduced you to actually operating one. Perhaps you're thinking about the next step -

Puzzled new computer owner with manual and open box and losts of cables

If you are going to own or be responsible for a computer, there is a lot more to know. You'll have a lot of decisions to make and you'll be the first-aider when things go wrong.


Do you know why you want a computer of your very own?

Many newcomers to computers can't quite explain why they want one. It is often a combination of:

  • That looks like fun!
  • For the benefit of my children for homework and job skills. (Right. Shhh. Don't even think about the games.)
  • To get email from family and see the photos of my grandchildren.
  • To keep up with friends on Facebook and Google+.
  • Have to keep up with ... whoever it is you know that always has the newest and best.
  • Have to gain new job skills.
  • I could do work at home.
  • Have to upload class work!

Of course there are definitely reasons for folks to have their own computers. They are different for different people. But you really won't know what the benefits are for you until you actually have one and use it.

Will you be one who plays with the new toys for awhile and then lets them collect dust?

Will you be one whose horizons suddenly expand, who falls in love with the technology?

Will you get your same tasks done, just faster or better than before?  

Facts of Computer Life

Computer sticking tongue out at angry manFact One:   If you haven't yet today said "I hate computers!", well, you haven't done much on one today! That's the way you'll feel - sometimes happy all over, other times ready to throw that #$!%^$#@ computer through a brick wall!

Actually, in recent years I have had fewer days of this than before. Computers are getting more stable and easier to use.

Fact Two:   Something better is just around the corner.

No matter how spiffy your new hardware or software is, something spiffier is will be released soon. The computer market evolves faster than any market before even dreamed of. If you wait for the next generation to come out, the one after that will be announced. If you wait for that one, and the next one, .... you could wind up never actually buying anything! Is that a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not!

Chart of prices going downFact Three:   The price will go down next week.

This is related to Fact Two above. Devices and programs drop in price when newer ones are released. Prices also drop from competition among similar products and as manufacturing techniques improve.

Pattern 1: Same product, lower price

You can often find a pricing pattern like what happened to CD-R drives, drives that can write (record) CDs.

At first they were only available for publishing software in bulk and cost thousands and thousands of dollars. None were available for the PC. The first consumer versions came out with a price around $2300. In 1998 CD-R (writable CD drives) dropped to around $1000 then to $700. The summer of 1999 I got a catalog that priced several CD-RW (can write CDs and then erase and re-write) drives at under $500. In Sept. 2000 I found several CD-RW devices from name brand companies as low as $159.95!! Soon they'll be free!! Well, maybe not. They will be unavailable! By 2010, DVD-RW drives had replaced CD drives as the default for new computer systems. In July 2012 a Google search on 'DVD-RW internal' turned up prices as low as $16 for a Sony! Devices that read and write CD, DVD, and Blu-ray were under $100!

Price Chart for CD-RWAt the right is a chart of actual prices of a CD-RW drive from Feb. 2002 to March 2003. The price dropped drastically! (Courtesy of Nextag.com)

Pattern 2: Same price, better product

The other common pattern is for the price to remain steady but the capacity of the device to improve drastically. This is what has happened with hard drives. The price of a drive has remained rather steady but the capacity of the drive has doubled and doubled and doubled again. So you get more for your dollar.

Fact Four:   "All you'll ever need" is never enough.

Example - You get a new hard drive with four-times the space of your nearly-full one. "All the space you'll ever need." After a year, you're getting short on space again! You got more programs and bulkier programs and saved more and larger files. What you have to store expands to fill the space available... plus a bit more. This is a truth that also applies to closets and kitchen cabinets and any other storage area.

Example - You get a new video card to run the new applications and games. It's blazingly fast with umpteen jillion colors. "Absolutely as fast as you'll ever need." Next year the new games need a card that is twice as fast, works in 3D, and requires a new motherboard because it uses a different kind of slot!

These two are true real-life examples. They happened to me! And the list goes on and on. You could add stories about faster processors, larger monitors with a different shape, faster printers with different ink/toner, faster modems... Plus you really have to consider the introduction of new devices, too, like cable modems, touchpads, handheld devices, 3D printers, Wi-Fi connections... Everyone has their own tales.

New Release announcementFact Five:   Release dates are fiction.

When something new is coming out that you really, really want, the release date will change and change again, but always to a later one. So don't hold your breath. Blue is not your color.

With these in mind, we can turn our thoughts to "How to decide" about hardware and software.