The Essential Guide to Internet & Software for First-Time Computer Users
You bought a brand new laptop computer for mom - the Apple Macbook was too expensive so you settled for a Dell machine loaded with Windows Vista and a trial copy of Office 2007.
Your mom is a great self-learner and knows all the basic stuff about computers but needs some help is in finding the right software tools that will help her do stuff more efficiently and as inexpensively as possible.
Letter to Mom suggesting tools and web apps for her new computer
Dear Mom - I hope you are enjoying the new Dell notebook. Now the first thing I want you to do is install PC Decrapifier - this will detect and remove all the unwanted trial programs that came pre-installed with your machine.
Next you should install Firefox - it’s an Internet Explorer like web browser but slightly better. Instead of using browser bookmarks, try the delicious add-on to save the addresses of all your favorite websites. Another add-on that you should install is Iterasi - web pages come and go but Iterasi will permanently archive your favorite web pages (like that eggless cake recipe).
You should create two email accounts one Gmail.com - share the primary email address with your friends and family but for everything else (like the newsletter and shopping deal alerts) always use the secondary email address. If you come across a site that requires registration, generate a temporary email address from 10MinuteMail.com and enter without sharing your main email.
With so many websites around, you’ll soon find it very hard to remember all those passwords so get into the habit of putting down all the different passwords into KeepPass from day one.
If you plan to carry this laptop in public places (like the Library), get this Laptop Alarm software that will emit a loud sound if someone tries to shut down your computer or remove the power cable. Laptop thefts are not so uncommon after all.
The trial version of Microsoft Office on your computer will expire after 60 days so you may completely uninstall that software and switch over to Google Docs - it has all the basic feature you would need in an Office suite including templates for tracking expenses and utility bills. You can use your primary Gmail address to log into Google Docs.
Sometimes your friends will send you documents, images or video clips that won’t open on your computer - that’s because you don’t have the right viewer software on your machine. You can simply go to zamzar.com and convert the file into some simple format (like avi for video, jpg for images, doc for documents, mp3 for songs, etc.) that you computer can play/open.
If the computer contains too many programs that you’ll rarely or never use, get the Revo Uninstaller to get rid of such programs permanently. To free up additional space on the hard drive, use WinDirStat to learn about file folders that are occupying the maximum space on your computer and delete the unnecessary files.
Be very careful when deleting files on your computer but if you ever delete something important accidently, Recuva may help you recover all those erased files. It even works with the memory card of your digital camera.
To download pictures from your digital camera onto the computer, get Windows Live Photo Gallery. This software can also upload your photos to our common family Flickr account so everyone gets to see your pictures even though we are several hundred miles away from you.
If the computer is not able to play your huge collection of DVD movies, you’re probably missing some codecs (don’t worry about the term) - just download the VLC player and the DVDs will play just fine.
You should also get Live Mesh - it will allow us to share files and documents with each other privately plus you can use Mesh to backup important files onto the cloud (I mean the web).
I am almost always available for chat on Google Talk but if some of your online friends use other chat software (like Yahoo! Messenger or AOL), you can easily connect with them through Miranda or, if you don’t want to install any software, use Meebo.
Another thing - do open an account at PayPal and link it to your main credit card as this will make online shopping easier. If you ever have a problem with PayPal or something isn’t clear, just call their toll-free 1-800 support number from your browser using Gizmo.
If your current voice plan is too expensive, I suggest that you download Skype - it lets you make calls from the computer to any landline or mobile phone at much cheaper rates. We can also use Skype to have video chats on weekends but if you don’t find me online, just send me a video email with Eyejot.
If you have newspaper clippings, bill receipts and business cards lying in the closet, just take a picture of them separately using the camera of your mobile phone and transfer them to the computer with Evernote - it will turn your “paper” documents into digital format that is always so easy to find and manage.
When planning a movie or weekend dinner with friends, you can send all of them a quick reminder for the event via phone and SMS for free using Notifu. If you’re inviting people at home for a party, head-over to sites like VideoJug.com, SuTree or 5min.com for new ideas about food, cocktails, party games, etc.
If you ever need to fax a document somewhere, just go to FaxZero, upload the document and fax it for free. FaxZero is only available for fax numbers of US or Canada but for international numbers, you may try eFax.
You can also consider dropping those magazine subscriptions that are delivered by snail mail - switch to Zinio instead that delivers the same magazine but in digital format.
As far as I remember, you’re currently using an unlimited data plan for the Internet but if that’s not true, get BitMeter - it will help you visually monitor your bandwidth usage so you never exceed the plan limit. You may also want to download FlashGet for downloading big files from the Internet.
If you notice carefully, some websites add an orange colored icon in the browser address bar (go to cnn.com to see a live example) - this icon means that you can get updates about new articles posted on that site automatically without having to visit the site again and again. If that’s the case, go to Feed My Inbox and type the address of that website - you’ll be notified automatically via email.
When browsing the web, you’ll frequently come across photographs, web pages and videos that you’ll want to share with us (your family members) - you could either send the link in a group mail or better still, simply create an account at Tumblr and start saving all the “interesting” stuff there.
And if you ever find yourself spending too much time on the computer, get RescueTime to know about websites where you spend most of your time.
There are a few other things that I want to do on your computer like installing a hosts file and configuring OpenDNS so that sites load quickly on your machine. These however require some geeky knowledge so I will try configuring them from here itself via CrossLoop - a remote desktop access tool.
Related: How to Rebuild a Slow Computer
Google Developer Expert, Google Cloud Champion
Amit Agarwal is a Google Developer Expert in Google Workspace and Google Apps Script. He holds an engineering degree in Computer Science (I.I.T.) and is the first professional blogger in India.