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  • Where to find computer help?

    Thanks to everyone for your recommendations awhile back about computer security. I now have a new laptop and am using Zone Alarm, AVG Free, Ad-Aware, Spybot, and Spyware blaster, and things seem to be going fine so far.

    Does anyone have recommendations on books or websites for general computer reference? I'm only so-so when it comes to "getting" computers, and I'm always second-guessing whether I'm doing things "right," so I'd like to have a few trusted references, be they books, forums, websites, etc.

    I am runing Windows XP Professional and also struggling with MS Office applications. (Word and Excel drive me crazy by being too "helpful.")

    I've read almost all of the user guide on my computer (I'm a read-the-directions type), and I've found CNET to be very helpful for all kinds of questions, but their forums are a real pain to navigate, and the level at which advice is pitched seems to vary a lot.

    I've looked at some Dummies guides and other computer reference books at the bookstore, but haven't found any so far that I really like. I find the format of the Dummies/Idiots books somewhat annoying, but I can live with that if I can trust the material and it's well-organized. Any publishers or authors of computer books that you would recommend?

    Thanks!

  • #2
    I've found the Dell Computer forums helpful, not just for Dell-specific topics. Easy to navigate.

    http://support.dell.com
    It's found under: Community Forum

    Dimension section has a lot of good general & desktop computer topics
    Inspiron section has notebook topics

    Even though I own a Dell, I've learned a lot of general computer skills from reading this forum.

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Jantzen; 08-14-2005, 04:24 PM.

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    • #3
      Microsoft Press has some pretty detailed, thorough, but understandable guides. I've found that for XP, the one called "Microsoft Windows XP Inside Out" to be very helpful. It's big (1300 pages) and pricey ($45), but there's a lot of great info in it.

      On a less technical side, there's also a series called "Step by Step" for MS Office products. I think there's one for MS Office, but there are also ones for Outlook, Word, Powerpoint, etc. They run about $25 each. Barnes & Noble and Borders should carry both of them.

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      • #4
        You can reduce MS Office "helpfulness".

        Originally posted by ActionGirl
        I am runing Windows XP Professional and also struggling with MS Office applications. (Word and Excel drive me crazy by being too "helpful.")
        You can switch off most of the default "helpfulness" of the MS Office applications. You have to thoroughly review and set options in the "Tools/Options" dialog of each application.

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        • #5
          O'Reilly produce excellent books on a huge variety of computer topics. Most of the series is aimed at professionals, however there are quite a few useful for users, in particular the "Missing Manual" and "Annoyances" series (e.g. Windows XP the Missing Manual, Windows XP Annoyances, Excel the Missing Manual etc etc).

          I have mainly used their "pro" books however I have dipped into Windows Annoyances quite a few times. You can even "rent" their books using their safari system (safari.oreilly.com), which also gives access to quite a few other publishers, including Microsoft Press.

          I have read or owned 20-30 of the O'Reilly books and they are very high standard.

          Regards,
          Tony

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          • #6
            I second the safari solution

            Safari is great for using a variety of books. Technical books can get expensive & the safari service lets you change the books that are on your bookshelf so that when one has served its purpose you can replace it with another. Their search functionality is great too compared to trying to find info in multiple dead wood sources.

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            • #7
              Computer help for those who don't have an IT department

              ActionGirl's original post made me think of something...

              What about a tech support for civilians (i.e. people who have home computers, or who are self-employed and don't have the benefit of at IT department)?

              This is the situation that I am in, and I have used different IT people over the past few years, all had their good points and bad points.

              Right now I am using a company that is only B2B (being self-employed fortunately "counts") but I am not sure that I want to continue with them as explained below.

              In 2003-4 I used an IT person recommended to me by a mutual friend who she seemed very knowledgable (being a layperson it is hard for me to judge!) but who felt we were getting close to the point where her services weren't "worth" it because she felt I needed a new computer. While I agreed with her in principle, and could see that the funds I spend with her might have been better applied towards a new machine, for reasons I won't go into here, I wasn't yet ready to get a new machine.

              While she seemed honest, she was a talker, it was for me not to worry that the time soent on site, and thus her hourly bill, wouldn't somehow wind up big b/c of the talking. Also, since it was such a small company (herself, her partner and one other tech) I was concerned coverage might eventually become an issue, and I didn't want to ever find myself in an "emergency" situation w/o the help I needed.

              So for 2005, I found a new IT company that had an innovative offer. Here is what they do--it is a one-year service contract agreement that is $29.99/month (less if you prepay your entire year upfront, which I did), and they provide you w/unlimited remote tech support through al web link while they simultaneously talked to you on the phone, as well as hands off virus protection (which is updated on their end, I never have to do anything, and it seems to work well). If they have to make a service call there is a charge, but it is a flat fee rather than hourly. The only thing you pay an hourly fee for (and their rates were reasonable @ $59/hr if you have their service contract) is a special project that the service contract doesn't cover. (Setting up a network, or something like that--complex stuff that I don't need).

              But, recently, on the GTD Yahoo forum, some OT discussions about computer stuff lead to a discussion of RSS, browsers, etc.

              From these discussions, it was suggested that I might want to switch from IE to Firefox (which I had never heard before until a few weeks ago). It was also suggested that the reason I might want to do this is b/c I might be exposed to less spyware, malware, pop-ups, etc, on Firefox than on IE.

              I naively replied that I wasn't having problems w/spyware. Afterall, I thought to myself, the IT provider that I am using had installed Ad-Aware and Spybot onto my system, which I checked frequently (okay, I *usually* checked it frequently, but hadn't lately, I admit). Well, I was apparently a bit overconfident!

              I took the advice of one of the IT people on the forum, and used a trial version of a program called Counterspy to check my system. It found 1 piece of spyware (and 55 cookies it recommended I get rid of ) that Spybot didn't "see" even though it's definitions were updated.

              Please keep in mind that my job has nothing to do with computers, that I just *use* one to do work, but I know about as much how a computer works as I do about my car--just as I need a mechanic to help w/my car and check stuff, I need the same kind of knowledgable help w/my computer.

              Having seen what happened with my spybot thingie, and that this may have been due to my using IE (not knowing about alternatives) I am a little concerned that this company is not as proactive as I wish. They only Do Something when I call in and have a serious problem.

              Does anyone knowledgable in such matters have suggestions for alternatives? I have seen ads for Geek Squad (and have seen their cars whiz by every now and then) but have no idea if they are any good?

              Comment


              • #8
                Forced hardware and software update.

                Originally posted by sablouwho
                In 2003-4 I used an IT person recommended to me by a mutual friend who she seemed very knowledgable (being a layperson it is hard for me to judge!) but who felt we were getting close to the point where her services weren't "worth" it because she felt I needed a new computer. While I agreed with her in principle, and could see that the funds I spend with her might have been better applied towards a new machine, for reasons I won't go into here, I wasn't yet ready to get a new machine.
                The quick pace at which Microsoft and hardware manufacturers are updating both software and hardware makes older computers, hardware and applications obsolete. By older I mean two-year old. There are many software and hardware incompatibilities introduced during such short period. And after two years it is really good idea to buy totally new hardware and software unless you are satisfied with the current setup and do not want to install anything new. (one of my laptops is Pentium 166MHz (pretty slow) but it works perfectly with Win98 and older version of Microsoft Office).

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by TesTeq
                  The quick pace at which Microsoft and hardware manufacturers are updating both software and hardware makes older computers, hardware and applications obsolete. By older I mean two-year old. There are many software and hardware incompatibilities introduced during such short period. And after two years it is really good idea to buy totally new hardware and software unless you are satisfied with the current setup and do not want to install anything new. (one of my laptops is Pentium 166MHz (pretty slow) but it works perfectly with Win98 and older version of Microsoft Office).
                  TesTeq~

                  It's a long story, but to summarize, I shall soon be getting a new system, but need specialized assistive technology to be able to work on a computer as I have repetitive stress injuries in both arms. I've just had an ergonomic/occupational therapy evaluation. So, yeah, soon I will have a new system.

                  But until then, the system I have is what I have to work with. (Frankly, besides the fact that this laptop it isn't that great for my hands from an ergonomic perspective, the fact that it is a little slow hasn't really been all that much of a issue.)

                  The question I am asking isn't really about whether I should or shouldn't get a new computer, it is about how a lay person like me can know if they are getting good tech support.

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                  • #10
                    Technical service support problems.

                    Originally posted by sablouwho
                    The question I am asking isn't really about whether I should or shouldn't get a new computer, it is about how a lay person like me can know if they are getting good tech support.
                    It is a very good question and applicable to any technical service support.

                    I've got a Toyota car which is - according to the statistics - one of the most defect-free. But there was always something wrong after the serviceman touched it. Finally I found the service station that I can trust (I hope).

                    It all depends on the serviceman attitude. You can have different experiences with different people from the same company (despite the official company policy and quality certificates).

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                    • #11
                      Hi sablouwho

                      None of the anti-spyware applications is likely to catch 100% of the stuff floating around. You now have three such apps, I'm sure if you installed another one it will find something the others have missed. This is a pretty well known problem with this type of software.

                      Because firefox's source code is public it is supposedly "fundamentally" more secure than IE. This isn't actually the case - have a look at the firefox patches from the last six months, there have been a number of serious issues. Certainly, it is different to IE, which means some things that affect IE won't affect firefox (and vice versa), but the more people that use firefox the more people will attack it. In addition, some sites just won't work with anything but IE. Your support company would be inviting trouble if they started recommending it to people.

                      You should determine the performance of this company on the basis of what they are supposed to be doing. Do you pay them to keep your machine running, or do you pay them to give you the best possible set up and continue suggesting improvements to it? If you're paying $29.99 a month then it's the first option - to carry out a consultancy function you would be paying them a lot more than that.

                      I would suggest having a look at http://www.langa.com/. It's a mailing list for computer "users" but covers a phenominal number of topics, spyware being quite popular. If you want to stay up to date with things like firefox then I'd recommend it. No company is going to have as good an idea as yourself as to what you need unless you pay them some pretty hefty consultancy fees.

                      Regards,
                      Tony

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                      • #12
                        Tony,

                        Thank you, I will definitely check out the web site you mention!

                        sablouwho ;-D

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ActionGirl
                          Does anyone have recommendations on books or websites for general computer reference?
                          In the past I found great books the old-fashioned way, by skimming through them at the bookstore. Just about any bookstore has dozens of books on these topics, and you can find a good one for your needs by looking through them.

                          My favorite book for Win98 (yes I used it for a long time and still use it sometimes!) was the Mother of All Windows 98 Books by Woody Leonhard and somebody else. It was a little too cute, but had great information to help you become a power user and gain a lot more control of the OS. Unfortunately, they didn't write one for XP, but the principles I learned helped me to know what I wanted to customize in XP and where to start looking. I think it is still valuable for this purpose.

                          Since the olden days of Win98, though, the web has become a terrific resource for solving specific problems. For example, I wanted to turn off those annoying popups in the notification area. I tried all the obvious things I knew, but after Googling discovered another setting I had to change. Same thing with turning off the Office Assistant (actually, Office help shows how to do this too). Googling has also gotten me quick answers to things I had no idea about, like how to change the folders for MyDocuments of an account without breaking something, and even how to get the Explorer default view to include the Folder hierarchy in the left pane. So far, everything I've needed to know I have quickly found online, so I'm debating whether I should even buy a book for XP.

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