Ok, so you know you need a new computer...
How big is your budget? Should you be mortgaging the house, selling the kids, auctioning organs? A lot of people wander into the nearest "big-box" store, and are wowed by the No-Interest, Deferred Payment Deals being offered. "Look honey, we can have it now, and pay for it some day later when we're rich!" Yeah, right.
These deals are ALWAYS in the favour of the finance company running them. The salesman gets his commission up front, the store gets their price for the merchandise. Do you really think that the finance company is generous enough to give away all of this before seeing any money from you? Of course not. The price of the goods is inflated (in comparison to it's actual cost), the guarantee you put on it comes back against the other goods you already own, and the *hidden* charges of "administration fees" claw even more back. Why go into finance for a depreciating asset? Especially as computers depreciate so quickly? - They are obsolete in 18 months, usually dead after 36 months.
Pay up front if you can, or, if you are a business, ask your accountant about doing "Leasing", as that may work out better for you - you get to use a computer that belongs to a finance company for the period of the lease, whilst paying for the privilege (tax deductably), and then at the end of the period you can upgrade to a new machine, and continue ad infinitum, or pay a residual to buy the machine outright.
Prices for computers are gradually dropping, forcing ever diminishing profit margins. For most computer sales, the reseller is making between 5 and 10% on the system. So they want to sell as many extras as they can to recoup their margins, such as Microsoft
Bloatware .. umm, Office, and 15 ink cartridges for the new printer you bought. They also want to sell "Extended Warranties" if they can. This is a gamble by the insurance/finance company that the machine won't need extensive parts replacement outside it's manufacturer warranty. Yes, the reseller gets a cut from it too. Is it worth it? Depends on how much it costs, what it covers, and if the brand of computer is a known crap-merchant (which begs the question - "do you need the pain and aggravation of buying such crap?"). Also consider the length of the manufacturer's warranty; do THEY expect it to last beyond that? More could be said on this topic - ask questions!
How much you pay will of course vary as to where you are living on this little blue-green ball. "Netbook PCs" are very cheap now, and offer excellent utility on the move. Desktop PCs are very powerful, and if you are just wanting to run the usual everyday applications, then more-so than you need. Avoid buying more grunt than necessary, unless you can see a quick need for it - it is generally easy to upgrade Desktop PCs.
Software is the part of the computer that you actually get to do the tasks within. For that reason it can be the most important. It is for writing that letter to Great Aunt Mildred, managing the photos off your MagnaCam 52000, and saving the world from little green things from Outer Space.
Software for the computer comes in two main uses; Operating System:- controls the hardware, and acts as a base for the Application Software:- the software you use to get things done.
As mentioned earlier, you can pay a lot for some software affectionately known as Bloatware, because it can do more than you'll ever know (or need). And you can pay for software that is the right amount; because you want to use that software. And you can pay little or nothing for software that is high quality, and gives you what you need with little else to confuse the issue. In this way software can be very confusing to the computer novice. How on God's green Earth can you get something for nothing?
Software follows the following Four major paradigms:
- Closed Source: This is where the program is usually expensive, often sold by large corporations, and often times will not conform to any sort of standard except itself. You have no access to the underlying code, cannot distribute the program, and have few rights if any in relation to it.
- Open Source: The program is available for free. It's code is open to be used and modified by anybody. It encourages distribution. You have every right, but sometimes you cannot change it and resell it as a Closed Source
- Shareware: A usually Closed Source variant, where the software is made free according to special conditions, eg Time Limit, upon which you then need to pay for the software or stop using it. Often used by small companies to gain market recognition.
- Freeware: A usually Closed Source variant, where the software is made free, with little or no conditions. Somebody gets warm fuzzies from creating it, or wants to save the world, but not let others know how they do it, or other services are sold alongside it.
That is far from an exhaustive list, as there are too many different legal licenses for software to list them all, but it gives you a rough idea.
So what software and why? Ah, this is THE question. The great debate. You see in this world there is a sharp delineation between the Closed Source camp and the Open Source camp.
The Closed Source camp wants you to believe that "their's is the best software, that it's worth plonking all that money on, that you cannot live without it, and that you are infringing law no. 1337 if you don't buy it. Oh, and by the way, that open sauce stuff is evil, communistic, and infringes upon all of our software patents and
our right to a high profit at your expense will make your computer explode."
The Open Source camp want you to join in their community, use their software, extend it if you can, tell your friends about it, help others learn it, enjoy it, and be productive with it. However some go overboard to the extent of saying that all closed source is evil.
Obviously there is a major difference in philosophy there. I choose to use Open Source software due to the quality and the freedom it offers. I prefer not to let someone else dictate the terms about how I am able to use my computer. I use closed source where there is no viable alternative for a particular functionality, but only if it doesn't endanger that freedom.
Got a headache yet? Take a breather.
Right, after telling you all about software's licensing paradigms, we can relate that directly to software titles that you can get for your computer. The following chart details what you can expect to find on modern computers(examples):
| Operating System|| Microsoft Windows Vista, XP, Mac OS X||Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, PC-BSD,OpenSolaris|
| Office Suite|| MS Office 2007||OpenOffice, KOffice, GnomeOffice|
| Web Browser|| MS Internet Exploder|| Firefox, Epiphany, Konqueror|
| Windows Mail, MS Outlook|| Thunderbird,Evolution, Kmail|
| Instant Messaging|| Windows MSN Live|| Pidgin, Kopete, |
| Photo Manipulation||Photoshop||GIMP|
|Antivirus|| Norton, McAfee, Trend, NOD|| not necessary really, but:CLAMAV|
| Photo Manager||Picasa||F-Spot|
| Music Player||Windows Media, iTunes - both are subject to Digital Rights Management|| Amarok, Exaile, Rhythmbox|
I've listed only a few of the most commonly used softwares above. Also of note is that many of the Open source softwares run on the Closed source Operating System, and many of the Closed Source applications can be made to run on Open Source Operating systems. And using something called "Virtualisation Software" you can run one or more Operating Systems within another, allowing powerful hardware to run a total range of software.
It is debatable (often), but the Open Source Operating Systems and Applications have had a better track-record for stability, security, integrity, and total-cost-of-ownership. The Closed Source Operating Systems have a better history of ease-of-use, although this is quickly being undone by Microsoft's Vista, and the Open Source Operating Systems are usually very easy to use now.
The sad fact of this commercial world is that marketing has proven time and again to be stronger than technical or even financial benefit. Microsoft spends millions marketing its software, and ensuring that its software is used in schools(get 'em young...), pushing into place invalid software standards, pushing it's users around, and "bluff, bolster and bull#$@^". That is why most of the world insists on using them? I am sick of their business tactics; I wouldn't treat others that way, so why should I promote a company that does?
You may notice that I haven't much mentioned Apple in all of this. Apple is one of the innovators in the computer industry, and from that regard I have respect for them. However they have proven also to be no better than Microsoft in the way that they treat their clients. They have taken the Open Source BSD unix, customised it, and sold it as OS-X; which is closed source. They have written their license so that you cannot load that operating system onto anything other than THEIR hardware, which is expensive, and most assuredly limits your options. It's pretty, and trendy, though, and that's how Apple gets its market share.They have also thrown themselves into DRM (Digital Rights Management), aka the Music Police, as have Microsoft.
Why is DRM a big deal? DRM stops you playing music you legally own, unless you jump through all the hoops in the right order. The world would be better off without it.
Phew! This is getting longer than I thought...
So, back to software and operating systems; you first must decide which OS(Operating System) to use. This is often based upon the Brand of Application Software that you want to run. Then you can choose the hardware to run that OS. As mentioned previously, you can run some closed source applications on open source OSes, for instance, you could run Ubuntu Linux as your OS, but load your current copy of Microsoft Office 2003 onto it, or Adobe Photoshop CS2, or more. Because Apple's software doesn't play well with the others, there is no way to run their software on other OSes (that I know of...). So, if you buy an Apple you must run Apple, or install the free Linux on it. If you buy a PC you can run MS Windows, or Linux. If you run Windows then you can use some free, open source applications. If you run Linux then you can run Windows applications inside it as well as all of the free linux software, which is mainly better anyhow.
All told, Linux is the most versatile solution.And I haven't gone into the numerous other benefits it offers.
So why don't more people hear about it? Again; marketing marketing marketing. Some corporates are only able to buy Windows PCs because that is all their CIO or CEO knows. Some buy it because that is all they have ever bought, and humans are resistant to change.
Ok, so that about covers software.
A peripheral is a device that attaches to the "Box" of the PC. Examples: printer, scanner, camera, monitor, keyboard, mouse, graphics tablet, speakers, webcam. There is a huge assortment of these devices. Most connect to the box using a cable with a USB plug.
Keyboards and mice connect using either USB, PS/2 , or wireless, using an adaptor for Infra-red, Bluetooth, or Radio Frequency. Choose those that feel good to use. The trackball style of mouse is particularly good for extended usage, but it is useless for playing 3D games. Most keyboards have multimedia controls - they canopen the music player, and control tracks and volume, as well as numerous other special and programmable keys.
Printers are a huge topic in themselves. Consider the cost per page for YOUR style of printing, not what the salesman spouts (based upon 5% coverage usually). Consider the cost of any other consumables. Consider the longevity of print. There are mainly 3 types of printer available; inkjet, laser, and solid ink; in order of price from least to greatest. Consider the quality of prints - does it have to be a perfect photo, or is near enough good enough? What about the quality of the text printing- am I making brochures for business? Read reviews online, ask friends around where you are. Some brands fare very badly in some climates - HP inkjets really suffer where I live. Printers connect on USB or the old Parallel port. Some ancient printers,like Dot Matrix, use the Serial ports.
... to be continued...
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