Software: The Key to Enjoying Your Computer Time Series: So You Wnat to Buy a Computer. Part 3 of a Five-Part Series. First of Two Articles Appearing Today. Parts 1 and 2 Appeared Aug. 22 and 24; Part 4 Will Run Monday

By Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 1995 | Go to article overview

Software: The Key to Enjoying Your Computer Time Series: So You Wnat to Buy a Computer. Part 3 of a Five-Part Series. First of Two Articles Appearing Today. Parts 1 and 2 Appeared Aug. 22 and 24; Part 4 Will Run Monday


Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When you buy a personal computer, it's tempting to show it off. The monitor, CPU, and keyboard look so impressive sitting there on the desk. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean much. It's the software inside your computer that counts.

Software tells the hardware what to do. Word-processing software translates my keystrokes into these words. Operating-system software gives computers their "feel."

So the software you put inside your computer is going to play a key role in whether you have a good experience with the technology. Pick it carefully.

In all likelihood, your new computer will come with some software installed. Typically, it will have an operating system and some basic programs to get you started.

Sometimes this will be all you need. Still, it doesn't hurt to make a checklist of the programs you expect to use. That way, you can buy the hardware and the software at the same time and have the dealer install it for you.

The key software, of course, is going to be the program that you can't wait to use. Maybe it's a word-processing program to help you write letters; or that special look at Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Whatever it is, you've pinned it down by now. That piece of software is the main reason you're buying a computer.

Of course, you'll need other software too. This article will take you on a tour of software that makes sense.

The one program that's absolutely necessary on every computer is operating-system software. For an IBM-compatible, this software is called Windows or DOS. Windows is rapidly replacing DOS, and if you have an older DOS-based machine, by all means try to upgrade to Windows, which is simpler and more natural to use. With Windows, you can point-and-click your way through programs rather than typing obscure commands. Windows will also run older DOS programs.

Of course, you can make do with DOS, especially if you're getting an older machine that can't handle Windows. The drawback is that you won't be able to run future versions of software, which will be Windows-based. Today, Microsoft Corporation released the latest version of its program, Windows 95, which does away with DOS completely. We won't spend any more time dealing with DOS here.

If you're buying a Macintosh, it will probably come loaded with System 7.5. (The numbers refer to the version of the software. Since most software companies upgrade their programs every year or two, they need some way to distinguish them. If a new version is a significant upgrade, companies typically jump a whole number - from ClarisWorks 3.0 to 4.0, for example. If it's a small upgrade, the version usually moves up one-tenth: WordPerfect for Windows 6.0 to 6.1.)

Advocates for Windows and System 7.5 argue endlessly about which is better. But the real trend is that they're becoming more alike. Both are picture-based rather than command-based. You will most likely use a computer mouse to move around the screen and issue commands. Don't worry if the mouse seems to zig and zag crazily at first. It takes several days to get coordinated.

Whichever system you get, the pictures will be supplemented by a menu at the top of the screen with words such as "File" and "Edit." Click on them and a menu appears with even more commands. Gradually, you will learn your way around. Both Windows and System 7.5 try hard to be so easy that you don't need to read the manuals. But they're available if you need them. …

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