Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Family Computer

Your kids have been clamoring for one for months. And your wife says it would be great fun for the whole family. Maybe it’s time to finally get a computer.

But before rushing off to purchase a family PC, there are a few things to remember. A computer is not a toy. It’s going to become a member of your family and will need lots of care and attention.

One of the first decisions you’ll have to make is where to put your new PC. Best to let it have its own room or possibly a corner in the basement. Whatever you do, don’t let it stay in the bedroom. The midnight clattering of keys and the glow from the screen can be very disruptive.

Your next choice will be what operating system to give your new friend. Try loading Windows. But be patient. It may not "take" the first few times but eventually it should work reasonably well.

As for software, the sky’s the limit. But take it slowly. It’s best to let your computer take some time to get used to each new piece of software. Start with a nice gentle word processing program and work up from there.

Once you have your PC on a regular schedule and Windows-trained, it’s time to consider Internet training. Take the time to hook your computer up properly to the World Wide Web and be sure to follow all the protocols consistently. If you don’t discipline your computer when it’s new, it will end up running you instead of you running it. One handy training tip is to always give your PC a cookie to reward it for good Internet behavior.

At this stage, don’t forget to cover all the health concerns for your new family member. That means taking it to a veteran computer technician for regular checkups and those (hopefully) occasional emergency visits.

It also means ensuring your PC has adequate warranty coverage. The last thing you want is to be hit with a devastating illness that could cost you hundreds of dollars in unexpected technical bills.

And speaking of illness, don’t forget to innoculate your new friend. Don’t worry when you first get your PC but after you start Internet training, make sure it gets proper anti-virus treatment. Some viruses are fairly mild but others can make you and your PC miserable.

If you’ve managed to see your PC successfully through its first year, it’s time to teach it some tricks. With a little patience, you can get your computer to fetch your mail, do your banking and even file your taxes. But be careful not to have it do too much. Computers are notoriously temperamental and you could end up with infected mail, an overdrawn bank account or a visit from a government auditor.

Sure, it’s a lot of work. But if you invest the time now, your computer can be a faithful family friend for months to come. Whether it’s helping you with your chores, playing games with the kids or just being a lovable companion, your PC will be one of the family.

And don’t forget that your family PC won’t become an unnecessary burden come vacation time. No need to pack it off to a computer kennel for two weeks. Just turn off the switch and your PC will never know you left. Of course, you might want to take the opportunity to send your family friend to obedience school while you’re away. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much better it behaves when you return.

Be prepared, however, for the inevitable. A computer year is equal to 25 human years. So after about three years, your new pal will probably reach the end of its useful life. Its hard drive may keep crashing or it may just start losing its memory. But you’ll know when it’s time to pull the plug.

And when you do, don’t forget; you can always buy another one, maybe even a laptop. It’ll never replace that first PC but chances are everything will be a lot faster and easier the second time around. Who knows? You may even want to start your own network.

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