Tapping Into Your PC’s PotentialAre you making the most of your PC? Probably not, judging from my own
observations and those of others. To get a better feel for this, I talked with a product manager at Hewlett Packard. HP recently merged with Compaq, making it the largest personal computer manufacturer in the world, according to the most recent sales figures from IDC, an independent market research firm based in Framingham, Mass.
Tom Markworth is responsible for HP’s Pavilion line of desktop PCs, which are sold through computer superstores, discount retailers, consumer electronic stores and office supply stores. HP’s computers have always fared well in computer reliability surveys in comparison with their retail competition.
Markworth identified key areas in which people typically don’t take full advantage of their PC’s potential, in both home and business settings.
• CD-RW drives. Many computers today from various manufacturers come with these recordable compact disc drives, but people often think of them only as ways to record music they find on the Web. You can also use these drives as an inexpensive way to back up your data.
• Keyboards. Some computers come with keyboards that provide added functionality, such as the ability to program keyboard shortcuts. With the press of a single key, for instance, you can be off to your favorite news, shopping, travel or other Web site.
• Faxing. You don’t need a stand-alone fax machine to fax documents that you create with your PC or to receive faxes. A PC connected to a modem and phone line, using software that comes with Windows XP and other operating systems, can act as a fax machine.
• Broadband. Many PCs today come with network cards, which can save you money if you sign up for cable or DSL Internet access.
• Ports. Virtually all PCs today come with USB ports — a port is a connection used to attach a printer, scanner, PDA, digital camera, or other peripheral device to a PC. USB ports are faster and easier to work with than previous technologies such as parallel and serial ports. Be sure to check into whether your peripherals have USB connections.
Some PCs today come with even faster IEEE 1394 ports, sometimes called Firewire ports. These are used primarily with digital camcorders, but you can also use them to connect an external hard drive or optical drive to a computer. This can be a convenient way to transfer large documents or programs between a work and home PC.
• Digital photo editing. Today’s powerful PCs make it easier than ever to have fun with photography. By using a digital camera and imaging software, you can combine photos into artistic montages, remove red eyes and other defects, and create greeting cards, calendars and other projects.
• Digital video editing. Though a DVD drive can help, you don’t need one to edit videos with a PC, provided you have digital video editing software. You can simply use your hard drive — today’s ample hard drives have the space to store video as you work on it. When done, you can burn the video onto a CD-R disc or output it back to your digital camcorder to watch on TV.
• Managing finances. Programs such as Quicken and Microsoft Money make it easy to use your PC as a sophisticated checkbook register. Not only can you quickly reconcile your monthly statements, you can also pay bills online, create budgets, track expenses, download investment information and keep track of your portfolio on real-time basis.
• Update services. Software utility maker Symantec pioneered the ability to automatically receive software patches and updates through the Web, and others have followed suit. Microsoft’s Windows Update lets you get security fixes and other patches for Microsoft products. Services such as HP’s Backweb let you automatically download hardware driver updates to your PC.
• Start menu. You may be surprised at the software that comes with your new PC. By looking around your Start menu, you may find free or trial versions of reference, educational, creativity and other software worth using.
• Standby mode. By going into the Windows Control Panel and double clicking on Display, you can access your computer’s Power settings and set your PC to turn off power to the monitor and other components after a selected period of inactivity.
According to the EPA, this can save you up to $50 per year in electricity bills. And it’s better for your PC than turning it off and on several times a day. — Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at email@example.com or http://www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column.
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