If you are about to buy your first computer, or if you are thinking about what to add to your current system, what extras should you buy? There are a few basics that will make it much easier for you and your family to use the computer and also to get the most out of the Internet. Luckily, most of these extras are either free or won’t cost you too much money.
1. Printer: You need this to make copies of documents from your computer files or from the Internet. Printers start at around $30.
2. Mouse: If you bought a desktop computer, it should come with a mouse. If you bought a laptop, it comes with a built-in mouse, but an external mouse makes it much easier to use most programs and web sites. You can get one starting around $10.
3. Writable CD-ROM or DVD drive: Having this capacity makes it easy to back up data, transfer files between computers, or to create music CDs: While you can buy a drive that is separate from the computer, it is much more convenient to have one built into your machine. Make sure when you order your computer that it comes with at least one drive that can read and write CD-ROMs.
4. Speakers: Most laptops and even some desktops have built-in speakers, but a pair of external speakers will give you a better sound. If your new desktop or laptop does not come with a pair, you can get a cheap pair for less than $20.
5. Flash drives: You can use these either to back up your files or to transfer files between computers. While you can also use CD-ROMs and DVDs to store data, not every computer will have an appropriate drive, but you can use a flash drive with even the most basic new computer. They can start at less than $10. You should get at least one for every member of your family who will use the computer for work or for school.
6. Firefox browser: This alternative to Internet Explorer allows you to have more control over your online experience, especially when it comes to blocking advertising. It is free and you can download it from http://www.mozilla.com/.
7. OpenOffice.org: This office application suite has all the software you need for doing word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations for either work or school. You can even use this set of software to work with Microsoft Office files from the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint programs. This is also free and available at http://www.openoffice.org/.
8. Adobe Reader: This free software can be used to view, print, and search PDF files, which is the preferred file format for many online documents. It often comes with new computers, and if not you can get it for free at http://www.adobe.com/.
9. Google Desktop: This free program allows you to search for content on your computer’s hard drive the same way you do online searches. You can find this program at http://desktop.google.com/.
10. iTunes media player: You can use this free program from Apple to easily manage most of the audio and music files on your computer. You do not have to buy an iPod to use the software. The software is included with new Apple computers, and you can download a version of the software for computers that run the Windows operating system.
Just remember, going online does not have to be expensive. Many of the things you want to do with your computer should not cost you a lot of extra money or extra hassle. The money you spend on basic extra hardware will allow your computer to be a very valuable tool for you and your family.
The book Parenting and the Internet (Speedbrake Publishing, 2007) by Todd Curtis has more suggestions about hardware and software, including advice on enhancing your family’s online privacy and security, and extensive links to providers of free software. To find out more about the book, visit http://speedbrake.com