APCUG July newsletter articles:

 

1. Choosing A New Computer for the Kids   Part 1, By Ira Wilsker This is a two part article and I will send the second part next time. I think this will make an interesting article for any platform group.

 

Choosing A New Computer for the Kids†† Part 1

By Ira Wilsker

 

††††††††††† One of the most frequently asked questions recently by both readers of this column and from listeners to my weekly radio shows was about purchasing computers for their children.Generally, the "kids" fall into two broad categories; college bound, and middle or high school students.As I reply when asked by anyone about recommendations for buying a computer, I ask back "what is it going to be used for?"The reply to that query will often have a significant influence on my recommendations.

††††††††††† First, a brief overview of processors, often referred to as "CPU chips"; the two major competitors are Intel and AMD, both of whom produce a variety of chips.The premium chips are Intel's Pentium, and AMD's Athlon.Both are generally satisfactory, and the rule of thumb is the faster, the better, but faster often means more expensive.For many modern computers the CPU chip, often not much larger than a postage stamp, is the most expensive component.Generally, the AMD Athlon chips with the same performance rating as Intel Pentium chips, are less expensive. According to side-by-side comparisons published by several of the major computer magazines, Athlon chips also generally outperform comparable Pentium chips of the same clock speed when used in real-world applications.Pentium chips are typically named with their rated clock speed, or how fast they can operate internally.The new Athlon chips are named not by their real clock speed, but how they compare to an Intel Pentium chip.For example an Athlon XP 1800 chip, while actually having a clock speed of 1.53GHZ, has about the same actual performance of a Pentium 1.8GHZ chip, but has a price (just for the chip) of about 1/3 to ę less than the Pentium 1.8GHZ chip, according to the listings at pricewatch.com.Both AMD and Intel also manufacture a budget line of CPU chips.These chips are the Intel Celeron and the AMD Duron, currently being phased out by AMD.These budget chips, costing about ę again less than their premium counterparts, have a lower degree of performance, even with the same clock speed, because they lack some of the more advanced features of their higher priced counterparts, such as less on-board cache memory, and less sophisticated video and multimedia support."Putting my money where my mouth is", all of the computers I have built or purchased for my family in recent years have had AMD chips in them.While not all computer manufacturers offer a choice of chipmakers, recently I have almost always recommended Athlon chips over Pentium, based on both their price and performance advantage. For kids' computers, purchased today, I would not recommend either Celeron or Duron chips, as today's kids are more likely to make extensive use of multimedia and graphics intensive applications, such as video games, and MP3 and DVD players.It is these applications specifically that Celerons and Durons generally lack the enhanced capability of their premium big brothers.For a child's computer today, I would pick an Athlon CPU chip over a comparable Pentium chip, if available.

As the speeds of CPU chips on the market increase, the marginal benefit of those increased speeds to the "kid" user decreases, as the cost increases.The latest "gee whiz" speeds may be impressive to friends, but using that increased CPU's additional cost for other features, rather than the highest speeds, may increase the functionality of the computer.

††††††††††† Memory, almost as much as chip speed, is a major contributor to computer performance.In recent years, the price of memory has plunged.While there have been some up-and-down price fluctuations, memory is often one of the less expensive components.Rule of thumb is the more memory, the better, up to reasonable limits.128 megabytes of memory is about the minimum for new computers, with 256 megs becoming more common on new computers. Many new computers currently on local store shelves have 512 megs of memory, or more.There are different memory formats and speeds being used by different manufacturers.The type of memory used is often listed in the computer specifications.DDR memory is generally faster than the more common and less expensive PC133, but the difference in price is usually not very much.The computer I am using to type this has 256 megs of memory, which with my Windows 98 has been adequate.The computer I built last winter for my youngest daughter has 384 megs (3 - 128 meg sticks of PC133 speed memory), along with an Athlon 1.33 GHZ (266 "Front Side Bus") CPU chip.Memory sticks, of most major types, are fairly inexpensive and readily available from most computer, electronics and office supply stores.If the kids want more memory at a later date, it is usually an easy "do-it-yourself" project.Two of my four daughters have added memory to their computers, all by themselves.

††††††††††† New computers will also usually show the speed and type of video installed.Many manufacturers, in order to keep the cost down, use an on-board video chip that uses "shared" memory; this means that the video card is also using the computer's regular memory.This reduces the memory available for applications, and reduces performance.A separate video card, preferably referred to as an AGP card, will have its own video processor and memory.Again, the faster the video card, and the more memory on the card, the better the video performance, but the more expensive the computer becomes.If the kid wants to do a lot of intensive gaming, or play DVDs on the computer, the better video may be worth the extra money.The computer I recently built for my youngest daughter has a very fast AGP 4x video card, with 64 megs of its own memory.

††††††††††† Next week, in the Examiner, this column will discuss choices for hard drives, CD-RW, DVD, and other accessories, as well as try and answer the notebook vs. desktop argument often made by our children.

 

2.  Incredimail  a FREE e-mail Program by By: Sigrid Foreman Part 1 "My Favorite E-Mail Program was sent out a while back and this article will give your members and readers more information on finding stationeries, sounds and e-cards.

 

Incredimail a FREE e-mail Program

http://www.incredimail.com

Part 2 - Finding your own Stationary

Part 1 - My Favorite E-Mail Program and can be found in our February 2002 issue on page 2 of the Newslink located on our website at http://www.tyler.net/tcc

I use Incredimail for my e-mail program, and one of the nice things about it is that I can find so many different stationeries to use.The Incredimail home gallery offers a wide variety as well as animations, sounds and e-cards.All these can also be found on many sites all over the Internet.

Going to www.yahoo.com and typing "incredimail stationary" in the search window and will result in multiple listings that feature downloadable stationary.A popular site listing that you will see is Bomis, where you find many popular stationary sites with a short description of each.On most you simply have to click ona download button or the stationary itself and it will automatically add itself to your style box.On others it's a little more involved but instructions are usually available under help.Also listed there are some incredimail groups.A extensive list of 161 incredimail groups with description can be found at:http://groups.yahoo.com/search?query=incredimail.

To participate in most of the groups you would have to join...its FREEÖ and be a part of that group.Some groups require that you be on "individual mail" to be a member and some do not.By being on individual mail, you will receive and be able to "snag" all the stationary that goes thru the group.Some of these groups, in order to cut down on unnecessary mail traffic have replies going directly back to the sender instead of passing back thru the group for all to see, this helps eliminate a lot of unwanted mail for those on dialup.

To help me manage my group mail (I'm currently in 7 groups) I establish a second identity in Incredimail.Basically what you have then are 2 separate accounts in the same e-mail program.My group mail is then kept separate and does not get mixed up with my regular mail.Another thing that I did was to have each groups mail go into its own subfolder by using the message rules found under Tools.A subfolder needs to be added prior to using the Rules, and usually given a group name.

This second account can be set up thru your ISP as a second address or you can get another e-mail address from the many free or pay hosts that are available.Each server\host usually has instructions on how to setup your new e-mail address to enable you to download your mail via your POP account.You should find a host who will give you as much storage as possible.If you do not have enough storage then your group mail will be bounced back to the sender and Yahoo may think you are on vacation and suspend your account until you reactivate it. Be aware some hosts do not allow you to do this since it is in violation of their termsÖ services such as Juno and I believe AOL do not, while Yahoo and Hotmail do.I will list some free e-mail sites with their storage amounts at the end of this article.

Why join these groups?OhÖ to "snag" the stationary and "beg" for "tags" of course!!Each message will have a different stationary, or "stat" as they are called, but some will be personalized with the senders name and they usually include a "tag" which is what is known as a digital signature and consists of a smaller image of the stationary graphic with the senders name embedded...although it does not have to be the same image as that of the stationary itself.

Snagging - When you see a stat that you like, simply click on the yellow star in the upper right hand corner of the e-mail message.It will then automatically add itself to your style box, where all your stationary is stored.Each will usually add itself to its own category and you will then have to organize it at a later date or you will have hundreds of categories.Your style box is accessed whenever you write an email by clicking on the red tab on the left side of your stationary.As you click on each category you will see a list of stat names, select each one to view the stationary. To organize stats, simply select the one you wish to move, drag and drop it into the category into which you want it to belong.

Begging for Tags Ė Tags are used in the same manner as a written signature.To receive a personalized tag, we "beg" for it. It is named begging in fun, not fact.All you do is request it from the person who wrote the letter and if that person made it they will usually make you one.If not, they will generally tell you who did and direct you to themÖif they can remember.Tags are sent to you as attachments with an e-mail, simply click on the paper clip, and save into a folder that you have established for it.

Incredimails Signatures - are separate from and can be used in place of or in conjunction with a tag.There you can "write" your own name in the graph and it will transfer it to the signature box. Tags may also be added to the signature box.I use a time\weather bar below my written signature.The time\weather bar can be found at www.wunderground.com, type your town and state into the fast search window.When your forecast arrives, scroll down until you see "add this sticker..." in the left column and click on it.There you have a choice of several formats, select the one you like, highlight the bar and copy.Open a new message, go to Tools, Edit Signature and click in the box below the graph, paste in the bar by doing a "CTRL V".If you would like this with every message that you send, you would check the box "insert to outgoing messages" and "insert to reply\forward" under Tools\Options\Compose.This has to be done for each identity or it will only work for one.

Ok, I think I have covered getting yourself some tags and stats and what to do with them once you've found them, but if you have any questions, feel free to email me "sigrid@tyler.net" and I will do my best to help you with any further questions.

As promised, here are some of the free e-mail sites.These sites were compiled by Charles Misner of Catskill Herbs 'n Spice http://www.csng.net/, an IM group owner\moderator.

50 mgs http://www.totalise.netGood one

20 mgs http://www.graffiti.net

50 mgs http://www.smartvia.dein German

10 mgs http://www.ailandnews.com

20 mgs http://www.macnews.dein German

no limit? http://www.onemarq.com

10 mgs http://www.telebot.com

10 mgs http://www.subdimension.com

15 mgs http://www.visto.com

20 mgs http://www.mail.uk2.net

50 mgs http://www.Xlarge.dein German

100 mgs http://www.freeserve.com

no limit http://www.madasafish.com

40 mgs http://www.eudoramail.com

10 mgs http://www.gmx.com

no limit http://www.freeuk.com

unknown http://www.atozasia.com

By:Sigrid Foreman

 

3.  Ten Years Ago by Steve Bass, PIBMUG , About 1000 words  Subhead: A look back at a column that deals with the transition to Windows in 1992. The title: "The Ongoing Windows Dilemma"

 

Headline: Ten Years Ago

Subhead: A look back at a column that deals with the transition to Windows in 1992. The title: ďThe Ongoing Windows DilemmaĒ

Byline:By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group

 

If youíre like many computer users, youíre gradually making the switch to Windows. Youíve abandoned some of your DOS applications and forced others to work in Windows and maybe even found some neat replacements that are designed for Windows.

 

If you play around with a few Windows applications, the advantages are easy to see. To begin with, Windows applications all adhere to the same basic interface. That means once youíve grown accustomed to clicking the mouse on the File portion of the menu in one application ó for example, to Save, Open, or Print a file ó youíll discover itís in the same place on all Windows applications. That reduces the learning curve on new applications and, well, just makes each product easier to use.

 

From Here to There

Youíll also find out how easy it is to transfer data from one Windows application to another. Thatís because all Windows products ó as opposed to DOS programs ó are generally made to work in the same way thereby allowing them to share data. And because Windows is a graphical environment, it means you can easily see things on the screen just as theyíll look when you print them out.

 

Some adjustments, however, are harder to make. Because I come from a DOS environment, I rarely used the mouse. Unfortunately, Windows word processing programs are notorious in their attempt to make me use the rodent. When I write ó as opposed to working in a spreadsheet ó I like to keep my fingers on the keyboard. So along with learning to use the mouse, Iíve searched out keyboard alternatives to mouse clicks.

Itís not that difficult, but, as you may have discovered, not always a slick solution. Especially if youíre used to a series of DOS keystrokes.

 

To get around the problem, Iíve taken advantage of the macro function of most Windows programs. A macro gives me the ability to assign numerous keystrokes to one or two key combinations, easily duplicating keystrokes from my old DOS programs. Now I know youíre going to laugh but the first Word for Windows macro I created was CTRLĖT.

 

1-2-3...Quattro

Borlandís Quattro Pro for Windows, the star of Windows spreadsheet programs, took a bold ó but obvious step ó in making the mouse more useful. If youíve highlighted a spreadsheet cell and click on the right mouse button, for example, youíll get a dialogue box allowing you to modify the properties within that cell. Pretty bright. Not only that, as you scroll across QP/WINís Speedbar, a brief description telling you what each icon does appears on the bottom of the screen. Boy, does that help in learning.

Overall, I think the most daunting part of switching to Windows is first facing ó and then choosing from ó the staggering number of Windows applications on the market.

 

The problem is theyíre all solid contenders. (We should always have such problems.) In the last month, for example, Iíve tried to decide on a word processor. Because of my work with PC World (I have to test every user group tip so Iíve tried lots of software), Iíve played with Lotusí Ami Pro and Microsoftís Word for Windows. Both products are winners and each has half a dozen features I like.

 

For example, Ami Proís Smart Icons ó shortcut buttons that help me get to many other features ó are a great help with navigating through the program. I can move the icons to just about any location, handy if Iím fiddling with some design at the bottom of the page. Ami Proís Icons are colorful, something I didnít think was important until I compared it to Word for Windowsí monochrome Toolbar.

 

But wait, Microsoft has some neat things too. Word for Windowsí Create Envelope feature lets me address and print an envelope in less time than it takes to lick a stamp. The outlining feature, something Iíve ignored in standĖalone programs because it was so hard to get to, was addicting. The Page Preview functions in Word for Windows are glorious.

 

Too bad I canít combine the best features of both and call it BassWord WinPro.

 

Need a Database?

The one program that Iím still up in the air about is a Windows database.

 

The two software giants are slugging it out, each vying for my attention, trying to get me to buy their database. And if you played your cards right, you cashed in on the ridiculously low prices. I mean, Microsoftís Access for $99 bucks. Hell, itís almost like buying shareware.

 

Then Borland, with its stock wallowing in the low twenties, (it looked like it dropped a point for every day Paradox was delayed), tempting you with user group specials. Paradox for Windows for $125 and, for another $55, Quattro for Windows. At the Borland meeting, one guy bought five copies and said he was a commodities broker. Sure, Iíll take a hundred pork bellies, a bushel of soy beans and a handful of PDX/WINís.

 

Look, the prices are low because thereís a lot at stake for both companies. Generally, the product you start with is the one youíll stay with because youíve spent so much time learning the keystrokes. So if they can get the product into your hands before the other guy, well, you get the picture.

 

And weíre in the catbird seat because they look at user groups members as Influential End Users. They figure that if you buy one and like it ó and with any luck use it ó youíll likely tell ten other users. Then if you like it and youíre MIS, well, theyíve really hit the jackpot.

 

But I Digress...

Hey, did I get off the subject?

 

Both Access and Paradox for Windows are great products. Microsoftís tempts you with Wizards and Templates while Paradox for Windows mesmerizes you with power, speed and, the best of all, familiarity. You already know Paradox, why learn something new?

 

So which one are you going to choose? Itís the perennial battle, the one you face with every program you see at Egghead. ß

 

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter.

 

4. Headline: Windows XP: As Good as it Gets Subhead: Bass discovers few crashes, great performance, and a minimum of headaches with XP Pro Byline:  By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group 

 

Headline: Windows XP: As Good as it Gets

Subhead: Bass discovers few crashes, great performance, and a minimum of headaches with XP Pro

Byline:By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group

 

Kvetching about an operating system is therapeutic. Believe me, Iíve done lots, saving regular visits to my shrink. But my complaining has almost bottomed out since I made the full-time switch to Windows XP Pro.

 

You caught that, right? I said almost. The reason is that even though Iím wildly pleased with XP, there are still a few features--and loose ends--I donít like. Iíll describe a few of them in this and subsequent columns, and show you how XP has built-in ways to make the changes. (Of course, thatís one of my primary kvetches -- finding the spots to modify XP isnít obvious and requires digging.)

 

To play fair, I have to warn you that Iíll also do some proselytizing. Iím going to do my best to win you over, so to speak, for your own good. Thatís because once you get over the hassle of Product Activation, and Microsoftís annoying single license policy, I really think your computing experience will increase substantially.

 

I need another soapbox minute or two. Many of the PC World letters I receive complain, sometime bitterly, of a Microsoft conspiracy to force you into upgrading your system. Readers go on to say that in order to use XP, theyíll need to replace some of their devices (printers seem to be the first one not to work), or stop using old, 16-bit programs written for Win 95.

 

Iíll concede and agree with many of the readers that Microsoft should have done a better job with previous Windows versions, then we wouldnít be stuck in the corner having to upgrade.

 

But the reality is that if you want a slick operating system, one thatís likely to make your computing day smoother and your workday more productive, youíll have to upgrade. [Set Soapbox to Off].

 

No More Stinkiní Crashes

You probably know that XP isa pretty interface hung on Windows 2000ís architecture, so itresists crashes extraordinarily well. Thatís true for XP but not necessarily for programs that still plow headfirst into the bit bucket. For instance, Eudora, my e-mail program, locks up when I try embedding what it considers a too large image into a message. And Internet Explorer also has a way of choking and freezing on some sites, doing its best to imitate a deer in headlights.

 

With Win 9x, the Eudora and IE crash could bring the system down; even if it didnít, Iíd reboot to clear out any leftover holes in memory. Win XP contains the crash and stops it from contaminating the rest of the system. Using Control - Alt - Delete, the three-finger, soft-bootsalute, calls up Task manager, one of XPís shining lights. Click on the toasted app and itís history.

 

Crash Reports? No, Thanks

Of course, with Microsoft at the helm, nothing as cool as Task Managerís handling of a crash can be left alone. Microsoft insists on meddling by sending itself the details of the crash. No doubt, the crash report does provide clues, often vital ones that you can review, to explain why a program crashes.

 

But once Iíve looked at a report -- say, Eudoraís paige32.dll bug that Qalcomm wonít fix -- Iím no longer interested in seeing it pop up. So Iíve turned parts of the feature off. (From Start, Control Panel, Advanced tab, Error Reporting.) This dialog gives me choices, and theyíre good ones. I can get the report but not send it, opt to hear only about programs or XPís errors, or even add specific programs to watch.

 

Zap, Youíre Restored

GoBack was the first successful utility to save snapshots of a PCís hard drive and let you restore the drive to a time when things were running well. It shouldnít surprise you to see a similar feature in Windows XP.(Roxioís GoBack, $40, download at www.roxio.com.)

 

Quick aside: Many of Microsoftís niftier features are from the brain trusts of third-party companies. Woody , creator of dozens of Office, and specifically Word add-ons, said that to me in a private e-mail recently. More in another column.

 

XPís System Restore does just about everythingdoes, just not as well. Nonetheless, itís an improvement over the way it worked in Windows ME, and a handy tool. I create a Restore point just before installing a new application. If the installation goes kaflooey, I use System Restore to jump five minutes into the past and get my system going again.

 

I use it so often, I pinned it onto my Start Menu for easy access. Try it: Find System Restore in All Programs, Accessories, System Tools and right mouse click on the icon and choose Pin on Start menu. Easy, no?

 

System Restoreís Problems

 

The problem? System Restore isnít perfect. While I havenít had a problem in the 25 times Iíve used it, some reports on the Internet talk about DLLs that should be gone after a System Restore, are still on the system.

 

One thing Microsoft doesnít tell you is that each Restore Point (and system checkpoints, those restore points XP does automatically) takes up disk space.

 

You can dump all but the last systempoint by using XPís Disk Cleanup tool. Open Disk Cleanup, by clicking Start, choose All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, select Disk Cleanup, and choose the More Options tab. (Shortcut: From Start, Run, type cleanmgr.)

 

In the next series of columns, Iíll show you other features built into XP that can keep you focused on productivity rather than rebooting two or three times a day or recovering from crashes. ß

 

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter.