The Read&Delete Guide to Upgrading Your Home Computer

May, 2001


Greetings, bit munchers!

This month the Read & Delete News gives you actual step-by-step instructions in the area of giving your home computer an upgrade. Before we go on, I want you to know that I truly am an I.T. professional and have performed countless software and hardware upgrades without causing a single loss of life accident (that could be proven, anyway.)
      This newsletter contains information intended to remove some of the mystery associated with the upgrading of your home computer, and to give you some practical steps to follow in order to help you make the transition to a newer platform as painless as possible. The following steps can be considered more as guidelines than 'gospel'.

Step #1. Hire a lawyer. Have you ever read the 'EULA' (end user license agreement) that comes with most software programs? I didn't think so. The license agreement tells you exactly when and where and how you can legally use the new software. Notice that I didn't say 'your software'. That's because you didn't buy any software. You bought a license. (I'm not kidding here.) Read the fine print. The software still belongs to 'them' (the software company). They're just letting you use the disks according to their
rules. If it really was YOUR software, you could do anything you wanted with it-- like install it on every computer in your neighborhood. For the software companies, this would be a bad thing- and if it were a bad thing for them-- what kind of a thing would they make it for you? If you break their rules, they can revoke your license, take the software back and charge you a hefty fine. (no refunds.) In other words, make sure you understand the rules, because if you are in possession of pirated software, and the
software police come knocking at your door-- well -- let's just say it's pretty hard to flush an entire hard drive down most home toilets. But they aren't looking for you -- yet. So it is advisable to have a mouthpiece handy, just in case.
     I once attended a seminar hosted by the 'world's largest software corporation', and they told the entire audience that it was a good idea to have our company's lawyer look over our software licenses, and advise us as to how to comply with them. It is truly a bad day when thieves unite.

Step #2. Back it all up. Make a backup copy of everything that you have done, said or thought in your entire life-- and store it in a safe place -- like your computer. The average 15 gigabyte hard drive will back up nicely onto approximately 12,000 3.5 in. floppy disks. "Where in the world am I going to get all those disks?", you ask. It's not that difficult. I've received at least that many in the mail from America Online over the last ten years.

       If you don't think backups are important, I have a true story for you (as far as I know.) In the early 1950's, a major university conducted the most complete, detailed survey of all agriculture business conducted in their state. All of the information gathered from hundreds of hours of interviews and thousands of hours of research-- was recorded onto hundreds of thousands of keypunch cards which were then placed in a warehouse to await their being compiled into the most extensive farm report then known to man. Only one box of about 50 cards was lost. Unfortunately, it was the set of cards used to teach the card reader how to interpret the rest of the 350 thousand or so data cards used in the survey. They didn't have a backup set, and thus this college had a 25 year head start with their paper recycling program.            Seriously, a tape backup drive is a good investment. A good CD writer is another way to
effectively back up your data files.

Step #3. Throw away all your computer hardware and replace it. According to the top salesperson at Compuschmooze-- "If your computer is over three days old, it's obsolete (too slow) and no new programs will run on it. Besides that-- according to 'Computer Shoplifter' and 'PC Maniac' magazine your computer was built out of defective parts stolen from the power plant at Chernobyl and the keyboard contains asbestos...and ...and..." You get the idea. The average kid working at the computer store never saw a dial
telephone in his life, let alone a slide rule. Last week's computers were too slow for him. If you tell him you don't need a faster computer, he will look at you like some totering old geezer with 'insufficient memory' and a slow processor. So tell the little acne blemish, "Wait 'till you get a little older and parts get hard to find."

Step #4. Start a publishing company. The new software that you don't own (see step 1) also does not come with any written documentation. The big software companies have eliminated those bulky manuals and have passed the cost savings onto themselves. In most cases the 'user manual' comes in the form of 'online help', that you can access from the CD after you have installed the program-- which is ironic-- because the time you most need the manual is while you are installing the software. You can print out the
entire 150+ page manual yourself-- at the cost of about 1/4 of an ink jet cartridge and 1/3 of a ream of paper. Besides that-- the entire manual is written in 'geek-speak'- a language used only by guys (and girls) who wear short sleeve white shirts in the middle of winter and keep a spare pocket protector handy. You can also buy a 'for dummies' type manual-- but they are usually written for those users who are gifted with a 'room temperture' IQ  level. Hence the term 'for dummies'.

Step #5. Join a support group. This is where the sadly unfortunate go to share their technological misery. The user's group motto - "send us your poor, tired, wretched masses from your teeming shores - and we will belittle their ignorance, laugh at their incompetence and give them absurdly obvious advice-- just for our own self-agrandizement."(I'm kidding!) Seriously--  a user's group is about the best place to get assistance in installing and  running computer software. If you can log onto the newsgroups from the Internet - there are plenty of other people out there who have struggled through the same problems you are going through now-- and can help you out. I have subscribed to a few and find them quite useful.

Step #6. Get a life. Or better yet-- find your life. If you are finding yourself drooling over the latest golly-gee-whiz-super-whammo-mega-hyper-ultra gotta-have-it-now computer thing-a-ma-bobbie, then you are more a victim of  advertising than a master of the technology. If you can settle for hardware or 
software that is a year old and not necessarily on the 'bleeding edge', then you  probably have a good perspective about your computer needs. This may come as a shock to some of you, but even as an IT Administrator, I don't run the 'latest and greatest' at home. (Except for antiviral software, of course. That you NEED the latest version of.) I have plenty of toys: scanner, e-cam, color printer, subwoofer, home network, home automation control, website, etc. but none of it was aquired at the cutting edge. I save a lot of money by waiting six months to a year before committing to some fad. You should too.

Step #7. Watch out for rattlesnakes. The software and hardware companies like to play a little game with you. They call it 'one hand washing the other', (I have another name for it) and it goes like this: the software company makes new faster software so the hardware company makes new faster computers so that the software company can make new faster software that will not run on your computer. For example-- you go out and buy a brand new computer game called 'Pony Express' for $20. (It's on sale!) The software company advertises that Pony Express will run on your 3 year old computer, using terms like 'minimum requirements', but in the fine print they also list 'recomended requirements', which include hardware features for computers that haven't been invented yet. So you buy the game only to discover that after you install it -- your computer runs so slow that you might as well be playing by mail. You get
frustrated and decide that your perfectly good computer is getting slower  (which it isn't) and you go out and buy a brand new computer for $1200.00.  Zowie! The new game plays so much better now, but all the productivity  software you transfered over from your old computer keeps locking up.  So you buy a $400.00 upgrade of your 'office' software. "What happened?", you ask. I call this game 'rattlesnake in a box'. 'Pony Express' was a $20 snakebite-- which made you go after a $1600.00 cure. If it weren't for these cheap games in the bargain aisle or those 'freebies' stuck inside cereal boxes, most home users would never upgrade their computers. If you were to uninstall that dead horse from your machine-- you would likely not have bought a new computer later.

Step #8. Beware of the 'gifted amateurs.' Chances are you have a  friend / relative /co-worker /spouse /lover /aquaintance /codependant who is a 'real computer geek', and after looking over your computer-- this person tells you that you need to upgrade. This person is willing to give you all the free advice there is- at least as much as you can stand. Free advice may be worth only what you pay for it. Assess your situation. If your computer is working fine, it's OK to leave it alone. Don't mess with success.
If Lefty who lives up the street tells you that he can give your computer 80% better performance by sticking in some shareware he downloaded from some slacker/hacker website, ask to see his computer first-- before you let him anywhere near yours. The proof is in the pudding. If Lefty's machine is functioning more like a waffle iron than a workstation-- tell him, "hands off!' You don't need to fund Dr. Frankenstein's experimentation by providing him with a new patient. Tell him to fix his own cadavears.
Step #9. Just do it. After navigating the rocks surrounding the last eight steps, it should be smooth sailing for you to upgrade your computer.You can add a new hard drive or more memory with no more tools than a couple of screwdrivers. If you know what you have and know what you want to do---- if you have read all the directions for the hardware and software and have backed up all your data, you will likely have no problems doing the upgrade on your home computer. You can do it. Just be patient and have a life-line
(somebody with real experience) handy, in case something goes wrong.

So there you have it. Useful computer upgrading advice from a trained computer network professional. But don't call me a 'guru.' 

Gotta go, there's a gaggle of geeks ganging up on me-- and they're gaining.