Know One Well:Computer
Literacy, One on One
July 9, 1998
By Timothy W. Shire
There are a lot of excuses people will give you for what they perceive as their own lack of computer skills but it is often the person’s own zeal or beliefs that is creating their lack of success. When you first buy or begin using a computer there is a natural inclination to notice what other people are doing or what the computer and various types of software are capable of performing and the new user mistakenly believes that they have to do it all. Nothing could be further from the truth, as with so many other activities, failure to concentrate ones resources, results in ineffectuality.
Heidi Rosen was for some time Apple Computer Companies executive in charge of software development.(for an update on her feelings about that role see the August 13 MacWeek article) This lady had at her disposal the very best computers available and she could use the most expensive software created and she said in a conference that she used three pieces of software and that was that. She used her e-mail program, an internet browser and a word processor. Now if you have looked at word processors you know that there are some pretty complex applications, Heidi used the simplest one, the one that came with the system on her computer.
Jo Szostak is one of the computer coordinators and experts who was responsible for getting Regina Public School Board schools all on line and she spends a major portion of every day at one of her computers but the applications she relies upon is “ClarisWorks” (now called AppleWorks) the integrated software that comes with every new iMac computer. She says she uses it almost exclusively for all that she needs to do.
These two individuals serve as excellent examples, they are recognised experts in their field they know computer technology inside and out. Heidi is now president of a software company and Jo has spent this past year training Regina’s teachers to use the Internet. But they know the secret.
Less is more!
The most dangerous word to come from the mouth of a computer salesman or guru is “NEED”. In a conversation or lecture, if you hear that word, sound a personal “red alert” because the next thing you will hear is not likely to be true. The idea that you “need” this or that piece of hardware, or this or that piece of software is simply not the case. What ever computer, no matter how humble, its capabilities vastly outstrip the chores anyone gives it and the software, either old or new, is always 90% over capable then the demands put on it by its users. Software developers refer to this as the 10% rule. What ever software they develop, the user will only learn and use 10% of what it can do. It is the nature of the computer industry for people to demand and use a Swiss Army knife to open an envelop when their fingers can do the job just as well.
If you want to be computer literate, if you want to impress your friends, family and most of all yourself, take one piece of software and learn it well. To learn that piece of software use it for everything and develop its capabilities and your skill in using it and the best way to achieve this skill level is forcing yourself to “do something important”. Don’t tell your self that you will spend some time, when you’ve got some time, to learn the software from the manual on up. When you need to get a letter out, a report completed on a deadline that is when to learn the software. Under pressure the word “need” takes on a new meaning.
The most important thing must then be, what is the piece of software I should learn? The answer to that is a simple one, what you need. I know people who spend all of their time in a work situation where they must deal with spread sheets all of the time. They learn to use Microsoft’s Excel and to my amazement they use if for everything from letters to labels. A few days ago I received a couple of forms by e-mail, the fellow who made them is an engineer and naturally he cranked out these documents using a CAD programme (computer assisted design). Both examples point to the real need, learn one application and master it.
I recommend two pieces of software that have good capabilities and what you learn using them will allow you to handle virtually everything else. AppleWorks (used to be called ClarisWorks) is a word processor, database, spreadsheet, drawing and painting application. Not just those five applications put together in a package, no AppleWorks (runs on all platforms) is a piece of software that can do each of those things and does them well. The second piece of software I recommend is Corel’s WordPerfect. WordPerfect is overkill for most of us but it can handle graphics, has a good working screen and is a solid performer. The best thing about both of these applications is that the products you produce with them are fully compatible on any other computer and both are able to read documents created in other formats.
There are some things you should know about good software.
1. Good software has a good manual that you will never need to open.
2. If a community college or some organisation is offering a course on
....how to use it, avoid that software, because good software does not
3. Avoid software created by Microsoft.
Though this company has created some reasonable products it breaks the rules, the standards for software development and uses its own routines that are problem causers. A letter or document created using Microsoft Word, or Works or Office applications uses a background routine called “Ole” which allows the applications to share and pass data. This routine is improperly programmed and documents created with it operating, can and almost always do, have extraneous material sucked out of your computer and included in your document. If you open up a Word document in a text editing application you will discover all sorts of data, things you will not want others to know, have been somehow slipped into the document.
4. Good software is inexpensive.
High prices for software indicates that the software is not used by the masses and in the computer industry value and price are not synonymous. Best example of this was the software that came free with a mid eighties Commodore 64 called Paper-Clip. This free word processor was extremely powerful and had the ability to link documents together so that it was ideal for writers. Each chapter could be saved then when you wanted the whole document it could put them all together for you for printing or transmission via a modem. The best software is so common that it sells in such numbers that it is often low in price as with ClarisWorks and WordPerfect..
Amazing values exist in shareware and many of the very best applications on the market today began their life as shareware. In the Mac world the text word processor Tex-Edit + is one of those products no one should not have it in their computer, its capability with large files and being able to open almost anything make a great value. However, just as their are great products, there are also some that are so specific in terms of equipment and system relationships that they can cause you serious grief, so always check out the "readme" files on shareware and for those you adopt "payup" and support the developer through your shareware fees.
6. Good software is what you know.
It doesn’t really seem to matter if you use a piece of software to the extent that you can make it do what you want then it has achieved the status of “good.”