Cate Eales
Cate Eales

Real Life Internet Solutions

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Getting Along With Your Computer By Cate Eales

In these columns, we’ll be looking at ways to help you get the most out of your computer, and if you are still a holdout, perhaps even tempt you to begin using one. We’ll be sharing information and advice, and answering some of your questions in a non-technical way to help you and your computer get along. You might even be able to give some pointers to your “expert” friends and neighbours. Let’s begin with some free and simple to use programs that may make your life easier.

If you have ever received an email that has a photo attached and not been able to view it, you know just how frustrating that can be. Pictures come in many different formats, and a picture viewer needs to support as many as possible to so that you don’t have to worry about what program was used to make the picture. You just want to look at it!

My favorite is IrfanView. You can download. This small, easy to use program opens picture files, groups photos into slide-shows, allows you to crop, resize, and print pictures, and much more. You can even convert your favourite picture into the BMP format so you can use it as a desktop background or screensaver. So, no more long distance phone calls asking how to open the family photo that arrived in your email just let IrfanView deal with it.

Do you find whenever you ask a computer question, your computer asks one back? “What version of XYZ do you have installed?” you’re asked. And “Huh?” is not only not very helpful, it doesn’t make you feel good either. Well, there’s a great little program that lets everyone feel like an expert, or at least know just what is actually inside their computer. With it you will be able to quote your processor speed, the size of your RAM, and other statistics just as if you knew (or cared) what they actually meant.

It’s called Belarc Advisor and is available. It quickly makes a hardware and software inventory of your computer, including all the fixes that you have downloaded from Microsoft. (You have been downloading those “updates” haven’t you?) Advisor then displays this inventory, including version numbers of everything, in your web browser. You can print the report if you like or simply run the Advisor again next time you, or someone close to you, or someone at Technical Support needs to know what’s in there. Best of all, the information is never transmitted to anyone else it remains in your computer.

My final suggestion for this time: Take back the Web! Switch your web browser from Microsoft Internet Explorer to Mozilla FireFox. You don’t have to remove Internet Explorer (and you shouldn’t try!) in order to use FireFox. You don’t even have to make FireFox your default browser (but I think in time you will). I’m just suggesting you give it a try. Go to Mozilla.Org and click on the green button to download the latest version. It’s a comparatively small download so even if you have a slow dial-up connection it won’t tie up your phone line for very long. Installation and setup are easy. That incredibly long list of Favorites from Internet Explorer or Bookmarks from Netscape can easily be imported from into FireFox so they don’t have to be collected all over again.

Among FireFox’s best features are built in “pop-up” blocking, and “Tabbed Browsing,” a way of having more than one web page open at a time without sacrificing valuable screen real estate. Other nice features are the many small add-on programs (extensions) that perform simple, specialized tasks. My husband has one that alerts him every time his favourite soccer team scores a goal. I have one that shows the current weather and the forecast in case I’m too busy at the computer to look out the window! But there are actually some useful ones, like the extension that lets you view a page in Internet Explorer if you come across a page that has been designed exclusively for IE. Just “right click” on the page and choose “View this page in IE” and Internet Explorer will display it.

Even though every Windows computer comes with Internet Explorer, it has been many years since Microsoft offered a significant upgrade, other than frequent patches to fix problems. FireFox is a worthwhile alternative.

I’ll have lots more software suggestions in future columns. I also welcome your suggestions. What programs do you have that are free and easy to use? Later we’ll be looking at basic computer security, passwords, back-up plans, newsgroups, photo albums, storing and sending digital music and images and answering some of your letters. Till then, here’s hoping you and your computer are getting along.

Cate Eales has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible and fun for over 20 years. She lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric, and her dog, Sandy. Email Cate at with your comments, suggestions, or questions. To browse the column archives, visit the Real Life Internet Solutions website

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About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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