Computer basics

We cover some essential topics for new computer users.

New Computers

When you get a new computer, the impulse is to plug it in, turn it on, and start using it. That is perfectly fine; however, there are a few things to consider, and there are a few steps to take to ensure your new computer stays running like new. If it is a laptop, be sure to let the battery get a full charge. Then take a few minutes to update all the installed software. Depending on when you bought it, the computer software could be outdated, leaving your new computer vulnerable to all sorts of problems. Such as it could have exploitable weaknesses to viruses, hardware connectivity issues, in general, a myriad of problems that are avoidable by updating the operating system and included programs. When updating, begin with the Windows operating system by clicking on Start, selecting Settings, selecting Update & Security, selecting Windows Update open, and choosing check for updates. If your new personal computer came with preinstalled applications, simply opening the application can trigger automatic updates. If not, go to Help and check for updates. The phrasing varies by application, but they all generally use the word update. With some programs opening, About will initiate an update. With all applications, follow the prompts and update everything.

Operating systems

At the core of every computer or device is the operating system. The operating system brings all the hardware and software pieces together to seamlessly harness the processing power of your personal computer or device. The operating system must operate correctly and efficiently while keeping itself secure from attack. Beyond hardware failure, a new operating system is as good a reason as any to upgrade to a new computer. All operating systems have security holes and other issues that new versions help reduce or fix. Mitigating security risks alone is an excellent reason to run the latest version of all operating systems, no matter which manufacturer you prefer or happen to be using.


Computer hardware has improved tremendously over the years, manufacturers have made many mistakes, and many people gave Windows a bad rap for hardware issues that had nothing to do with Windows. Hardware reliability and compatibility are at an all-time high. It is excellent when everything connected simple works, infuriating and frustrating for most when it doesn't. Yet, to enjoy the hardware improvements, the operating system must support the drivers and work properly. Even though Windows 8 offers the best hardware support, it has stagnated the desire for new computers. It is commonly ignored unless the user truly needs a laptop or Desktop and is unfamiliar with Apple.

iOS and Android

Many cellular phone users out there consider hardware of extreme importance and upgrade as soon as new hardware is available, as many did their personal computers years ago. Many phones and tablets have replaced the primary needs of desktop or laptop computers, providing a simple way to connect with people, and the internet, while being completely mobile. With these devices, chances of a user selecting a Windows-based device over iOS or Android is slim, leaving Microsoft out of the mobile operating system market, at least for now.

Ubuntu operating system

Ubuntu logo.

Ubuntu is a very popular and free Linux distro.

Most people have heard of Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, and Google Android, but not many have heard of Ubuntu by Canonical. Ubuntu is a Linux distro that is also very popular, and it is available for free. Several competing operating systems use Linux to modify it to their specific needs, but Ubuntu has set itself apart as the most popular. Ubuntu has made great strides in ease of use and installation, making it a simple and affordable way to keep an older computer running or the cost down on a new computer. A real benefit of Ubuntu and other Linux-based operating systems is that they run on older hardware very well. It is possible to keep a computer running for years at a very low or no cost since many Linux distros are free.


It is also an excellent time to check and see if your new computer came with an anti-virus application preinstalled or not. If it came with anti-virus installed, that's great, be sure to check the subscription length. Letting your anti-virus expire is like not having any protection at all. Updating your anti-virus is very important. With Windows 8 and Windows 10, Microsoft has included Windows Defender, which works fine, be sure to update it. If your Windows operating system or anti-virus is outdated, visiting one malicious website can ruin the whole new computer experience. For more information on anti-virus, see our article Windows virus help.

What is the right way to use a computer?

It is a common question, and the simple answer is there is no right or wrong way to use a computer. For many, they do what they do, and that is that. That is all they need to do. Meaning if they read email in their application of choice and that is all, then that is all they need to know how to do. These users may desire to know more but may lack the want or desire to learn something new, so I always recommend that they just do what they do, and if they feel they need to know more, consider reading a book.

It is best for those who want to learn more to poke around Windows and look at settings. Rather than start making changes, go online and search the setting you are interested in, and I am sure you will find someone who has covered the topic. That is not always the case, but bookmark it for easy reference once you find a good source. Another step worth doing is copying the website information and keeping it in a program like Microsoft's Onenote, which works well and is free. Using Onenote to save the website is a good idea because there is no guarantee the website you enjoy reading will still be online tomorrow.

For those new to computers, these recommendations would mean learning something. These suggestions may require searching or exploring your computer, but don't worry that you can make a mistake. Be willing to try, and you may find simple things like bookmarking websites easy.

The reality of Internet security

For some, the Internet is a treasure trove of knowledge, and for others, it is a scary place with lots of privacy issues that no one can control. While both are true, the Internet will never be a perfectly safe place to visit, and the information will never be 100% accurate. When securing your personal computer, the situation is the same. You can never truly secure it as long as you are connected to the Internet.

Battery backup

One of the worst things you can do to a computer is plug it directly into the wall. Most modern utilities are pretty reliable; however, unforeseen events can cause severe damage to sensitive electronics. At the very least, you should use a surge protector. Consider a battery backup if you have valuable data that you can not afford to lose. Battery backups or uninterrupted power supplies are not mandatory but are helpful if the power goes out.

Battery Backups don't tend to last very long, so it is essential to regularly test a battery backup to ensure it is working as it should. Most batteries last 1 to 3 years, so it is best to plan for battery replacement or complete system replacement every few years.

To increase the uninterrupted power supplies lifespan, it is vital to have a personal computer shutdown routine set and running. Having a battery backup that keeps the computer running until the battery dies is bad for the battery. It is a problem for older devices, yet it is still worth noting. A lead-acid battery's lifespan is significantly reduced if it drains completely, so it is important not to let that happen. Some battery backups use more modern batteries, but the sealed lead acid battery is widespread.

Computers have sensitive electronics and are easily damaged by low-quality electrical power sources. In situations like these, use a line conditioning uninterrupted power supply. The use of a line conditioning uninterrupted power supply helps smooth out the flow of electricity. Line conditioning units can also extend the life of your hardware by providing a higher quality electrical current. It all depends on the quality of the uninterrupted power supply. There are true sine wave deices and lower-cost square models. The true sine wave units cost much more than the generic and may not be of any real value. It depends on your knowledge and concerns when it comes to electrical quality.

Surge protectors

If a battery backup is too expensive or just more than you need, then be sure to use a surge protector with a high joules rating. In general, the joules rating is the electrical absorption capability of the device. The higher the joules rating, the higher the protection.

However, manufacturers play with this rating and add multiple connection types to increase the overall rating, seemingly to mislead consumers into thinking wow this one has a rating of 2000 joules and only has 900. Both may offer similar protection because the higher rated device also protects telephone lines and coaxial cable connections. Manufacturers add these numbers together when they should be listed separately.

There are other aspects to consider, but a simple rule of thumb is to look for a surge suppression rating of around 300V. Less expensive models are 400V to 450V, which will work if a lower-rated model is unavailable. Many people use multi-port extension cords believing they are surge protectors, be sure to confirm the strip states that it has suppression capabilities.

Power-saving surge protectors are an interesting concept. On the one hand, you have a device that can save you power when you turn off your devices. The surge protector can turn the ports not in use to prevent ghosts from using unneeded electricity. However, in our opinion, these units have proved to be a nuisance. They often fail and do not turn back on or turn off ports, and those ports are never powered again. Our recommendation is to avoid automatically switching power strips or surge protectors.

Writing on CD or DVD discs

When using disks for archival backup or videos, use a pen designed for CDs and DVDs. At one time, these pens were ordinary, but as CDs and DVDs are leaving the marketplace, so are these types of pens. Due to solvents, permanent markers can potentially ruin the disk over time, so it is unrecommended to use on disks you want to last. If you can't find a CD pen using disks with printable surfaces can reduce the risk.

Another thing to note about DVDs and CDs is that they are manufactured with or without stacking rings. Disks with stacking rings have a slightly larger center to protect them from surface scratches when stacked. Disks that do not have a stacking ring should go in jewel boxes or protective pouches. Putting two disks that do not have stacking rings will damage the disk on top.

Flash drives

Flash drives have become very inexpensive and make CD or DVD backup, something someone would do years ago. That is true since flash drives are now large and so commonly available they make for a great storage medium. However, they are prone to fail, and unlike a DVD, when you pull it out of a drawer and see that it looks good, you won't know for sure until you plug it in. Yet in the future, you will have the problem of finding a DVD player. It will be like the famous ZIP drives and ZIP disks that were so popular back in the day.

Free software

Free stuff is great. There is no denying that. However, why would someone take the time to create a program and give it away for nothing? Free programs developers are making money somehow, and since most people want the free application, they ignore the installer. When installing a free application, the installer can have multiple applications called PUPS or potentially unwanted programs. These PUPS can be harmless, or they can be malicious. The companies get paid for the installation and could care less what happens after. Please read our article Windows virus help for more information.

Kids & computers

Our number one tip is for home computers is that you don't let kids use your computer. This is especially true if you use your PC for business. Find a way to get them their own. If you must let them use your computer, don't let them install every game they want, or use it with their friends. Kids seem to learn all sorts of places on the Internet that only other kids know about, and these sites tend to be full of viruses and malware. It is better to let them learn the repair cost and be subjected to a bit of downtime when they corrupt a computer by carelessly surfing the Internet.

Batteries can last longer

Rechargeable batteries come with many modern devices, and many cannot be replaced or are not user-replaceable. Therefore, it is best to try and make the battery last as long as possible. A full charge is always best when you first get a new device. Then a complete drain and a full charge without using the device.

When charging, please turn off the device and stop charging it after reaching 100%. Turning off the device helps ensure the charge is consistent and not fluctuating. Unplugging the device before it reaches 100% guarantees that it won't be overcharged. Most devices have built-in circuitry to prevent overcharging, but this may not always work. Charging the battery in very high heat conditions can cause the battery to overheat and shorten its usable life. An example of this is leaving your device charging in the car on a hot summer day. It is also a good idea never to leave any battery-operated device in a car because of the high heat.

Laptops that are always plugged can regularly be unplugged and used until the battery runs down and turns itself off. This requires proper power management settings. Windows 10 users should select Balanced under Power Options. Running the laptop until it turns off and then fully charging it without using the laptop will allow the built-in circuitry to calculate available battery runtime more accurately. It is always nice to know how long a device will last between charges.

Back up your data

No matter how much data you have, select a way to back it up. May it be the cloud, DVD, Flash drive, internal, or external hard drive. Having a backup is a must. This has nothing to do with the value or quantity of your data, but it is just a simple convenience when your computer fails. It is easier to move on to a new device when you have all your data. A few word documents that were well written and now need to be rewritten would take more time than setting up a backup. For more information on backing up your data, visit data backup tips.

DVDs for backup purposes

DVDs are still good for reasonably large data file backups even though manufacturers are fazing them out to try and prevent software piracy. CD and DVD Burners are still being included with most desktop computers, so for the time being, we recommend them as affordable options for data backup. However, they take much more time, and convenient backup software might be required. Essential burner capability comes built into Windows 7 and newer operating systems, but it is very basic and sometimes too generic and confusing to get a reliable backup.


Taking the time to care for your computer is essential to increasing its longevity. Start by using programs to clean your PC, such as Windows built-in Disk Cleanup application. Be sure and check to see that Disk Defragmenter and Optimize Drives are set to automatic. Some security applications take these settings over, so be sure to poke around in their settings and be sure it is on. Other than that, most maintenance is taken care of for you automatically by Windows.

Printers & refillable ink tanks

Printer ink is expensive, and manufacturers want us to use their ink and prevent users from using refillable ink tanks. There are several trade-offs when it comes to refillable ink tanks. They are usually messy, and the ink can stain your hands for days if one does not wear gloves. The ink tanks can be the incorrect model and could damage the printer. The ink is usually much lower quality, may produce lower quality images, and take longer to dry. The ink could let go and dump all the tanks into the printer. This is true for ink from the manufacturer as well. The price is alluring for many, and the savings can be so substantial that they save enough to buy a new one if the printer is damaged.