Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Single Most Important Computer Asset


Few of us learn how to use a computer through formal classroom instruction. The unsystematic learning path for most users takes a route through personal trial-and-error, and learning informally from others (or as is all too often the case, not learning from others because you're there in your home office with no opportunity to ask anyone "How do you do fill-in-the-blank?"). The first method entails clicking away at things on a computer screen as we explore the habitat of the operating system and applications. The second entails asking others directly how to do this or that.

The most productive return on the investment for most computer users is the purchase of a good guidebook to the operating system and applications. I will limit my comments to the former.

There is much to be said for heuristic learning. Users should not be fearful of the operating system as long as they remain in the "user space" of the Finder. What does this mean? A digression first.

The single most difficult challenge in my work is to communicate to clients the crucial importance of understanding the zeitgeist of the operating system: what are the concepts How does it work in practical terms? Most users know how to use a Web browser to surf the Web, and to use an e-mail application to send, receive, and store e-mail. Knowing that the operating system is much like another application, and that it is central to all computer use, is a key concept to master. Serendipitously exploring the Finder is fun, but inefficient. What is the Finder?

To this day, I continue to meet new clients who don't know what the Dock is, although it's staring us all in the face at start-up. To this day, I continue to meet new users who never heard of the contextual menu feature of Mac OS, although this feature first appeared in the Mac OS ten years ago---ten years ago!

The single most valuable investment in your computer system is to learn the basic concepts of the Finder, Files, Applications, File Sharing, Command+Tab, Contextual Menus, RAM vs. Hard Drive, the Dock, the Menu Bar, Spotlight, WiFi (aka AirPort), and how to use a mouse. Yes, how to use a mouse. Then on to the special keys, Command (Apple), Option, Control and Function keys.....

Networks. Every home office that has more than one computer sharing the Internet connection has a computer network. What is a network, and why should you care?

For those converts from the PC side of life (and some long-time Mac users, also) know that closing the application window does not quit the application. What is an application? How do you know which applications are open, and which are not? How do you find applications? Know the Go Menu. Launching, Quitting, Opening, Saving and where to save documents. Documents and how docs are not Applications. Where do documents go when you save them, and how do you control where documents are saved?

Are your files backed up, and what is a backup, and how does a backup differ from an archive, and should you care? If your computer hard drive crashes (see earlier posting), trust me, you will suddenly care.

When you do call me in, if you know this stuff, our time together will be vastly more productive.

There is no such thing as a stupid question, goes the aphorism. I urge everyone, even if you've been using a Mac for ten years and think you know how to use a Mac, to buy The Little Mac Book, for example. Read it. Learn. Enjoy.

Discover the Mac Operating System. Learn what you can do with it, and how hidden features (and some features in our faces) may allow you to do things more wisely, and more efficiently.

It takes great courage to know that you don't know. Most home office clients are shockingly isolated from the fast-moving world of computer technology, and often don't understand the very basic concepts of computing. That's where I swing in.

If you run a business from your home office, or small office, the most valuable return on investment is the purchase of a Mac OS guidebook and a few hours of your own time. This is the most forceful impression I carry with me as I travel about from home office, to home office.

I am here to answer many of your questions about the Mac OS and networking. I don't expect you to know what I know, or else you would put me out of business, but if you know some basics, our conversations will be vastly more valuable to you.

My goal is to bring the advantages of modern computer and network technology to your home office in a concrete manner that enhances your enjoyment, and productivity. The first step in that direction is to spend $15 or $20 on a Mac guidebook. Money wisely spent.

A personal computer operating system is a vast, imaginary landscape. The truth be told, it's only colored dots on a screen, but the power of the human mind is the power of arranging meaningful cognitive "spaces" in the virtual universe found waiting in your Mac. Flying by the seat of our pants into the Lost Horizon of computing can be fun--and I do it regularly--but like all flying, a good time will be had by all when we know how to take off, cruise, and land safely back home.

So, be nice to yourself. Invest in the most important computer asset you own--you.

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