Saturday, May 26, 2012

Affordable Computing


Using a computer in your jobsearch is pretty much a requirement these days, the newspaper and a typewriter would be severely limiting.

Last week we discussed this at the Maple Hts Library Job Club, here are some notes in case you missed it.

Basic Needs

You need a Computer, an Internet Connection, Office Software, a Printer, and a Flash Drive.  If you are new to computers, check out the courses at the library.


Computers are run by Operating Systems (OS), Windows being the most common.  Other OSes are Mac OS, iOS (iPad), Android (tablets).  If you are well versed in an non-Windows system it can serve your needs, if you don't have a computer, you'll find the Windows platform most common and easiest to get help on.  Tablets (iPad and Android) while popular are more limited than their full service alternatives (Windows & Mac OS).

Anything before Windows XP is very old, Win XP SP3 is a reasonable alternative, Vista had problems and performance issues, Win 7 is current, the upcoming Win 8 is likely to suffer from the same issues as Vista did.

A refurbished desktop is likely the cheapest, but has the disadvantage of not being portable and leaving you tethered to your home.  Building your own desktop is only financially viable in today's market if you are building a high performance computer.  Low cost computers operate on very thin profit margins and are cheaper than the sum of their parts.  The one possible exception is upgrading an existing computer.  If you are short on memory or storage, these upgrades easy and cheap.  Upgrading a processor is more expensive and complex.

A refurbished laptop will be a bit more expensive, but has the major advantage of being portable.  Performance issues are a higher risk on refurbished laptops and you should carefully review that vs a low end new device.  Using an AMD chip will reduce cost. A Netbook, if you can find it, is a cheaper alternative than a laptop.  It doesn't perform as well, has a smaller keyboard and no optical drive, but it has longer battery life,

MicroCenter at SOM & Mayfield Rds is the most reliable source of refurbished equipment locally.  Microsoft marketing rules will often force dealers to use a new OS (Win 7) which could present a challenge to older hardware.

Internet Connection

These days broadband is a must, dialup may work in a pinch, but its performance will cause frustration. ATT DSL may be your cheapest option with its "basic" (slowest) DSL service (which is still 10 times faster than dialup).  The ATT DSL can be obtained with a "2Wire" router that provides basic wireless service (but it uses the less secure WEP standard).  Cable providers are faster and more expensive and typically do not provide wireless, causing you to buy a router and configure it.

When setting up a home wireless network be sure to enable security, at least WEP and hopefully WPA2.

Dialup requires a modem and many newer laptops don't have it.  Wireless is built into any newer laptop but could be added with a USB to an older computer.

Public Internet is abundant at restaurants, coffee shops and the library.  In a pinch you could work offline at home and go to a public spot to go online.

Office Software

Microsoft Office is the most widely used software and you should know how to use it as a basic requirement for most jobs today.  That may be reason enough to obtain it.  If you don't have a license  it will cost $100 for one computer or $150 for three computers.  Maybe a friend or relative has an unused license.  If this is beyond your budget you can use the free OpenOffice and it will be do what you need but will operate slightly differently.  You can use MS Office at the library for learning its specifics.

Google Docs is also an option, but I've found that its formatting can be more problematic than OpenOffice.  Google Docs also requires you to be online, while Open Office can be used offline.

MicroSoft also has a lightweight online version of it's Office Suite (I haven't evaluated this yet).  MicroSoft is also offering a lightweight version of Office on new PCs.


The dream of paperless remains a dream, so you will have to print at some point.  Limited printing can be done at the library or Employment Connections, but if your needs are consistently greater than 10 pages / day, then you may need your own printer.

Printers are cheap, but their SUPPLIES ARE NOT!  Your biggest challenge is to figure out the cost of ownership of the printer, not just its cost.  Basic inkjets will be cheapest.  All in ones that include scanning and possibly fax will cost more to buy and and will be about the same cost as an inkjet to operate.  Laser printers cost more than inkjets, the cartridges are expensive but typically last much longer than inkjet cartridges.

Other Software

Consider Open Source Software or freeware, it's free, and very competitive with commercial software.  Some examples are OpenOffice described above, GIMP is a full featured photo editor like Photoshop, Dia is a full featured diagramming tool like Viso, Paint.Net (PDN) a full featured paint program with layers, similar to photoshop but with emphasis on paint vs photo.  Pririform offers very useful Windows utilities.

Cloud Solutions can be useful for easy access from anywhere.  Look at Evernote, Dropbox, and Xmarks as useful tools for your job search.  Also watch for a post on this topic.


You should have some form of portable storage to transfer files when using another computer at the Library or Employment Connections.

Flash drives are cheap and easy for having portable storage so you can always have your resume and jobsearch documents handy.  You should backup your flash drive to your computer regularly in the event you would lose it.  You can also put a file in the root directory in case someone finds it, you can start the file with an exclamation point "!" so it sorts to the top and call it something like "!ReadMe1st.txt" or "!Owner.txt" or something similar.


The Apple iPad with its iOS reinvented computing and showed MicroSoft what that a tablet computer wasn't just a laptop with a touch screen and some writing recognition software.  It has spurned a new industry, entered first by Google with its Android OS and likely to entered by MicorSoft with Win 8 Metro soon.

You can browse and even get a keyboard for a tablet, but it is a different platform than a PC with its own pros and cons.  These thin devices are using a mobile processor that can handle browsing and basic office functions but larger challenges of full featured PC software are not likely to do well.  Tablets are the ultimate in portable and can be used easily in the class room or during meetings.  Their app interface model allows quick and convenient checking of weather, social media status etc that requires a browser on a PC.  A netbook, which also uses another mobile (Atom) processor is also very portable and uses a keyboard rather than touch screen.  To get a portable full strength processor you'd need an ultrabook (another Apple innovation, the Macbook Air) but these are on the high end of the cost spectrum.





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