Spend less on buying a computer

Computer prices may have plummeted in recent years, but they are still quite expensive, especially for students. With some planning and looking around you can avoid a lot of unnecessary costs without compromising on quality. Some of the stuff I’ll talk about is free, while others just cost a little less. However they do require that you invest some amount of time and effort, so it’s up to you if the savings will justify the work you have to do.

1. Software

If you’re an average computer user, almost all the software you’ll need can be gotten for free. There are lots of free (and in many cases, open source) software that will take the  place of popular commercial software. You might have to sacrifice support services if you want things absolutely free stuff, but if you pay just a bit, you can buy a supported Linux Distro and get help with your problems. If you’re even a bit computer-savvy, you can easily get free help from online forums and mailing lists and take care of most problems yourself. This may well be the largest saving that you’ll be making.

2. Don’t get standard upgrades

Most computers that you buy nowadays let you upgrade things like RAM and hard disk space for an extra price. This is certainly convenient, but in many cases you could buy the parts for a fair deal less and install them yourself (or ask a tech-savvy friend to do it for you).  If you think you won’t need the upgrade immediately, it makes sense to wait until you do. Prices keep falling, so in 6 months time, chances are you’ll get a bit more for your buck.

3. Keyboard and Mice

These things don’t really cost much, but you can get them even less of Ebay and other auction sites. Unless you’re a hardcore gamer or you’re typing all day long you probably won’t recognize the difference between a new one and an old one. If you work in a large corporation or are in a college environment, chances are the IT department has a fair number of unused  keyboards and mice lying around. If you’re friendly with the IT guys, you could get yourself one for free.

4. Look around and wait a while

Computer stores and websites often have good deals going on things like printers, scanners and other peripherals as well as many seasonal discounts. Often you can get things for a good $100 or more less (often in the form of mail in rebates). If you don’t need a computer right now, try waiting a while, and if you do need one now, look around. In addition to looking at websites for the best deal, also visit physical stores near you, they might have special local offers going.

As for college students, if you have a student discount, remember to use it. Late summer is a particularly good time to buy thanks to lots of ‘back-to-school’ offers going around. Apple is currently giving rebates on iPods and Printers bought with a desktop or laptop.

A combination of all of the above could easily knock a few hundred dollars off your computer expenses. Of course, just buying a computer isn’t the end of it, there’s also a certain price associated with running a computer (upgrades, printer supplies and of course the monthly power bill). Tomorrow I take a look at the things you can do spend less money on running your machine.

5 Public Computer Safety Tips

Now that I’ve started college, I’ve had to learn to live with not having my own computer. Like many people starting college, I’ve had to rely on computers in computer labs scattered throughout campus. While you might be able to get work done on a public computer just as easily as you could on your personal machine, there are some crucial differences, the most important of which is security. The crux of the matter is this: public computers are used by many different people everyday. This means that any data that is on the computer will be seen by a lot of different. And since you are one of the people using the computer, you just might leave data that other people might exploit. This can be anything from a copy of tomorrow’s history paper to important User IDs passwords stored in a browser’s cache. But there are a number of things (of varying complexity) that you can do to make your work on a public computer safer.

1. Always Log Off

On a public computer you’ll have to manually log in lots of different services such as instant messaging software, email accounts and social networks. All this means that you will have to input your username and password. Never opt to store the password if prompted and always log out of everything. That way, the next person accessing the computer won’t have straight access to everything you logged into. If you have to log into your school or corporate network at any time, log out of that as well. If most of your work is online (and involves multiple logins), you might want to clear the browser’s cache and cookies once you’re done. This can get tedious, but will keep you safe. I’ll deal with a way around the tedium later.

2. Never leave anything on the hard disk

You probably won’t be able to avoid storing things to the hard drive at one time or the other, whether it’s stuff you download from the net, or files that you are creating as part of your work. However you probably don’t want to leave your documents available for everyone to see. The easiest way to make sure you delete everything that you’ve created is to create a separate a folder for yourself as soon as you start work and save everything to that folder. Once you’re done, just delete the whole folder. Also please remember to check the Trash or Recycle Bin and permanently delete things from there as well.

Another solution is to not keep anything on the hard drive in the first place. If your school or company gives you network disk space, learn how to access it and try to save directly to that disk space, that way there are no local copies to worry about. If you don’t have such space at your disposal, carry around a USB Pen Drive (they are quite affordable nowadays) and save directly to that.

3. Don’t carry out money transactions

Don’t buy, sell, or in any other way give out any financial information while you’re on a public computer. You have no idea what sort of software may have been installed on the computer you are using. Losing your Facebook password is one thing, giving away your banking PIN is quite another.

4. Carry your own software

If you know that you’re going to be using public computers for a long time, it would be worthwhile to invest some time (and a little money) in getting software that you can carry around in your pocket. Many of us carry around documents on USB drives, but you can also carry around software such as Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, Gaim and even antivirus and encryption tools. PortableApps.com has a excellent software package of popular and useful programs which can easily be installed to and run from a USB drive. These programs have been modified to work for people on the go. For example the portable version of Firefox is designed not to leave cookies or a browsing history on the host computer (but you can still install your favorite themes and extensions).

5. Sit in a corner

Not all the technology and security software in the world is going to stop someone from looking over shoulder and seeing what you’re typing. Try to sit somewhere so that it’s hard for someone to peek over your shoulders. Some cyber-cafes also offer private cubicles for a slightly higher price. Of course, you don’t have much control over this (it depends largely on how the computer are placed) but it never hurts to be a little careful. Some libraries will let you borrow a laptop for a few hours, try to use these if possible (and go look for a cosy spot at the back of the room).

Back to school

A big hello to all my readers. Apologies for being away so long. I’ve moved to the US, where I’ve just started college. I’m still doing orientation, and classes start on Monday. Unfortunately I don’t have a computer of my own, but thankfully there are lots of campus computers (especially in the engineering building where I will be spending most of my time). I’m going to get back to writing articles from next week, probably every alternate day (depending on workload). By the end of the year I would like to move the blog to its own domain and maybe to paid hosting. Right now I have to rush to a chemistry placement test and then to some more orientation activities, but I’ll be back soon with more interesting techie goodness.