How to Choose Computer Software for Your College Computing Needs
Find out what version of whichever software application your college or university uses is acceptable to maximize your study skills. For example, documents composed in Microsoft Word 2007 cannot be read when you’re running Word 97–2003, but you can save your work as Word 97–2003 documents if the computer you use has this more up-to-date version of Word.
iWorks for Apple Macintosh computers dates from 2007 and may not be compatible with some earlier AppleWorks systems for Apple Macs.
When you buy your computer or laptop, it may not come with a word-processing package already installed, so you need to consider what’s available and the costs. Your first step might be to bargain with the retailer to get a free word-processing package, or at least a price reduction!
Microsoft Office Word 2007, is not normally provided already installed. It is probably the most sophisticated package and has all the word-processing functions you need (including PowerPoint for presentations, graphics and dialogue boxes) and some you may never use, so you might consider Microsoft Works word-processing software, which includes spreadsheet and database facilities, and a more basic word-processing package.
It costs about a quarter of the price of Word (about £30 as opposed to at least £120) and it is compatible with Word, so you can safely receive documents written in Word. Some companies provide Microsoft Works free of charge when you buy a computer.
‘Open Office’ is a free word-processing package you can download from the Internet that is also compatible with Microsoft Office Word. The package contains word-processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and databases. You can find hints and suggestions to help you get started on line.
Security is a big problem these days, so it’s important to protect your computer from viruses, spyware, hackers and other computer infections through anti-virus and anti-spy software and a firewall, which are usually sold as a combined package in a ‘security suite’. Norton and McAfee are well-known software security suite programs, though less well-known ones like Kaspersky are also reliable.
You can often save money by downloading security from the Internet, especially the previous year’s system, which will usually be offered at half price when the new system comes out.
Free Internet security checks are not advisable as some have been known to infect a computer in order to charge for the removal of a virus. Sometimes free security systems are offered, online but see if you can find feedback on their efficiency from someone that can recommend them.
Other computer software packages that are useful for study purposes include:
Spreadsheet programs: These include Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3. They allow you to keep records, make calculations and plan schedules. (iWorks provides similar functions.)
Presentation software: The most commonly used presentation package is Microsoft PowerPoint, which allows you to make presentations using a computer screen or a data projector. You can also send your presentation in digital format by email or over the Internet.
Graphics software: A range of packages exists, such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Macromedia and Fireworks, which allow you to create and edit pictures and drawings for use in your work.
Desktop publishing (DTP)programs: DTP programs such as Adobe Indesign, Quark Express or Microsoft Publisher provide page layout and other publishing requirements, so that you can lay out your thesis or dissertation in a neat and organised way.
Internet browsers: Internet Explorer is normally already installed on computers set up with Windows. However, Mozilla Firefox is free, easier to use, and is frequently updated. Other good browsers include Safari, AOL Explorer and Google Chrome.
Email: Your college or university will give you an email account to contact you and for you to use for college business. Email programs download emails to your computer and have good built-in filters to direct advertising and unsolicited mail to a Spam folder, a kind of holding facility or in-tray separated from you main mailbox. They have built-in spell checks when you compose emails.
You will probably want a separate email account to keep your social and private life separate from study business. Hotmail is probably the most popular email program, followed by Yahoo, while other email programs are linked to Internet providers, like btinternet.com. Mozilla Thunderbird email is strong on security.
Microsoft Outlook (currently part of the Office suite) can set up an email to respond to an email address you find on a website without having to close the website window.
If you’re a language student or want to self-study a language, use the Language Learning Laboratory computers that are set up specifically for word processing or practising exercises in a particular language. Students of Russian, for example, can use a Cyrillic keyboard. (You can also find other learning support in the Language Laboratory enabling you to access news or television programmes in your chosen language.)