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Sunday, December 16, 2012

How to select a computer.

John Hodgman as PC and Justin Long as Mac

The primary decision criteria for selecting a personal computer are:

1. PC, Mac or Linux
2. Ergonomics
3. Desktop, laptop, netbook or tablet
4. Where to buy

PC, Mac or Linux?

The first decision is whether to purchase a Windows PC, a Macintosh or a Linux machine. It is estimated that Windows has approximately 87% of the desktop market; Mac has 10% and Linux 3%.

The single advantage of the Windows world is the huge number of PC vendors and software applications to choose from. You can buy a PC from big companies such as Dell and HP as well as from countless small dealers.

For the Mac, software is available that may very well satisfy your requirements. The Mac's advantages are greater stability and consistency. Every time a new version of the OS comes out, there is no significant learning curve as there is with Windows.

The only drawbacks of the Mac are new applications are designed for Windows first, and maybe for the Mac later, and secondly, it may be difficult to exchange data with Windows users. Compatibility problems are often easily solved; nevertheless, it may be an issue.

A Linux PC is a standard PC running the Linux operating system. Although basic applications are available for Linux, as of 2011 there is no comparison to Windows or Mac in number of software titles. Although typically used by IT professionals, Linux has been packaged from time to time with low-cost PCs for newcomers who want to do nothing more than e-mail and surf the Web.

Yes, It Can Be Slower

Your experience level has nothing to do with the power of the machine you might think you deserve. You will get used to the fastest machine on the market in 30 minutes. Then, if you go to a slower one, you will understand why speed is such an issue in this business.


You interact with the computer via the keyboard, mouse and screen, and these three human-machine interfaces are critical. In the highly competitive PC world, vendors skimp. The keyboard that comes with a PC may cost $10, but some keyboards cost $100 and more. Why? After several hours of touch typing, you will know.

The mouse is another device where one design can be far more comfortable than another. Try different kinds. Lastly, the monitor you use can make all the difference (see how to select a PC monitor). Fortunately, all these ergonomic devices can be replaced at any time on a desktop computer.

Desktop or Laptop

If you need a computer on the road, a laptop may serve both mobile and back-at-the-ranch use. Today, laptops are very expandable with USB ports that can connect to myriad external devices. The only problem may be screen size and keyboard. Try it first! If the screen is too small and/or the keyboard is not conducive to long hours of typing, a full-size monitor and external keyboard can be attached at the home site. However, the maximum screen resolution is coming from the laptop, and that cannot be changed unless you have a docking station that allows a different display adapter to be plugged in. See laptop for all the features.

Netbook or Tablet

Netbooks are low-cost entry level Windows-based laptops that are fine for Web browsing, e-mail and limited amounts of typing. All the cautions in the previous paragraph apply and more so, because the screens and keyboards are so small. There are also Linux-based netbooks, and the comments regarding Linux computers are at the beginning of this entry.

Tablet computers are increasingly making inroads, popularized by Apple's iPad, followed by the Android. However, iPads run Apple iOS software, and Androids run Android software, not Windows or Mac apps. Tablet PCs, on the other hand, are Windows-based tablets that can run most Windows apps; however, the Windows apps that work best on tablet PCs have been designed for tablets. Although the screen can be touched instead of clicked with a mouse, a regular app running on a touch screen may not be comfortable. Test drive as much as possible. See tablet PC, iPad and Android.

Where to Buy

The best place to buy has more to do with the support you need than the equipment you purchase. If you do not need support, shop the best price. If you are new to computers and need hand holding, look for local dealers that specialize in service. You may pay a little more, but it will save you time and frustration later.

The superstores are a good source, but the amount of support varies with the wind. The Internet is also a huge source of technical help but is often an overload. You can always pay a consultant by the hour if you do not know any sympathetic hackers.

The mail-order houses are another good source with quality machines, but you will have to rely on technical support by phone. A disadvantage of mail order is that you have to ship back your unit if you cannot fix it by phone. Better yet, opt for on-site support, which is administered by a national repair organization.

The Small Business

The small business looking to automate its accounting is going to need more help. Do not be fooled by the prices of hardware and off-the-shelf software. The small company often has information requirements as complicated as a much larger one. There are countless custom-designed applications that have cost $5,000 to $25,000, running on $800 PCs, because no off-the-shelf software package could fit the bill.

It is tempting to think a $100 software package can do the accounting for your entire company, and the fact is, in many cases, it very well can. But, even if you understand your detailed information requirements, matching them with the marketing blurbs on a package cover is not simple. You do not find the software's limitations until after you are up and running.

Determining the best accounting software for your particular needs is not something most PC vendors want to get involved with. To do the job right, it can take hours, days or weeks of analysis depending on your business and what you want to computerize. You may want to use the services of a software consulting firm or an independent consultant.

Good Luck and Happy Computing!


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