What I learned setting up a computer may help other novices

Three weeks ago I wrote about my inattention to technology and today I’m doling out computer advice. Before you think “What chutzpah,” know that I’m not posing as an expert. I merely think that what I learned when I came home with a new MacBook Air might be helpful to others who also never set up a computer on their own.

The first time you turn on a new computer, it will walk you through basic steps to start using it, including signing in, connecting to a Wi-Fi network, and choosing appearance, sound, and touch preferences.

From my experience, these are what I think need attention next:

Learning to use the touchpad, mouse, or other pointing device: I’m putting this at the top because, as a longtime mouse user, I was frustrated trying to do anything with a trackpad. It took me several days, for instance, to get used to pushing up to scroll down, and vice versa. Later I saw the scrolling direction can be changed in trackpad preferences. I should have looked for and set preferences right away, although it will take me a while to smoothly use the trackpad regardless.

Transferring files from the former computer: If you didn’t do it when you first set up, search for instructions to transfer data from a Mac (or PC) to a Mac (or PC). The hitch would be if your old computer is dead. Then I hope you backed up your files somewhere else.

Wiping the old computer after transferring the files and before recycling it: You can use the Windows or Mac reset option, which will restore the computer to the factory default, or find free wipe-data software online. If the old computer is dead, as mine was, a novice will likely need outside help. FreeGeek Chicago, at 3411 West Diversey, will wipe a hard drive if possible (the computer then can be donated) or crush it for $10. AVA Recycling, with multiple locations, will also destroy a hard drive for $10.

Setting up two backup places: Experts advise always having files in more than one place. Cloud choices include Google Drive, iCloud (comes on Mac computers), Dropbox, and many more that you can find online. For a second backup, you can shop online for an external storage device or ask a computer store to recommend one based on your needs. I found that the WD external hard drive used with my old computer is still serviceable. Apple’s Time Machine application backs up to the external drive.

Getting a USB-A to USB-C adapter if the new computer has USB-C ports: You’ll probably have something with USB-A that you’ll want to attach sometime. For instance, I need an adapter to use the WD external drive I already had. The Apple store sold me a $19 adapter with one USB-A port, but I’m going to exchange it for an adapter I’ve since seen with four USB-A ports. 

Arranging the screen appearance to your preferences: Okay, maybe this isn’t essential right away, but it’s the fun part, so why put it off? You can choose the desktop image, brightness, screen saver, what goes in the taskbar (PC) or dock (Mac), and other preferences. You’ll have the applications you use most at your fingertips and not clutter your screen with those you don’t or hardly ever use.

Once you take care of these things, you can go back to using a computer as before. But you might enjoy taking time now and then to learn about the upgrades that a new computer inevitably has.

A final bit of advice: If your old printer doesn’t work with your new computer, you may want to hold off on replacing it. When I found that my older HP printer isn’t compatible with my new MacBook, I printer shopped until a friend asked how much I actually print. Very little. With printers running $100 and up, plus ink costs, it would take a long time, if ever, to break even. Staples prints and copies a black-and-white page for 13 cents. Indigo Printing, just down the street from me at 900 South Wabash, charges 10 cents a page and $1 minimum. I’m waiting to see how inconvenient it is to not print immediately.

Techies out there, please feel free to correct any mistaken advice and add anything that should have been mentioned.


Filed under: Consumer matters


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  • Thank you for clear, good advice. Here's another thought about printers: I don't have one at home at all and never have. If I need something printed, I can go to the public library and have it done for about 15 cents. (It's been a while since I needed anything, and I can build up an account on my library card with spare change.) Of course, if the virus closes the library again, I'm sunk, but then I'll rely on your store advice.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Margaret, I'm discovered that UPS locations have self-service printers. Printing a black-and-white page costs 10 cents. I inserted a flash drive, printed a one-page document, and handed the clerk a dime.

  • Yes, the library is another good option once the printing service is reopened. At least at the Harold Washington, it's not available now. I expect I will find out, as you have, that I don't need a printer.

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