The Poor Man's Guide to Computers.

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Running a Computer on a Shoestring Budget


Strapped for cash? Well welcome to the club!

I want to talk to you about how to get free or very cheap software without committing software piracy.

Pirate software is:

  • Illegal
  • Prone to errors
  • Difficult to update e.g if you use a pirated serial number for Windows XP.

Using freely available open source software is much more effective. Please note that by following the advice below, my own computer ran better, faster and did not melt into a pile of molten slag. I can make no promises as to what will happen to yours however!


Upgrade your Hardware  

First and foremost if you're sick of how slow your computer is, it might be time to upgrade your hardware!

You can buy new processors & RAM for your computer very cheaply. If you don't have a clue as to what I'm talking about then maybe it'd be best to consult someone who's more in the know. For older types of desktop computer you'll need a Socket 370 converter (just type it into the eBay search box) to use some of the newer, faster processors.

RAM chips are very easy to buy and install, guides are freely available if you type the words 'how to install RAM' into Google. This will allow your computer to do more things at once.

In my case I was able to double my amount of RAM and triple the speed of the CPU for less than £20.

Now, presuming your computer itself is as fast as it would like we can look at upgrading your software. Since eBay don't allow direct links to non eBay pages, you will have to type the name of any software mentioned into Google and click the first link you see to download it. I presume you're comfortable with doing this.

Operating System

This is the bare bones of your system, from which all your programs will run. There are plenty of free operating systems such as FreeDOS for the hardcore enthusiast. If however, you're not quite so brave, Windows 98 SE can be bought on eBay from £10 up. You don't even have to have a new version as this version of Windows doesn't make you go through the 'Product Activation' rigamarole!

Windows 98 SE is obviously an old system and official support was discontinued in July of this year, however the advantages to the poor man are that:

  • While not as stable as XP it is very reliable.

  • Can be run on a computer with very low specs.

  • It will run most modern software programs such as Microsoft Office XP.

  • Internet Explorer  5.0 is included which supports current web pages using Java, XML, Flash etc.

  • While not using 'Plug and Play' technology, it does support USB devices. Every USB device I've ever bought has come with a driver CD for Windows 98.

  • There is a comprehensive support section for this OS on the Microsoft website (now archived).




Office suite

OpenOffice is a comprehensive Office suite available to all from its website (searchable through Google again). OpenOffice consists of several applications which have the look and feel of Microsoft Word, Excel, Access etc. but are free and in some areas more powerful.

Writer has a similar look and feel to Microsoft Word. In fact it can open some older (and newer) word files that Microsoft Office itself can't. It also has the facility to export PDF documents, which is a universal file format which allows documents to be read easily in the fashion of a book.

Adobe Acrobat 8.0 which has the same feature, costs around £300, I'll leave it to you to decide which one you'd rather buy...

Calc is a spreadsheet program in the vein of Excel. Like Excel, it has an automatic graph feature. Calc can open Microsoft Excel files.

Impress is a piece of presentation software which can create Powerpoint style presentations. It also has the added feature of being able to export presentations to SWF (Flash) format meaning they will play on any up to date Web Browser regardless of the system used. Impress can open Microsoft Powerpoint files.

Base is a database creating/editing program in the vein of Microsoft Access. It uses SQL but can open Microsoft Access databases (but not edit them).

Web Browser

I can recommend no better browser than Mozilla 2.0 (Google again). It continually updates itself and can support Java (from the Sunsystems website). It can also display Flash files and let you view PDF documents. It is also more secure in that you can't download spyware just by visiting a website as with Internet Explorer. It does not support Visual Basic or ActiveX but this is unimportant.


Zonealarm is a free firewall (an application which stops computers from accessing yours on a whim) which will protect the vulnerable ports on your computer. It is available for download from the ZoneLabs website. This will keep your computer safe from any casual hackers, snooping around to find a vulnerable port!

Antivirus Software

 The most obvious answer to free Antivirus software is AVG Free Edition. This is available for personal home users free of charge. It doesn't come with the integrated Firewall but if you use ZoneAlarm (above) you won't miss this feature.





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