What do we do now?

     The new family computer has been installed, booted up, and is ready to go. The free software, bundled with your computer, looked really good when the sales clerk demonstrated it. The kids were wild for about a week or two. But now, something seems to be missing...could that something be the right software?
     It is
relatively simple to shop for a computer. The details and numbers are, more or less, straightforward: Faster or slower; CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, scanner or printer… When you buy a computer, you're buying something that can be quantified. However, a computer without software is nothing more than a dumb box. Literally. And therein, as old Will said, lies the rub. Software is the genie in the box - as Bill Gates discovered, to his infinite enrichment.
     Often folks buy a computer and expect that it will give them everything they need: More time, easier bookkeeping, tax assistance, instant literacy, primacy in school, love, education, an electronic babysitter (better and cheaper than a teenager or cable TV), etc. But that is simply not so. Won't happen. Uh-uh.
Software: That which makes your computer go - sing, talk, record, teach, remember, and freeze. And that which your family must learn to use. Sometimes it's an intuitive program which requires little study (basic reading programs fall into this category); more often, it's a complex wordprocessing, graphics, spreadsheet 'suite' which takes months to master. Then there may be choosing an Internet service provider, Web browser, and on and on.
     The perception that software - utility, productivity, or educational - is perfect (or should be) is so incredibly off the mark, and yet so widespread, that it is alarming. Computers are tools and, as such, are fairly rudimentary (yes, as a tool it has come a long way; but so did cars, TV, telephones in the first 10 or 20 years of development. Look where they are now). Technology grows. And so goes software.
     So how does a family maximize computer usage for education and productivity? Well, obviously, one has to find the right software that fits needs and educational levels. And this is done…? Well, there's the rub again (old Will would have loved computers): Most people talk to friends who like certain programs, or learn a title at work and carry it over at home; teachers make recommendations; kids learn about games from friends; or there are reviews in publications which may, or may not, specialize in software (this is not a particularly good method of selecting a costly product on which you will rely for tasks important to your family). The ComputED Gazette is dedicated to bringing to the public's attention the highest quality educational software. To this end, it sponsors two national software awards annually, which rank winners according to academic level and category: The Best Educational Software Awards (BESSIES) and the Education Software Review Awards (EDDIES).
     The home computer can make the difference in your child's ability to compete successfully in today's world. Use it efficiently.

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