When we got our first Airstream in the mid 90’s laptop PC’s were considered portable at fifteen pounds and had the amazing paper white VGA screen, as color was still way too costly. Why you ask do I recall this so well? My wife and I owned a West Tennessee computer business that furnished several large companies with these units as part of their manufacturing processes. I recall the first Airstream owner that requested a way to use a PC while on the road but wanted color. The solution at that time was what we called the ‘lunchbox’ PC, a PC that was about the size of a six pack cooler and had a color 10” VGA screen. The weight was still about fifteen pounds and that was with no battery, but it was the perfect size and offered all the abilities of a 40 pound desktop PC which required a CRT (tube type) screen. So much for the history lesson, what can we do today?

     The modern PC has taken many forms from laptops to netbooks and even many cell phones. To understand what PC will meet your needs you must first decide what you do with it. If your computing needs are simply e-mail and instant messaging, and you have no need to do a lot of typing or printing, then your cell phone along with  a good magnifying glass (if you’re like me) is all you need. For most users the need is for doing everything from communication to record keeping, so over the next few articles  I will be discussing how to achieve these tasks efficiently while Airstreaming. While I know computer owners come from two distinctive camps, Windows and MAC, these articles will try to be as generic as possible but will come from a Windows perspective more than that of a MAC as my background is with Microsoft (I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and currently work as a programmer/analyst at a university medical center in Nashville).

     Let’s start this series by looking at common uses of a PC while Airstreaming. The software that comes installed on most PC’s today when purchased are ‘teasers’ that give you as taste of what you can do if you pay them for it in 90 days to one year. Most of these come in three primary types, the first of which is the antivirus or anti-malware program (a.k.a. Home protection, Kid Safe, Bullet Proof, etc…) that can protect your PC from every known threat on the planet. Did you catch what I said? “KNOWN THREAT”, which means they can protect you from what has already been discovered and eliminated. You should use some form of antivirus and malware protection software if you’re going to connect to the internet. As to which one, your guess is as good as mine because each has strengths and weaknesses and the threats change every day. A good rule of thumb is you get what you pay for, so if it is ‘free’ then don’t fuss when it fails to protect your system because didn’t cost you in the beginning, just in the end. Use some common sense and avoid going to unknown web sites and don’t open e-mails or attachments from people you don’t know. The other ways of protecting your system with some hardware settings will be found in later articles.

     The second form of software is the services, which is everything you’ll ever need to connect to every service you ever want. OK, maybe some services you want but do you really need all of them? These services are for the most part considered an overlay; that is you have the same ability without the added cost if you are willing to take a little extra time to learn to do the set up. One example of this type of overlay is AOL.  What you are purchasing is not an e-mail account or way to connect to the internet; what you are purchasing is an easy setup that you will pay for month after month. These services make money from you, the advertisers, and they give you games and messaging services so you can help get more people to use them so they make more from you and the advertisers. It’s a great way to make money; I wish I had thought of it. You will ONLY need the following service to get to the internet: connectivity.  Yes, that’s it - just a signal via wire or wireless and permission to use it. Yes, I know you have to have X-brand software to use the wire or wireless, or so you have been told. After the setup of most connections you no longer need the software installed on your PC, all the software does is allow the service to track your web site usage and sell advertising. What about e-mail? Well, that can be done through them or any of the advertiser paid service such as Hotmail or Google (no I’m not supporting them, they’re just examples) or you can pay the few dollars a month for secured e-mail from places like GoDaddy or Network Solutions (also just examples). Both free and paid email services can be checked via web page or you can set them up on Outlook or some other email client. So what’s the difference between AOL, Hotmail, or Google’s service and the paid for services? Security and no advertising to see each time you get an e-mail. Again I will try to do a more thorough job of covering connectivity and services in a later article.

     The third form of software is what I’ll call the applications, which are the software packages you purchase and install on your computer. First I would like to say KEEP THE SOFTWARE INSTALLATION MEDIA SAFE.  Most people that I have helped recover from tragedy can’t remember where the original software is or the box with the required licensing code. All software you install should be kept in the same safe location along with the receipt and security codes that might be needed. My suggestion is a CD carrier like you use in a car. Put all the software in it along with the paper work, codes, and zip it up. Application software can include “Office” type, which is used for word processing, spreadsheets and databases, but it can also include communication such as E-mail, Skype, and other ways to exchange information. The next type of software would be the “Media” type, that is applications that help you with photos or videos, and let’s not forget music; this type can also help you make CD’s and DVD’s of information or backup of your data. Another popular type of software is “Gaming” applications, which are those things that have no productive use except for entertainment. These are common for many things such as skill building and even scholastic studies, but are entertainment based to have a ‘fun factor’.  The final type of software would be “Resource” applications; these are used for education, information archive and retrieval or just organization. The resource software can also be used for photo’s and other type of file manipulation and organization but two common ones are cook books and E-books.