Do not worry about not being very proficient with a computer. All of us were that way once. It takes a lot of time to learn all that you would like to know. I have had to learn things that really didn't concern me directly because many newcomers to computing look upon me as some sort of computer guru. When someone rings me up with a problem I frequently do not know what to do to solve it. I then have a look in my books to see if there is a way to find an answer. Sometimes there is no answer and I have to go to someone's house with no clue about what to do. However, somehow I usually find a way to keep the person happy, even if it means starting everything from scratch.
One thing that I usually tell people about computers is this:
'Now and again you may come up against what I call the "brick wall" problem. It seems that there is no way to deal with it or get around it. Then you ask someone who has had less than a day's more experience than you and he/she says "You just do this and this" and the problem disappears. Everyone suffers from brick walls from time to time including me. After you have experienced a few of them you learn that they are very rarely insuperable. All you have to do is look in a book or ask someone who is more knowledgeable to get the solution.'
This advice is OK in a general sense but there are times when it does not work. The main reason is the way Microsoft's products are organised. They are designed to make computers easier for idiots to use and include a lot of things intended to prevent problems from happening. However, they make it harder for someone like me to deal with problems that the programmers never thought about. In many instances - particularly with Windows95 and 98 - things have to be solved the Microsoft way or not at all. This usually means wiping everything off the disk and starting again. This is taken to extremes with Windows 2000. Only Microsoft approved software will run under Windows 2000. As a result of this I am gradually changing over to Linux for my own work.
As general advice I tell people to arrange to have two physical hard disks in their computers and to arrange that any data files that they create are on both disks. I also suggest that only Windows is put on one partition on one disk that is not drive C:. All programs and data files should be put on other partitions as far as possible. Most installation programs offer to install the software on the same drive as Windows or drive C:. Always try to select another drive letter if you can. Even if you select another drive letter for an installation there will always be a part of the program installed where Windows is, because Windows controls how every program is run.
If Windows crashes with this type of setup, only one partition needs to be cleaned up and valuable data is not lost. The settings for the user programs will go when the Windows drive letter is cleaned up. This means that the user programs will have to be re-installed again after Windows has been re-installed. The better programs will often find where they were installed before and make use of any user defined settings from the previous installation. Sadly, some programs will not find their old homes so you will have to tell them where to go again.
When solving people's problems I have found that a re-installation of Windows95 or 98 can take a full day to complete when a computer has had a lot of software installed on it. I have found Windows 3.11 for Workgroups to be around 50 times more reliable than the later Windows products. I have two PCs that I use regularly. One has old-fashioned DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11 on it for all my serious work. The other one with Windows98 is used mainly for CD copying, the internet and television. The two computers are linked with Laplink so that I can send data files from one to the other. Because of this I try to give any data files on the W98 PC only 8 character filenames so that they can be accessed on the other PC. If I could get away without using Windows95 or 98 I would, but my internet service needs at least W95. W98 is slightly better than W95 which is why I use it.
Don't worry if the crummy way that W98 runs gives you problems. It is not your fault. If W95 or W98 were better written, you would feel more competent. As things stand you do not have much choice of operating system and W98 is not quite so bad as W95.
If things go wrong it is not usually your fault. In almost every case a problem is caused by poorly written software or a hardware defect. You have no control over either of these things although they often give you the impression that you are responsible for a failure when it occurs.
Your computer will let you down sooner or later. It could be tomorrow or next year but it will let you down eventually. All you can do is to be as prepared as you can be when it happens. If you have stored your data on two or more hard disks, you can always recover from a complete breakdown. The chance that two hard disks will die at the same time is very unlikely but the chance that one of them will die within two years is almost predictable. Floppy discs are too unreliable for permanent backups but have to be used if there is no other alternative.
I could write a book of advice on how people should work with their computers but this is not the place to write it.
Voodoo (and some other Video Card Problems.
The Voodoo card needs an interrupt but most video cards do not. Check in the CMOS that an interrupt has been allocated to the video card. There may not be an inbuilt video card on your motherboard but check to make sure. If there is one, it can be disabled in the CMOS. Windows 98 allocates interrupts so that many devices can share an interrupt on an 'as needed' basis. Make sure that the correct video driver software is loaded. If you have problems at this stage, look at at any readme files on the CD. They should tell you about any special things that you should do when setting up the video card.
If you still have problems and have another video card, switch off, put it in in place of the original card and let Windows 98 detect it and find a driver for it. When it works, switch off and take out the video card and put the original card back in. Then let Windows 98 detect the original card (with an interrupt enabled in the CMOS if needed). When Windows 98 detects the original card, select Have Disk and insert the CD that came with the card. If, having followed all this advice the original card does not work properly it is probably faulty.
Other Problems With Games
Many games require a particular version of Direct X. This is a video associated program that will normally be found on your PC anyway. However, there are instances where the video card insists on having one version of Direct X while the game requires a different version to work. The answer is to find a card or a game that is not so pernickety or to find the email addresses of either or both and demand answers.
Games are usually the most common cause of computer crashes. The software writers usually want their game to have the highest resolution and the fastest drawing speed. In consequence the game will try to use all the computer's resources while it is running. This means that the game installation will modify many of the computer's settings so that they are suited to the game when it is run. These settings often conflict with other, more important software requirements. I therefore advise you to arrange to have two computers if you want to do serious work and play games too. The two do not usually mix well on the same PC. If you do a lot of serious work and cannot afford to have two PCs, leave the games alone.
Linux is a free operating system that is based on the professional operating systen called Unix, It was started by the Finn, Linus Torvalds who wanted to produce an operating system that was free for all who wanted to use it. Since Linux started, thousands of smart programmers have joined the cause to make Linux the best and most reliable system available. Linux has grown a lot so that a way had to be found to correlate all the improvements to the basic operating system. In fact, several organisations have taken on this job for a modest profit. Now versions of Linux can be bought as complete packages from Caldera, Corel, Debian, Mandrake, Red Hat, Slackware, SuSe and several other suppliers.
The installation of Linux owes a lot to its origins in Unix. Unix was designed for mainframe computers that were shared by many users. Now, although most users of Linux will have their own computer that is not shared with anyone, the installation requires a hierarchy of authorised persons that are allowed to do work on the computer at various levels. Each level of hierachy requires a password for access. This results in a very secure operating system.
Another aspect of Linux is the way that the operating system program is put together. Nothing is ready made to be copied straight onto your hard disk. The aspects of Linux that you want are selected and then a version of Linux that is tailored to your needs is built from scratch. In programming terms the source code is selected for each part and then the combined source code sections are compiled into an operating system. The Corel company has attempted to simplify the installation of Linux by preparing a "bog standard" version that will suit a lot of people. However, this approach has its limitations because some aspects of Linux that someone may want are left out at the compilation stage. Once Linux has been compiled it cannot be changed. The only answer is to start a new (more flexible) installation that incorporates the aspects required.
Linux runs in many ways like the old DOS and Windows 3.11 because it offers several graphical user interfaces (GUI). These are known in Linux as different varieties of X-Windows. It is possible to switch between GUIs after an installation has been completed. There are now several suites of software that have been tailored to run under Linux. These are availabLe "free" like Linux itself. The choice is downloading from the internet for free or buying the CD to save on a massive downloading time. Linux will also share resources on a PC with another operating system and provide a choice of system at boot time. Linux must have its own disk space that is separate from the other operating system(s).
Linux and aspects of it are continually being developed. Each new item is thoroughly tested before it is approved for use as a part of Linux. The number of programmers working on Linux outnumbers Microsoft's Windows programmers by around 10 to 1. Much of their work is related to providing drivers for devices that are a part of or can be added to a PC. These include sound and video cards, scanners, CDROMs etc. These drivers can be downloaded free from a large number of websites devoted to the promotion of Linux.
Linux is Growing!
Several major companies support Linux including Hewlett Packard and Corel. Linux is increasingly used in place of Microsoft products where reliability is a major consideration and custom-written software would be too expensive. Because of its origins Linux is well suited to networks that have a lot of users. It is inherently a secure system that works well with the internet. If you need a secure and reliable system and you have the patience to learn about a new operating system, Linux is for you.