Airstream Central - Info for Airstream Owners -
Airstreamer's Computing Guide – Application Software
Michael Yeargin
I opened my own business in the early 1990’s that specialized in computers and networking. After relocation to Nashville in 1999, I became the IT Director of a local petroleum company designing a enterprise VOIP system. My education and training includes a BS in Business and Org. Mgmt. in 2006, MCSE in 2009 and MBA in 2011. I am currently the Director of IT for a International Truck dealership in Tennessee.  
By Michael Yeargin
Published on 04/2/2010
Part 2 of Airstreamer's Computing Guide. This covers the subject of software selection and how it can impact your current PC or future PC selection

Airstreamer's Computing Guide – Application Software

Why am I talking about software when you may not have a computer for use in your Airstream yet? Well, when you went to purchase a house did you know how many kids you had and how many bedrooms you needed? Confused? Just like the house is what contains the bedrooms and space you need to live, so is the PC, but instead of kids you have software and some software can require a really big bedroom or in PC terms, speed, disk space, and memory. So when considering a PC, or if you have a PC and wonder why it just doesn’t seem to perform as expected, look at your software first as it is what puts the drain on your PC resources. Programmers (like me) create applications that will use all the hardware given with little to no consideration to other software you might like to run at the same time. So let’s take Windows 7 as an example. You want to put it on the PC you already have so you can have all the cool tools and snazzy look, but when you purchased your PC it came with Windows XP Home. If that’s the case, it is likely that your system speed is at least 233 Mhz you have 128 MB of RAM and 1.6 GB of hard drive space, but now you need 1 Ghz (1,000 Mhz) processor speed, 1 GB (1,000 MB) of RAM and 16 GB of hard drive space (note the decimal point moved). So, to sum it all up, you only have about 1/5 of the computer you need to run Windows 7 software. But you just bought the computer two years ago! Yeah, and a lot of money is made doing upgrades so you can use the same PC for two more years. Now that the harsh reality of software is understood, that is, it’s a way to make money, let’s look at some facts. You do not have to have the newest software if what you have meets your needs as long as you are smart about it. By being smart I mean you put all updates available and keep good security software in place (i.e. Anti Virus, Anti Spam, etc…) to protect the system. Most security software will work on old and new operating systems for up to ten years. Many security software still supports Windows 2000, which is about the year they quit selling it. What all of this means is that you need to consider all the software you want to run on the PC to help you select the PC speed, memory, and storage size you need now, and that you should add a little for future wants.

            Now let us look at the three types of application software you will be using, the productivity, media, and gaming. I know I did not mention the security software, that because it’s a necessary evil just like the service software and I’ll do an entire section on just those two software needs. Some common productivity applications are those such as Microsoft (MS) Excel, MS Access, MS Word, Quicken, and many more. All of these software packages have one big thing in common: data. That is, they are a means by which you create information that can be stored in a data file and recalled at some future point in time. Most also have the added ability of being able to manipulate the data, that is, do math functions or graphs or some other fancy alteration of your data. The good news is that many of these can be tried before you buy so you can find one that is easy to use or will provide you just the features you are looking for. Now for the bad news; these will comprise a good portion of your storage needs and are the one thing you need to have a backup method. I will cover backup options later. Be sure to look at the memory and storage requirements of this software, as the storage suggestion should be tripled (x3) for most full time users. Also most of software has on line training guides (Custom Guide) or you can find interactive training on line (MS Training) for free which are good to look at when considering a purchase.

            The media software takes many forms from video editing, which allows you to create custom DVD movies (assuming you have required hardware), to the photo editing software that comes with many digital cameras. Media takes four basic forms, video, photo, music, and data. It may come as a surprise, but yes, data can be a form of media when it is used to archive such things as electronic books (e-books) that can be VERY nice when space is limited like it is in the Airstream. Media software can help you carry the contents of the Library of Congress in your Airstream if done correctly. You can have every cook book, how-to book, and novel ever written if you can just find an electronic version or make your own. How can you make your own? With the advent of small page scanners you can take magazines and other printed material and scan them into your PC for your private use (Note: I do not promote copyright infringement, but I love to have my books, so if you own it you can scan it for your personal use). As an example of what e-books you might like, did you know Airstream offers MANY manuals in electronic page form (commonly called PDF’s as they are created with Adobe Acrobat software)? Many of today’s scanners are part of the printer or can be purchased separately. It will depend on your use and needs as to which is best; personally I prefer a sheet feed double sided scanner because I’m just lazy that way. Also another nice use for scanners is those pre-digital photo’s you have; scan them in, and voilá - now they are digital. When considering a scanner as with a camera or digital video, the resolution should always be considered as the lower the numbers the less resolution, and the worse the picture will look. As for DVD and photo software, again, try before you buy is the best solution as many of them offer trial versions. Just be sure it is a well known company and do your research prior to downloading any software and installing it. Yes, I do have the ones I like, but they are specific to the brand of camera I use and I don’t do scrapbooking (please don’t write me about how much fun it is, it is just not my thing) so my needs are probably different than yours, just explore what meets your needs.

            The final software application is entertainment or gaming. The name you want to give it really depends on which you do, as for myself I don’t enjoy gaming on the PC due to the interface and wanting to figure out how they programmed it, so mine is more entertainment. This type of application does not store any real data (no, your high score does not count) and does not have the ability to manipulate information such as you did with media. This can be software that you get some enjoyment from such as how-to applications that contain video and instructions or might let you do such things as design a boat or a house. Yes, you can store your design and print it, but you are limited to the software’s design ability so it’s still just entertainment. Some of these applications start to cross over into the productivity software when they get functional ability, as in designing a boat or a house, but as they are not professional level applications (those used in manufacturing and design) they are still just entertainment. These applications are great to learn with and I used them to educate my children and even today have a few foreign language lessons somewhere. These applications can require a lot of specialized hardware such as video cards and speed can be an issue when doing action gaming, so be sure to read the box before purchasing to make sure it works, because most have a clause that once opened it cannot be returned.

            If you already have your PC or thinking about getting one, always consider what you want to do with it and research the software requirements. This will be key to knowing how long you will be able to use the PC before it will require and upgrade or replacement. If you can purchase your software and PC that meets your needs now with a little room for growth, don’t worry about getting the latest and greatest now because it will change in six months. Talk with people who already use the software you are considering and ask some questions such as if they get free updates and upgrades, and if so, for how long. I know of systems running Windows 2000 and using MS Office ‘97 that still meets the needs of the user today - look at how much money they saved by not changing systems every two or three years. You only need to change when it is a real benefit to you and the way you work.