Essential e-Tools

Jan. 1, 2020
Last month we talked about Web browsers and how to choose them. This month I thought I would bring you up to speed on the essential computer tools that you need.
Last month we talked about Web browsers and how to choose them. This month I thought I would bring you up to speed on the essential computer tools that you need to use information. More simply put: the programs to open the types of files you will run into. Microsoft Windows XP Pro Service Pack 2 (SP2)
Mac OS X Version 10.4.x
Cost: Free, if it came on your machine, to as much as $210 for XP Pro upgrade.Sources: Office supply stores, online sources (including the Microsoft and Apple Web sites) and other retail outlets.

The automotive industry is a funny thing. We work on vehicles that have cutting-edge technologies, but tend to use computer and software standards that are several years behind the information technology (IT) world.

The good news is that by the time we make an upgrade, the software is pretty stable, bug-free and cheaper. The downside is that early adopters who run out and install a new operating system (OS), such as Windows Vista, may find that their computer systems are no longer compatible with their information providers or suddenly cannot run PC-based scan tools or flashing software following the upgrade.

My recommendation here is to read the system requirements of each program that you must use in your business, and be careful not to outrun their suggested operating system compatibility. On the other side of that coin, many service providers are finally calling for the end of product support for Windows versions prior to XP and 2000.

The Mac guys usually know that their UNIX-based Mac OS has the ability to work with almost any Web site, and with the new Intel machines and a program called "Boot Camp," they can run Windows on the same machine, creating a virtual "Swiss army knife."

Adobe Acrobat Reader Cost: FreeSource: Online at

After logging onto the Adobe Web site, it will automatically identify which OS your computer is running when you click on the "Download Adobe Reader" link at the bottom of the page.

Adobe Acrobat files are used extensively online and in business. The .pdf file format is the agreed standard for delivering files from most of the automakers' service information Web sites, as well as other third-party service information providers, including ALLDATA and Mitchell 1. Adobe Acrobat has recently released Version 8.

Shockwave and SVG Viewer Plug-in Cost: Free Source: Online at

Many Web sites use Shockwave as a means of providing animation to things such as wiring diagrams. SVG viewer also is used on some sites that deliver higher resolution graphics than the standard 72 dots per inch of the Web.

Install all plug-ins such as these and Adobe Reader after you have installed the browsers you are going to use. These programs will search from browsers and install themselves as plug-ins for all of the compatible browsers you use. If you do it in opposite order, you may have to reinstall the program or manually assign the plug-ins.

Apple Quicktime
Windows Media Player
Cost: FreeSources: Online at and

For our purposes, these applications operate as plug-ins to the Web browser. Each program can stand on its own, but we normally use them to view movies or listen to audio files that are embedded in Web pages.

Java Runtime Environment (JRE) 6 Cost: FreeSource: Online at

Don't freak out when you get to this page. Just match the name of the filename above to the download you want on this page. Sun Microsystems makes wonderful products, but they are not very end-user friendly when it comes to Web site navigation.

Do not download the Java SDK; it is not something a service provider will need because it is a software development kit.

This program is actually a compact OS that will function like a plug-in and allow you access to Web sites that would be blank pages without it. It has a self-updating component to it (as do most of these programs) that will appear in your Windows System Tray from time to time. Just follow the download and installation instructions, and it should run problem-free.

Microsoft Office Suite Cost: $149+Sources: Office supply, online sources and other retail outlets.

Before those of you who are computer guys tell me that there are inexpensive Office wannabes out there for $49, let me remind you of the goal in this column: We want to get our work done with the least amount of four-letter words and make money working on cars, not waste time and lose money working on computers. That is why I recommend buying the original.

Microsoft Office is a very stable, mature product, now in version 2007. Let's talk about the suite's programs in the order that you will likely use them most.

Word: While not as common as the Adobe Reader files, many of you will be working with files that have a file extension of .doc. This is the standard Microsoft Word file format.

Word is a word-processing program that has grown to the point of being just enough of everything to be intimidating to those who don't use it all the time. For our purposes, you can learn to work with it proficiently in about an hour. Real Word freaks know how to use it to do many things that are probably better left to other programs. Just know that it is the standard for word-processing tasks.

Excel: Many techies publish information in table formats for easy reference. Excel tends to be their program of choice. Excel is a spreadsheet program and is actually intended to do mathematical calculation. However, it does work really well when laying out tables and lists.

To do much more than open and look at files that have the extension of .xls, you should devote several hours to the Microsoft tutorials that come with the program.

Outlook/Entourage: Outlook started out as an e-mail program and grew to become a personal information manager. In addition to e-mail, it can handle scheduling and reminders, organize your contacts and even help you manage projects. The compatibility with wireless phones makes it a nice application to use as your organizer.

When you are looking at the Office Suite product, keep in mind that there are several more applications that are offered with it. Unless you have need of these others, you will simply pay more. For most people, the new Office 2007 Home version will do just fine.

So there they are: a collection of some of the most important programs that you can make use of in your daily routine. Be sure to read the installation instructions and follow them closely to keep those expletives to a minimum and enjoy the additional access your computer will now offer you.

We welcome your comments and topic suggestions.
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