Here comes the new year -- fresh as a midnight snowfall and mercifully free of Y2K worries.
You might think this would be a good time to discuss what events will unfold during the next year in personal computing and on the Internet. But to paraphrase HAL, the renegade computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey," let me say: "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't do that."
Sure, speculation can be fun. But in a realm as fast-moving and unpredictable as technology, predictions are either overly general, soon obsolete or flat-out wrong. Doubt it? Consider those who expected another banner year for dot-coms in 2000.
So let us instead take the advice of futurists who say that the very best way to forecast the future is to make it happen.
In that spirit, I offer these New Year's resolutions for making the most of your personal computing experience in 2001 and beyond.
--Be the boss: You've probably got a chunk of money invested in your computer. So resolve to make the most of it. Find out how the computer can make your life easier, more enjoyable, more active, more informed. The PC is a powerful tool if you can find ways to make it can work for you.
--Play games: Yes, a PC can be a powerful tool. But it's a pretty good toy as well. Loosen up a little and try one of the hundreds of computer games on the market. From flight simulators to arcade games to traditional board games and card games, there's something to amuse anyone. Make this the year your PC gives you some fun.
--Track your finances: Surveys consistently show that personal finance is one of the top reasons people own and use a personal computer -- and with good reason. A computer can help you find out where your money goes, help you pay bills and help you track investments. If you're not using personal-finance software like Quicken or Microsoft Money, 2001 would be a good time to start.
--Back up your data: You bet it's a chore, but making backup copies of your data is essential. If you use your computer for anything significant, the data stored there is more valuable than your car. And you wouldn't dream of leaving the car uninsured, would you? In fact, regular data backups are better than auto insurance because sooner or later, having backups will pay off.
--Make music: Digital audio turned out to be the "killer" application of 2000, as millions of users flocked to software like Napster and Gnutella as a way to download their favorite songs. Whatever your taste in music, don't let 2001 go by without at least looking into how music moves over the Internet.
--Pay the piper: Could this be the year you finally pay for whatever shareware may be residing on your hard drive? Any good software is well worth the money. Send a check to the people who wrote the program that you downloaded for free.
--Kick it up a notch: You just can't have an Internet connection that's too fast. So consider upgrading your present link to one of today's broadband options, such as cable Internet or DSL. Yes, they're more costly than dial-up and subject to technical problems. But high-speed, always-on connections can give you a new perspective on personal computing.
--Be germ-free: If you're not already using anti-virus software, get some. It's not very expensive, and it does a good job of protecting your computer from infections that could erase your entire hard drive.
--Welcome to the machine: 2001 could be a good year to discover what makes your personal computer tick. Community colleges and other venues are good places to learn the fascinating story of what's inside a PC and how those parts work together.
--Hit the Net: The Internet offers vast amounts of information and literally thousands of free services. Regardless of how much computer experience you already have, look for something new on the Net that can make your life easier or more enjoyable. It's bound to be out there somewhere.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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