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If buying a computer isn't a practical option for you right now, you'll almost certainly be able to use one for free at your local library. According to a University of Maryland survey, 99.3 percent of public libraries offer Internet access and 85.7 percent have wireless Internet access available.
By Marian Wilde
These programs are designed to protect your computer from viruses that can be introduced through email, Web sites or removable media. Anti-virus software now also combats worms, spyware and adware.
You'll need a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port in order to use these little gizmos. Most newer computers come equipped with USB ports, as they're now the preferred way to connect to printers, Palm Pilots, digital cameras, Web cams - you name it. Says Brenda Lofton, Louisiana's 2006 Teacher of the Year: "My school requires that students in the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grades have thumb drives. They each bring one to school. The students can save the work they have there, and then go home and continue working."
Many manufacturers offer warranties on refurbished products making them a low-risk option. Check with manufacturers, Amazon, eBay or Web sites specializing in refurbished computers. What you should know:
Whatever you do, don't throw your old computer in the trash. The plastics and heavy metals in your old machine will harm the environment if it's not disposed of properly. According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, somewhere between 300 and 700 million computers will be retired from service in the next few years, which could mean more than 4 billion pounds of plastic and 1 billion pounds of lead will be added to the world's ever-expanding landfills unless they are recycled into useful products.
Always prepare your computer for recycling by erasing data from the hard drive. Some e-waste recyclers will scrub the data from the hard drive as part of their service. If this service is not available, there are software programs that will make sure that all of your data is permanently removed from the computer.
Visit these sites for more information on how to recycle your old computer and other electronic products:
Check out the Apple site for special pricing on new computers for college students, K-12 teachers or staff members, and homeschooling families.
HP also offers special pricing for students and educators.
Visit Consumer Reports for ratings and reports on most electronic products. You will need to pay a small monthly subscription fee to access Consumer Reports information.
Visit HowStuffWorks for clear explanations of, you guessed it, how things work, including computers.
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