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Computer Consult: More "dumb" questions smart doctors ask


Stop feeling like a computer illiterate: Plug these gaps in your cyberknowledge.


Computer Consult

More "dumb" questions smart doctors ask

Stop feeling like a computer illiterate: Plug these gaps in your cyberknowledge.

Rosemarie Nelson

Have you ever said to yourself, "I wish I knew more about my computer"? Well, your machine is willing to tell you about itself. An immensely helpful icon on your desktop—aptly named "My Computer"—sits prepared to divulge a wealth of cyber-information. You just need to click on it.

That's what we did to get answers to some of the questions below. Although the answers assume that you're working in Windows 98, the advice generally holds true for Windows 95 and Windows XP, as well. Please note, though, that with Windows XP, "My Computer" isn't a desktop icon. Rather, it's one of several folders that appear when you click on the "Start" button in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

Q: Is there an easy way to find out what version of Windows is running on my PC? It's very frustrating when someone at a computer help desk asks me for this information and I can't remember it.

A: Click your right mouse button on the "My Computer" icon. Once the menu window appears, left click on "Properties." You'll see several tabs. The "General" tab tells you the Windows version at the top of the window.

At the bottom, incidentally, you'll see how much random-access memory, or RAM, came with your machine.

Q: How do I know if I'm close to running out of space on my hard drive? I've loaded a zillion programs on my computer, and I wonder if I'm pushing the limit.

A: Again, visit "My Computer," but this time, double left click on it. You'll see a window full of icons, one of which is labeled "(C:)," as in C drive or hard drive. That's where your programs reside.

Right click on the C-drive icon and left click on "Properties." Here, the tab marked "General" states what percentage of your hard drive is occupied by data and what percentage is free. You're generally on safe ground if at least 30 percent of your hard drive is unencumbered. If less space is free, you risk being unable to open up multiple windows and large files, or to add new software.

Q: My teenage daughter tells me to be very careful about opening executable files that I receive as e-mail attachments, since they could be viruses. What's an executable file, and how do I know one when I see one?

A: Your daughter's advice is sound. An executable file is one that your computer can execute to launch a program or perform a command. You can spot one by its file extension—those letters that come after the period in a file name.

A Microsoft Word document, for example, ends with "doc," as in "annualreport.doc." A common extension for an executable file is "exe." Other executable files end with the likes of "bat," "pif," and "com." The trouble is, new computers are programmed to hide file extensions. However, it's easy to change this default setting.

Double left click on "My Computer," click on "View" in the top menu bar ("Tools" with Windows XP), and choose "Folder Options." Once you're there, select the "View" tab to see "Advanced Settings." Under "Files and Folders," uncheck the setting called "Hide file extensions for known file types." From now on, the entire file name will be viewable, and you can keep your eye peeled for "exe"s.

The author is a computer consultant in Syracuse. Computer Consult is edited by Senior Editor Robert Lowes.


Rosemarie Nelson. Computer Consult: More "dumb" questions smart doctors ask. Medical Economics 2002;3:24.

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