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Lessons from the past

PC fixes'Micro Men', the recent BBC drama about the 1980s home-computing boom, was a wonderful reminder of how far technology has come in a short space of time.

Early scepticism about the potential market for computers seems incredible now that many homes have several PCs and laptops - as does the fact that British firms were once at the forefront of the PC revolution.

The programme, which starred Alexander Armstrong as the irascible Sir Clive Sinclair, got the PC Advisor editorial team talking about our own first experiences with computers. We also invited you to do the same in our forums and via an online poll.

What's interesting about the responses is that we all remember our first PCs with great fondness. The many quirks and limitations of our Amstrads, Commodores, Spectrums and pre-Pentium PCs inspire nostalgia, even though their clunky keyboards, low-resolution screens, pitiful RAM allocations and various operational idiosyncrasies, meant they were probably the worst computers we ever owned.

One plus point of becoming a computing enthusiast at that time was that it gave us the confidence to take a hands-on approach to PC maintenance. This is just as well; 30 years after computers first entered the home, manufacturers are still trying and failing to come up with a PC design that is as reliable and easy to operate as a TV. In the past few months we've seen the launch of the web-centric Ubisurfer and the Simplicity PC designed for users aged 50-plus. We're not convinced either is the holy grail of entry-level computing.

There's still no substitute for having a basic understanding of how a PC works. Being armed with the knowledge of how to fix it when it goes wrong can save us - and our friends and family - a fortune. And whether you're a 30-year veteran of PC maintenance or a relative newcomer, there's always something new to learn.

Our cover feature provides you with the tools to fix the most common hardware and software problems. Whether you're plagued by slow startups, sluggish performance or hardware headaches, our repair guide provides the answers.

In 30 years' time, you may look back on the days of reseating components and making subtle software tweaks with fondness; by 2040 the trouble-free home computer may be taken for granted. Until then, you'll need to get your hands dirty.

Chrome watch

Whether the PC of the future will run Windows, however, is another matter. While countless competitors who promised to challenge Microsoft's dominance of the desktop operating system (OS) market have come and gone over the past few years, one company has successfully taken on the Redmond giant in other areas.

Google competes with Microsoft in browsers, webmail, search and more, but until now the OS has been sacred. At the end of November, Google launched an OS of sorts called Chrome OS. Windows killer, the future of the mobile computer or just another hyped-up Microsoft competitor? Read our first impressions in the February issue of PC Advisor, on sale today.

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