Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

… is the question I have been asked several times this year by parents and co-workers.

As usual, since I have too much time on my hands, I not only tell them what kind of computer they should get, but I also offer to help set it up in exchange for baked goods. I know I should up my tech support rates, but I am a sucker for pie and snickerdoodles.

Normally I would lean toward recommending a Mac (ease of use, rock solid reliability), but, sadly, Apple does not make a machine for under $1000 these days. That is more than any 12-year-old deserves. The best option for an upper elementary to middle school child I have found is a 12-inch netbook. Many of these computers should not even be called netbooks since they have considerable horsepower and come with plenty of features. They just happen to have a 12-inch screen and no optical drive. Asus, Acer, and several other companies make good machines for around $300.

How about setting them up? I have three steps for setting up a home machine that earn me my snickerdoodles:

1. Clear off all the junk. Most computers today come out of the box loaded down with all kinds of things: games, backup utilities, antivirus, and other stuff that is usually either useless or redundant. Why uninstall the included antivirus and backup utility? Windows 7 already has a solid restore option built in. Also, as soon as the trial version of your antivirus expires, you will have to install a free option anyway (like the fantastic Microsoft Security Essentials).

2. Install needed programs. I could go on and on about the individual programs that work best for new computers. But I won’t. Instead, just go the Lifehacker Essential Software page and run their downloader. Even if you are not getting a new machine, this is a great site to check out: a company called Ninite created a service that allows you to pick the best free software on the market from a list just like a menu. Run the installer and everything gets put on all at once! It turns what is normally hours of installations into single, 20-minute install. Need to update? Run the installer again and it makes sure you have the latest version of everything.

3. Back up. For most machines, you would need half a dozen DVDs to backup your system and create a restore disk. Save yourself some time and buy an external hard drive to back up your drive. Treat a computer like a house; have an emergency plan and create a kit of backups and disks to get your files off and restore your machine. My only wish? That Microsoft would let you easily make a restore disk on a thumb drive and not a CD. It would make restoring a netbook a lot easier. Apple has already done this, giving people their restore disk in the form of a thumb drive.

Another thing: You might want to install a remote access program like join.me so that if your little brother/cousin/nephew/grandma needs help, you can see what is on their screens and walk them through any problems they might have.

As for me helping you? Pecan pie is my favorite.

Comments on: "“So, Mr. Briggs, I’m thinking of getting my kid a laptop for Christmas…”" (1)

  1. […] the lowly netbook, an under-powered computer that does internet, word-processing, and little else. I’ve mentioned that, while weak in terms of performance, they allow students to get easy access to much-needed […]

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