University of Rome III - Faculty of Letters and Philosophy - Degree Course in Languages & International Communication - Modules taught by Patrick Boylan

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A question I hear frequently:

Click on the underlined words.

ANSWER A   (for students with no money for PC hardware or software)

ANSWER B   (for students with little money for PC hardware or software)

(Click on the underlined words.)



Dear Seen-the-light,

You don't have the money for a PC and all the software it takes to run one efficiently?


In conclusion, not having a PC at home is longer an excuse.   It's no longer possible to say: "I wasn't able to do that homework assignment based on web material because I don't have a computer" or "I didn't know there was an exam today because I didn't see the announcement on the Internet -- I don't have a computer."   With today's wide scale connectivity, you have the information you need all around you, wherever you are.

"OK, OK," you may object, "you've demonstrated that I have access to computers everywhere -- but that's not enough.   I don't know HOW to use them!!"

Well, then learn!   If you figured out how to use a cell phone, with all its complicated functions, then you can figure out how to use a computer.   Read the manuals; talk to friends; visit the computer lab and observe how the other students work; take a computer literacy course; participate in the PC-Help initiative we'll be organizing in our course!

"Yeah, that's easy to say, not to do," you might very well add.   "Because, you see, there's a second problem: I hate computers."

Well, that's understandable – at least, in a certain sense.   Learning to use a cell phone may have seemed to you to be easier because it was a more gratifying experience: a cell phone puts you into immediate, vocal contact with your friends and, in your culture, that's what counts.   Instead, the Internet offers you, for the most part, "less gratifying" deferred, written contact with strangers -- the kind of communication that books and other written texts offer.   So you have a problem, no doubt about it.   For you live in a society that has taught you to prefer live, spoken contact to the printed word.   (See the UNESCO statistics on the relatively small number of books read per year and newspapers read per day in Italy).   Moreover, if you are a woman (as most language students are), you have grown up in a society that has convinced you that "technical things" are best left to men.   And, with respect to men, that you should revere Leonardo Da Vinci the artist more than Leonardo Da Vinci the engineer. 

But now, as a university student, you are asked to contribute to changing that situation.   The effort you make upon yourself, in learning to like using a PC, is therefore your contribution to the cultural revolution underway. 



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Dear Seen-the-light,

You don't have much money for a PC and all the software it takes to run one efficiently?


    The University of Rome III is promoting the special offer made through the Ministry for Universities (MUIR) to regularly enrolled university students, which consists in special prices and cheap bank loans for the purchase of a portable computer.   (Portables are preferable to a desktop – they have become equally powerful and you can take them to the library, on a trip...).   For details of the special prices and loans, visit the site of the initiative here (formerly the initiative was called A cappuccino for a PC and originally PC's for Everyone, run by the consortium CISR.) The computer in question is an IBM-Lenovo portable, one of the best on the market.

    Alternatives?   Although IBM-Lenovo computers are Chinese, you can also by non-branded "Chinese" PCs even cheaper; for most students' needs, they are just as satisfactory -- if you buy from a store that guarantees help personally.   This is important: who will do the repairs or upgrades inexpensively, once the guarantee is over?   Big stores will not.   Small stores (and engineering students who assemble "Chinese" computers for you at home as a part-time job) often will.   These stores and individuals advertise in the want-ads (e.g.  Porta Portese) but, caveat emptor, you have to know how to distinguish the honest from the dishonest person. 

    Whichever PC you choose, make sure it comes with a modem to connect it to the Internet. 



    Great news! OpenOffice.Org(anization), managed by Sun Microsystems, is giving away its software suite (for word processing, spreadsheet calculations, drawing, making presentations and web pages)... FREE.   And, for the average student, I find this software much better than the equivalent Microsoft Office® suite (made up of: Word® - PowerPoint® - Excel® - Front Page®).

    What's the trick?   There isn't any -- at least, not for now.   Sun wants to create a "user base" (clientela); then, in the future, it may offer value-added services to a web-based version...  at a price.   But for now the software is free and the present version will remain free forever.   Note that the software is still under development, so there may be some bugs.   I haven't seen any, however, and in fact I find the product well designed and extremely reliable.   In addition, the OpenOffice suite is perfectly compatible with the Microsoft Office® suite (so you can exchange documents with people using Word® or PowerPoint®, for example); it's simple and intuitive; it's full of superior features (better integration, etc.); it's not vulnerable to the usual viruses (for example, the ones that attack Word®); and, last but not least, it occupies less space on your PC than the rival products.   I'm using OpenOffice to write the page you are reading this very moment -- and I have never seen an editor as easy to use.   The negative side?   The suite is incomplete: it doesn't have a database*, an Internet browser** or an e-mail program***. 


    Actually, OpenOffice has a simple "Bibliography Database" -- and that's all you'll need for a university paper or tesi.   (Want a real database?   I use AskSam: it allows free form entries [Access® doesn't], makes more refined searches, stores e-mail and .pdf files, etc.; price: 126). 


    You don't really need to get a browser, since all Windows® computers come with one: Internet Explorer®.   (But if you have a little money left, consider the browser I use: Opera.   It's much faster, safer, and easier than Explorer®, as well as more versatile and multi-lingual.   Andnow it's free!.    N.B:The young Italian translator of Opera has put up a site here. )


    It's not absolutely necessary to buy an e-mail 'client'; with your browser you can send and receive mail using FREE web services like Katamail or Interfree.   (Prefer to keep your mail on your PC?  In that case you do need a 'client'.   Opera, the browser, comes with one free.   Since I have lots of mail to manage, I use the more powerful 'client' PocoMail, with automated mailing lists; price: € 34.    Both Opera and Poco offer infinitely better virus protection than Outlook®)

    What does all this mean in practical terms?   It means that, thanks to OpenOffice, you can save a lot of money by buying an 'empty' PC -- that is, one without any software except Windows®.   The combination of OpenOffice plus the standard Windows® features will in fact give you almost everything you need -- the only extra software you will absolutely have to buy in order to use your computer efficiently is an anti-virus program (around €60 from: McAfee, Norton, or PC-cillin -- a MUST!!!) and a program to learn to type with all your fingers and without looking at the keyboard, for example Typing Tutor, €20.   (What?  No more money left?   Well, you can get a simple one for free>  here!!! ,   here!!  or  here).  

    To download the Italian version of the OpenOffice suite (for Windows), see:

    the Italian site. 

    The file is big (50MB) -- so, with a slow modem, downloading will take you 6 or 7 hours (all night!).   But, in monetary terms, that's a phone bill of only 4 or 5 euros with Telecom (or 3 euros with Tele+).   And if you know someone with a fast ADSL telephone line, you can download the file in a few minutes. 

    For general information about the OpenOffice suite (and for other versions if you want them: for example, the version in English or the version for Linux computers), see:

    the main U.S. site

    You will need to download separately the (free) dictionaries and spelling checkers, according to the language(s) you want.   A suggestion: don't try to download and install the dictionaries by yourself.   Once you have installed OpenOffice, download and run the following (free) program:


    It asks you what languages you want to have dictionaries for, finds them on the Internet, downloads them into the proper folder, and updates your word processor so that it can use the dictionaries both for spell-checking and for looking up synonyms. 


In conclusion, not having much money is no longer a reason for putting off the purchase of a computer.   Of course, you'll also have to face the expense of the accessories: a printer, a DVD-writer for backups, floppy disks, a surge protector, and manuals like Windows for Dummies and Internet for Dummies.   But these things all together amount to less than two hundred euros. 

Think of it this way: all the things we've mentioned as necessary -- the cut-price PC, the mostly free software, the accessories -- cost altogether less than 40 hours of language lessons with a private teacher or 120 hours (6 months) of lessons in a language school.   Your family would probably consider such things reasonable expenditures for your future, right?   Well, getting a PC is just as reasonable. 

For if you accept to put in the same time (from 40 to 120 hours) to read the manuals and get to know your computer, you'll have learned a language just as important as -- if not more important than -- the one you're studying at the University.   A language that will enable you to travel anywhere in the world: virtually, for pleasure, as of today; concretely, for a job, when you finish your university studies. 


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[N.B.  The prices and addresses
you see here were verified on:  23 Feb. 2006.]

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