TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: hardware needed for contract From:"Barbara J. Philbrick" <burkbrick -at- AOL -dot- COM> Date:Thu, 5 May 1994 23:07:45 EDT
CR> For the last year I have been contracting on site, and I want to
CR> start doing more work at home. I am looking for a new computer
CR> system but get more confused as to what I should buy that would
CR> give me the most flexibility to run lots of different software
CR> to accomodate clients' needs.
I can't really answer your questions specifically, but I'll try to give you
some information based on my
experience in the last years as a work-at-home contractor.
I believe that whatever system and software you buy, you will find work in it
(OK, maybe not a 286 with WordStar). I built my client base on a
WordPerfect/Ventura mix, but lately have been getting more and more work in
Word for Windows. I'm not sure there is one cure-all package - I know people
who keep themselves gainfully employed using InterLeaf (DOS and Unix),
Pagemaker, ASCII text only (she makes the client find a formatter), and a
word processor (the glorified typewriter, not the software). Pick what
you're best at and find your market.
Flexibility is good - buy everything with room for extra RAM, cartridges,
drives, and anything else you can
think of. However, I don't know about trying to cross too many operating
systems - you might bite off more than
you can chew, especially if you're not really comfortable with the equipment
and software. Again, stick with
what you know - it's hard to sell yourself if you don't!
I've just recently upgraded to a 486-40Mhz with 16 M of RAM. It really
depends on the software you're
running and what you plan on doing with it. I started my business on a 386-20
with 4M; it was OK for a
while, but the applications demand more and more.
You didn't mention it, but get a good quality Postscript laser printer. I
tried to avoid purchasing this (at the
time, $2000), but you'll wind up spending more time (=money in contracting!)
fussing around trying to get
things printed & not having prints when you need them than the cost of the
I'm also picking up a few lines from someone else (Dave?) that I'd like to
>For home work, I would lean toward a fast 486DX system, say 66Mhz or so.
> little extra for the possibility of a Pentium upgrade in the future, but
> remember they'll be selling Pentium boxes for $1,000 in a year or so. 16
> RAM if possible, 8 if the budget is getting tight. Hold out for being able
> upgrade to 32 meg with current chips, even if it means paying more.
Good advice if you're going with a PC. Can't help you with Macs or Unix
>As for brands, I've always had tremendous respect for Compaq engineering,
>can't really justify the extra price for a home system. However, I *would*
>for a major label such as AST, Gateway, Dell, etc. as opposed to "Fred's
>Computers." The bottom feeders use a constantly-shifting array of parts
>suppliers, sometimes resulting in subtle compatibility and reliability
>that are exasperating to deal with.
Also good advice. We read reviews in _PC_World_ and other computing magazines
that rate computers to
help us decide what computers to buy. They rated many on quality vs. price,
so you could get a good feel
for what the tradeoffs were. I think Compaq has lowered prices, making them
much more competitive.
>As for mail order vs local, I suggest this simple test. If you think you
could locate, remove and replace
>your video card or hard disk unassisted, (and wouldn't feel abused at having
to do so) you can handle mail
>order. If not, get to know your friendly neighborhood computer store. I
would temper this somewhat if I
>had experience with an on-site service plan. If they actually perform as
advertised, then anybody can go the
>mail order route; until I see it work, I'm skeptical.
Actually, I'm leaning toward the mail order route with good on-site service.
Your friendly neighborhood
computer store might be out of business. This just happened to me - I bought
my laser printer at LDI
Superstores because I wanted to be able to get it serviced quickly. Guess
whose laser printer broke two
weeks ago as LDI is having its going out of business sale?
Start learning everything you can about computers. You won't have the company
computer twink or computer service department to count on anymore. This means
knowing the hardware and software configuration. You'll be suprised how much
you miss that surly company computer guy (or gal).
> 200-300 meg hard drive minimum, unless you want to go for a removable
>like Bernoulli (for a consultant, I could see some *major* advantages to
Yep on the 200-300, and put Stacker on it (I can plug Stacker fairly
confidently - we've been running it on
two systems - one for a year and the other for four months - with more
applications than I would wish on
anybody and haven't had any problems). Before buying a removable system,
check with your clients and see
what they're using - you want to be as compatible as possible.
> If you go the fixed disk route, and thus have lots of your work
>and client data on your system, spring for a tape drive and some decent
>to go with it (not the crud they ship with the typical drive). Floppy backup
>cheaper, but the key to a successful backup program is to do it, and if you
>tapes you will, and if you have floppies you'll always put it off. If it
>your butt only once, it pays for itself.
Again, very true
>CD ROMS are neater than neat, but unless you're dependent on CD-based
>references, they go in the "nice to have" category.
Actually, if you could get one at some kind of discount for buying an entire
system, I'd include it. I'm
running Corel Ventura and CorelDraw 4.0 off CD-ROM, and it does save some
hard disk space. You can
wait til later, though.
>If you're doing paper docs, an oversize monitor is a must; it will pay for
itself in savings in time,
>aggrivation and printing. Color is not an absolute necessity unless you do
online work, but it is *really*
>nice to have. I've always been very impressed with the NEC Multisync
family, but if you're really tight-
>budget, go with a cheaper brand. HOWEVER take a good, long look at the
image quality first, and
>remember you're going to be staring at this thing for hours on end.
I picked up a Mitsubishi 20" monitor (and I love it) for $1200 (plus another
couple hundred for the display
driver). However, I did get by without it for a year and a half (but heaven
forbid that I ever go back to that 14"!). My husband's got one of the NEC
and they *are* nice monitors, but expensive.
>Two words on printers: Hewlett-Packard. They're reliable, they're
>state-of-the-art and they're universally supported. Shut up and pay the
>premium (I said this reflected my personal prejudices, didn't I?).
Sadly, I have to agree. I bought the Lexmark 4029 because at the time it was
the fastest, had the highest
resolution (600 dpi) and lots of upgradeability. However, it's harder to find
cartridges and service for, and
(because it's IBM) most things are expensive. The 4029 is a good printer, but
if I had to do it over again, I'd
get an HP4.
>If you print a great deal (for example: proofreading on paper) and have a
>volume of business, go for one of those personal Laserjets. If volume is
>and the budget is tight, think about an inkjet.
Nope - I'd get the laser printer - customers are more impressed.
I hope this helps. BTW - if you go on your own, better find out what all the
acronyms mean - computer
consultants are expensive and many don't know diddly-squat (IMHO).
CR> Any input would be greatly appreciated. If there is another,
CR> more appropriate list that I should be writing to, please let me
CR> know. ( I just tried to sign on to the consultants list from
CR> mcgill, but the address changed, and I don't know the new one.)