Today a computer is a vital tool for any writer but to get the best possible value out of your investment, you need the right software. To help you choose, here's a run down on the programs we use at The Word Pool. But before you commit yourself to buying anything, make sure it will run on your machine. (Some very old computers struggle to run the latest, memory-hungry software and some software won't run on Windows Vista.)
With so many computer viruses around, it's absolutely essential that you run some sort of virus protection software and that you keep it up to date. Trying to manage without it is a false economy because eventually you will come unstuck and have to spend hours of valuable writing time sorting out your machine. At The Word Pool, we have now abandoned Norton Antivirus and use AVG Anti-Virus instead. It updates automatically every day, is free for personal users and not very expensive for business ones.
If you're using a broadband connection, you also need a firewall to prevent outsiders accessing your computer. This can be a software firewall within your machine or a hardware one built into your broadband router or modem. For extra security, you can have both but the exact choice will depend on your particular set-up.
Although there are other word processing packages around, Microsoft Word has become the industry standard. Even if you don't use it, you'll probably need to be able to send and receive files in the .doc format so check your software offers this facility. If it doesn't, you may be able to get round the problem by using rich text format (rtf) instead.
If you're not already using Word but would like to switch, it now comes as part of the Microsoft Works Suite. Alternatively, you might like to explore Open Office - I haven't tried it but it's supposed to be Word compatible.
When you're writing scripts, it's important to get the layout right. If you're using Word, you can set up the layout you want using Style to make the process easier. It works even better if you program the control keys so you can use one key stroke to apply the formatting.
If you have some money, you can invest in a copy of Final Draft which is widely used by professional scriptwriters. I use it myself and find it takes away the worries over layout, leaving me free to concentrate on the actual writing. It's well written and easy to learn but, if you do run into problems, there is a comprehensive help section on the Final Draft website. The same site also lets you download a demo so you can try before you buy - a worthwhile idea for such an expensive item.
Your computer can take all the slog out of producing end of year accounts. I would hate to go back to the using paper and pencil. It's possible to use a spreadsheet but you may prefer to use some simple accounting software. We use Quickbooks, but there are several others on the market. However, Sage is not simple so is best avoided unless you already know how to use it.