More than meets the eye

MP3s and the rise of Napster may have grabbed plenty of headlines, moving digital music into the spotlight, but is this emerging market just about pumping PC bass and piracy? There is more to this digital revolution than meets the eye, and it all starts at home.

Many moons ago, one of my first jobs was in a big city office, with a big city view, over a big harbour. There were lots of staff and a tea lady who gracefully bumped her way from one desk to another. Tea, coffee, biscuits?

Computers were in the work-place, but as administration tools. Secretaries, personal assistants, accountants, human resources all had a personal computer on their desks.

These PCs were really used as glorified typewriters. Bring up a new document, type, change the address, save and print.

Slowly, the PCs moved from residing solely on the desks of the personal assistants to the core staff who worked there, managers through to juniors. Despite the fact that, traditionally, these staff had worked with ink, 6B pencils and paper, hunched over drawing boards, they soon moved into the world of snap guide lines and 3D modelling.

All within the space of a few years.

As the changing use of PCs occurs in the workplace, so it does on the home front. More and more people are buying PCs for home use.

Perhaps it's for the kids to do their homework, or you might have started bringing those tedious marketing reports home to work on. Now the kids play games, you manage the mortgage payments, nanny and pops e-mail their grandkids, or even chat online. But the humble home PC is moving beyond this realm of use, too.

I don't think many of us ever envisioned (fantasised, yes) having a photographic or music studio at home.

The reality of building or even converting the bathroom to a darkroom, or setting up a four track in the spare room, rarely ever happens expect for the dedicated. Now, you don't need to bother.

Music recording is just one of the domains where the PC is coming into its own, and it doesn't have to be a top of the range model, either.

While MP3s continue to grab the spotlight, there is more to putting music on your PC than downloading or listening to it. With the aid of software, some of it free, you can even revive and preserve your personal archives.

Hands up - how many of us have a healthy collection of vinyl or tapes? Many of my friends become ecstatic when a record player comes their way, or they get around to fixing the needle on the home stereo. Out come the beers as they kick back and reminisce to favourites they grew up on. Many are unavailable on CD.

Or, what about those tapes you carefully recorded for a road trip, or from the Three Hours of Power on Triple J five years ago? Threadbare from over-use, the dusty TDK cassette reminds you of your student years and you can't stand to bin it.

Or maybe you are a budding muso who wants to get your band's name up in lights - sending a demo into the Unearthed competition. Take a recording at your local gig, or in the garage, and convert it onto your PC, and mix away.

This month we have expanded PC World's popular Here's How section to encompass two new topics - Music and Graphics - in response to growing reader interest in these areas.

Many of us don't have the time to dabble in all the facets of our PCs, whether it is designing a Web site or e-mailing the digital party snaps to friends, or even simply to bone up on everything we wish we knew or could do.

Starting this month, these new sections will walk you through the basics, whether it is reviving your record collection, or getting your head around graphic file formats, step by step. And, as always, we will endeavour to add any software referred to in the tutorials to our cover CD, making the process of getting up and running - as well as trying your hand at new PC pursuits - as simple as possible.

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Amanda Conroy

PC World
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