Free online computer tutorials from InPictures

I get a lot of requests from individuals on how to accomplish a myriad of tasks using popular software. I also get requests from individuals asking for help creating Web pages, or writing computer programs in a variety of computer languages. Now there is an unusual free resource that can give everyone detailed instructions on how to complete his selected tasks. While there are many free online help and tutorial services, what makes this one unusual is that it is mostly based on still images (screen captures), with only a small amount of text explaining each image.

This interesting service is freely available to anyone online from InPictures at inpics.net and only requires an Internet browser; all Internet browsers should work equally well. There is nothing to buy, download or install in order to use the tutorials. There are no animations, movies, videos or music, only a logical sequence of sharp black and white images, along with some text, that explains and demonstrates how to accomplish each desired task with the listed software.

According to the Web site’s creator, whose name is not listed on the Web site, “InPictures tutorials began as part of a research study we conducted for the U.S. Department of Education. The goal: to make it easier for people with learning disabilities to learn computer subjects. As part of the study, we created simple, illustration-based tutorials. Everyone who tested them — not just people with learning disabilities — said the new tutorials enabled them to learn faster and easier than conventional text-heavy books.” Since all of the images are situated on individual Web pages, the user can easily control the size of the images by utilizing the native zoom feature incorporated on most browsers. To zoom in with your browser, simply use the Ctrl+ or Ctrl- features (press the Ctrl key and the plus key simultaneously to enlarge the screen; Ctrl and minus zooms out).

The list of software and programming is not extensive but covers some of the most widely used titles, including Microsoft Office, Open Office (this will also substantially apply to Libre Office, an Open Office clone), HTML and CSS for Webpage creators, and the programming languages MySQL, PHP and Perl. The Microsoft Office tutorials cover both the 2003 and 2007 versions of Office and include Word, Publisher, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. While Office 2010 is not yet listed, a user needing help with Office 2010 tasks will likely find that most of the tutorials for 2007 will pretty much apply to 2010, although there may be some cosmetic and functional differences. Open Office users (as well as Libre Office users) will find the tutorials for Base, Calc, Impress and Writer comprehensive and easy to follow.

For those who would like to learn how to create Web pages using HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), InPictures covers HTML basics, site navigation and layout, online forms, uploading to a server and advanced layout techniques. For anyone who would like to learn programming, the tutorials for MySQL, PHP and Perl are clear, concise, and easy to follow, and are easy to comprehend because they avoid “geek speak” and incorporate a series of screen captures that clearly display the appropriate operations and functions.

Since I am typing this column using Word 2007, I decided to use the Word 2007 tutorial to demonstrate to myself the usefulness of the InPictures service. Clicking on the Word 2007 link on the left margin of the start page and opening the Word 2007 main page, the user is presented with a simple choice: either follow a sequential tutorial covering all of the material operations and functions of Word or manually select individual topics as a quick tutorial or to refresh the users’ knowledge about how to perform a specific task. The novice user would be wise to use the complete tutorial, as it provides a complete series of instructions on how to use Word. If users select individual Word tutorials, they can select from Word Basics, Long Documents, Special Features, and Advanced Word. The same four categories of tutorials can be selected from the top of any of the Word tutorial pages.

Word (2007) Basics is just what it says, and includes the most basic Word functions used, and includes new document creation, copy and paste, formatting words and paragraphs, bullets and numbering, page settings, spell checking, and page viewing. The Long Documents selections include guidance on how to format text with styles, find and replace functions, the use of tabs, and the creation of headers and footers. Many users of Word like to use some of the “Special Features” shown in the in Word tutorial, including columns, drop caps, the insertion and management of photos and other images, drawing and painting in Word, and the use of tables. The final section of the Word 2007 tutorial, “Advanced Word,” explains how to do a mail merge (create a series of personalized letters from a mail list), create and use templates, print envelopes and labels, count words, and create and insert a table of contents. A similar series of tutorials is available for other Office components (Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Publisher), both the 2003 and 2007 versions. Likewise, similar tutorials cover Open Office (and Libre Office).

For anyone who needs basic training or some occasional help with office software, the creation of Web pages, or common programming tools, the InPictures Web site at inpics.net may be a valuable, and free, resource.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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