Your computer has the potential to provide endless fun possibilities. Not only can you use it for great things like surfing the Web, checking email and paying bills — okay, maybe paying bills is not so much fun — but you can also attach very useful devices to it. The computer world refers to these as "peripherals," meaning anything attached to the computer beyond the power trio composed of the processor, the RAM and the hard disk drive.

So what?

Some peripherals fall into the obvious must-have category. These include your monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers (although some monitors have built-in speakers.) These peripherals connect to your computer via either a cable or a wireless option for the keyboard, mouse and speakers anyway — wireless monitors are far less common.) Like magic, and with the assistance of batteries, these devices communicate with the computer without wires using technologies called Infrared (IR), WiFi*, or Bluetooth®*. No wires = less clutter!

So we've got the must-have peripherals. But what about the "must have" peripherals — the fun stuff that can provide you with endless fun possibilities? Here's where things start getting more interesting.

Let's talk about digital cameras, printers, computer microphones, Webcams, MP3 players and joysticks.

Delving Into the World of Digital

Still using a 35mm or maybe one of those instant Polaroid* cameras? Sure, those are cool. But digital cameras have become an affordable and wonderfully flexible option. For instance, you can point and shoot, hate the picture, delete it, and never-have-to-deal with-it-being-forever-captured in the family photo album. You can even shoot short bursts of video with most digital cameras these days. And when you've finished snapping photos and movies, move them over to your computer in an instant — just hook the camera right up to your computer!

And just why would you want them on your computer? Well, you can:

Get Started With Free Photo-Editing Software

This software enables you to:

  • Email photos to family and friends around the world
  • Create an online photo journal or blog
  • Upload them to online services that actually print and bind your photos as a book
  • Alter the photos that gave Aunt Bertha glowing red monster eyes with one-click image editing software (yes, that easy)

You can even print the photos on your own printer. No travel required.

Think of the Printer as Your Personal Art Studio

No scoffing! The printer is a fantastic peripheral, not just for printing out your bank statements or that hilarious joke you found online. You can also print iron-on T-shirt designs (you can find special iron-on paper made for printers at your local office supply store), personalized greeting cards, stickers, refrigerator magnets, CD/DVD labels, photos, and so much more. Don't live limited to black and white. Print and play in living color!

Channeling Your Inner Rock Star

Karaoke is one of those marvelous inventions that can be painful to the ears, or launch your singing career as the next American Idol. No matter what tune or off-tune note you carry, having a simple computer microphone is a fantastic way to raise your voice for you and your neighbors to smile (or wince) at. And with free karaoke software online that you can download in an instant, you'll be channeling your inner Elvis in no time.

OK, Maybe You're Less Rock Star and More Chatty Cathy or Carl

Hooking a microphone up to your computer is still a great idea. Instant messaging or chatting online can be a fun way to communicate with friends and family and it's free. Add voice and video chat and you can see how your Aunt Bertha looks in her new "Elvis 4-ever" T-shirt while she talks about her unforgettable road trip to Graceland. With video chatting, you'll need a Web camera or Webcam, another peripheral device that hooks right onto your monitor like an all-seeing eye. And it's still free to communicate — only much more entertaining! You'll just need to download the free software.

My Computer = My Jukebox

The MP3 player. We see people walking around all the time with earbuds peeking out from their ears as they jam down the road of life. It's remarkable how you can store just about every piece of music you own onto a device that weighs less than a teacup. You can transfer records — yes, you read that right — 8-tracks, tapes, and CDs! Convert them all to MP3 using your computer! And getting all those old and new tunes on your MP3 player is easy — just plug it into your computer and the software that came with your MP3 player will do the rest.

You've Come a Long Way, Joystick

So you've been dying to try your hand at the latest computer game—or even old games brought back to life. Pong* or Space Invaders*, anyone? The joystick is one of those devices that will never go out of style no matter what year it is. And you can still enjoy it today on your favorite computer games, only these are actually in color.

And the joystick has gotten a bit of a makeover. They're no longer just a movable stick with a single button—no, no. These are more like what you would expect to see on a cyborg spaceship. And with all that game play, you'll understand where the joy part came from.

Why Can't Life Be All Fun and Games?

There are loads of different peripheral devices that can be added to your computer in addition to the ones we've discussed. Devices that will make your computer life easier, more fun, and more prepared. And most devices these days are considered plug and play, which means you can plug them in and immediately start using them!

Here are some other peripherals you might consider:

  • External hard drive — back up important files like your music playlists and photos.
  • Surround sound speakers — bring your entertainment experiences to life.
  • Computer projector — take that home movie and showcase it on your wall.
  • Mobile phone — import your camera phone pictures to your computer or synchronize your calendar.