My last article looked at a few simple recommendations for putting together a low cost hardware solution for your A+ lab activities, so now I’ll take a look at software. By software I generally am referring to operating systems, youe studies will mostly focus on maintenance and administrative functions that are built into operating systems, but will also look at general questions regarding things like anti-virus, anti-malware, and virtualization software. My hardware recommendation was to buy or build a system that would run Windows 7, the newest version of Windows listed in the A+ exam objectives. So, we’ll look at installing Windows on a physical PC first, and then a virtual one.
If you have built a lab PC, then you’ll need to have your Windows installation ISO on a DVD or USB drive. If it’s your first time installing an operating system from scratch, here is a guide for Windows 7, and one for Windows 8 (this one includes instructions on getting a USB drive prepped). Since I recommend that you do not attempt this (at least as a first timer) on your main personal computer and most definitely not on any kind of work production system, you might even want to just wing it without a guide, jump in! The Windows installation process is pretty refined at this point, and you should be able to get through it with relative ease.
An even safer way to experiment with Windows installation, and certainly any of the other administrative tasks that the A+ exams want you to know, is via a virtual machine. My personal recommendation is to use VirtualBox, remember that to run an OS like Windows well on a virtual machine, you’ll need a decent PC. Here’s a good walkthrough on installing Windows 8 to a virtual machine in Virtual Box. I recommend learning VirtualBox or another virtualization tool, not only because it’s a handy lab tool, but IT is trending towards virtualization and you should take any experience, however far removed from commercial use it may be, that you can.
The resource I was hoping to refer you to use for evaluation operating systems was Microsoft Technet, but I was disappointed, though not surprised, to see that Windows 7 is no longer available for download there, instead they have a 90-day trial of Windows 8.1 Enterprise. Now, you can make Windows 8.1 work for you, most of the tested functions lie with the same System and Control Panel paths. An example would be that you might need to use Ctrl+Q to bring up the search for your Command Prompt instead of simply navigating from the Start Menu to Accessories to the Command Prompt as you would in Windows 7. Windows 8.1’s menu that appears when you right-click on the Start button contains a lot of shortcuts that will be useful to you in your A+ labbing.
I did find a Windows 7 trial link, but I recommend to use extreme caution if you choose to download from the site, and make sure that you do not install any “helpful” add-ons they might offer you: Softpedia
Now that you’ve got Windows installed, what’s next? Well, start working through activities related to the A+ exam objectives. Some things that stand out to me to try include: partitioning a hard drive, creating new user/group accounts, tinkering with file and folder permissions, driver/firmware updates, and learning the command line interface. Only you know when you feel comfortable with a topic, so begin with walking through what you see in a training video or read in your guide, and then just try to experiment with different settings from there!
You’ll notice that in the 220-802 objectives that iOS and Android are mentioned, these questions should hopefully be very general (Note: I have sat the 220-701 and 220-702, not the current exams), hopefully your familiarity with whatever mobile devices you happen to own currently can see you through. There is a general trend I’ve noticed regarding A+ that they are attempting to make it more relevant in the dying age of the desktop PC by covering more mobile computing topics. If you experience a large number of smartphone or tablet computing related questions I would sure like to hear from you in the comments section!