So much of today's computing technology is more automated than technology from just a few years ago. For instance, today's ISPs generally provide users with a media kit that automatically finds the telephone and automatically configures the user's PC to use the proper name-resolution servers and mail servers. Even without custom media, newer versions of Windows provide wizards that handle this type of configuration with far less effort than was needed previously.

All this automation is wonderful for someone who simply wants to plug in and turn on their computer, but for those users who want to learn how their system works, automation can make finding system settings and configuration information difficult. Also, the process of setting up a new computer—even from parts—is much easier today. Unlike motherboards of the past that used jumpers to configure certain settings, today's systems provide "soft" configurations.

So, what's a newbie to do? Because new machines are relatively expensive for the purposes of learning how a system works, a quick hands-on tutorial for Computer Technology Industry Association's (CompTIA's) A+ certification would be to purchase a used system (with installation media for the OS, if possible), take the system apart, and rebuild the system from the pieces. (A tougher test might be to put together a system that someone else has taken apart.)

On the software side, old games such as id Software's DOOM require a good understanding of IPX to set up and configure on a network. Fortunately, old games are inexpensive, and most of them perform well enough on today's systems for everyone except hard-core gamers—and even hard-core gamers might be surprised at how much better an old game performs on new hardware.

Still itching for more challenges? If you have Windows NT 4.0 server, open the Clients folder and find the MS-DOS client for NT networking. Try setting up a workstation with the MS-DOS client and have it connect to your server. For an added challenge, skip NetBIOS and try using TCP/IP. Interestingly, Symantec uses the same MS-DOS client networking stack technology for its Norton Ghost boot disks—and understanding this technology can help you if you ever have trouble using a NIC that isn't on the default Windows list.