There are 5 basic types of applications you just have to have to keep a Windows machines running safely. My philosophy on software is simple: Do one thing, do it well, do it fast and do it free.
- Anti-virus: http://www.free-av.com/ . Let me just say this to you - do NOT use norton, do NOT use McAfee. The truth is that ALL virus scanning programs subscribe to the same list of virus definitions provided by CERT. Norton and McAfee are just a lot of slow bloated, unmanageable junk sitting on what should be a lean clean inoculating machine.
- Malware protection: Spybot S&D and HijackThis. Spybot is a first rate malware remover. Hijack this is particularly strong against a kind of software known as a root kit. In SpyBot, you can detect spyware, innoculate against a lot of infections and you can even use it lock your registry so unknown programs won't be able to make modifications without your knowledge. If you use Internet Explorer (and believe me you really, really should NOT be using internet explorer), it also has a toolbar protector.
- Firewall: Comodo. Let me tell you a secret - the MS Windows firewall is incredibly weak and really is the lowest quality firewall you can use and still have it work. Now to be honest I don't use Comodo much because my router has a firewall built in. I suspect most of you have a router so hopefully this will be a moot point.
- Junk removal/Integrity Checking: CCleaner. This program keeps your system free of cruft and ensures your registry integrity. Basically your registry is a huge hierarchal database of things your programs want to know about (and thing your programs want to hide from you). The bigger it is and the more useless junk that is in it, the longer it takes to search for information and so the longer it takes to load applications. CCleaner also comes with a program uninstaller.
- Startup Control: StartupCPL. There are at least 6 different places programs can stick information to ensure they start when you log into windows - it's not just your startup folder in your start menu. StartupCPL will place a new icon called startup in your control panel which gives you the ability to easily turn on and off any applications that are trying to start themselves. You know that little set of icons on the bottom right of your screen near the time? Those are things that probably started themselves when you logged in. Your office applications, your antivirus, your printer, your audio rack...a lot of things you don't necessarily need to have running. The more of them there are the slower your computer will run. Look you just don't need to have a quick open for Microsoft office on all the time unless you're working in an office incessantly opening documents. Turn them off!
Ok I want to give you a few more tips for safe / useful computing. There are probably another half dozen programs I'm going to strongly recommend to you but before I do that I want to try to convince you of something. You should never ever use Internet Explorer. Warning: I'm about to rant about why I think you should not use Microsoft products. If you want to skip the rant then take these two bullet points from it and then skip the next paragraph.
- Internet Explorer is deeply insecure
- MS Products are not meant for usability as much as for claiming market share and so they aren't very user friendly.
My friend Todd suggested I recommend some faster, leaner browsers to you besides Firefox. You may check out Opera or IceWeasel.
Ok, now I want to just recommend some very useful tools to you.
Process Explorer: Do you want to know what all those processes are that run on your PC? You'll love this application for doing just that. Mark Russonovich - the author of this program - was so awesome and had such a deep understanding of how Windows works that Microsoft hired him to teach them about how Windows works. Now that is freaking cool. He's a Tech Fellow at MS now.
EndItAll: This sweet little utility will force shut down any of those pesky applications who just won't do it themselves. Sometimes an app just won't respond or has received protected status from Windows to prevent shutdowns (you know like spyware?). EndItAll doesn't care about such sillyness and will put those processes in the grave where they belong until you are ready to run them again.
KeyPass: This program is a pretty decent password safe. You have one password to enter this program and then it maintains all your other passwords. It'll randomly generate them for you, tell you they're out of date and in some cases will automatically log you into websites. You never actually have to know any of your passwords if this is the only machine you use because you can just copy and paste them. If you ever have logged back onto a site you haven't used in 2 years and wondered what your login info was then you will understand the use of this application.
FoxItReader: Todd also suggested I recommend this one to you. You know how Adobe Reader is super slow and adobe in general is a lot like Microsoft in terms of how much they loooove their customers? Well this is a very fast and free replacement for Adobe Reader - use it to check out PDFs.
Well I have a lot more to recommend but the more I recommend the less you will use - information overload maybe? If anyone is interested I can also make good recommendations for data backup automation, cryptography, safe hard drive wipes or really just anything.
So in conclusion, install at least the first list of programs and use them. Please install Firefox and at least test it out. Try the next few applications if they suit you. Also, here is a bullet list of tips to remember.
- Do not run 50 programs on startup or keep them in your system tray. You probably do not actually need Microsoft Office or your Print Manager to run 24/7 in the background. Do you really print 24/7?
- Do maintain and hopefully lock your registry.
- Do not pay for commercial versions of these products because they are generally inferior.
- Do not use Norton or McAfee - they are horrrrrriiibbbbleeee.
- Care about what is actually running on your machine - it's not as hard as you think to learn about the basic feeding and care of your computer. Think of it more like learning how to change your own oil in the car. No one says you gotta do it - but it's useful to know.