Advice On Cleaning-up a Computer

Routinely I get asked what needs to be done to “clean up” a computer. My first reaction is “buy a Mac“. But when that doesn’t go over too well I usually have to go into a long explanation of use this app and run that, and so on, and so on. This is a rough list of ideas that I discuss with people to so that they can better prepare themselves for the ordeal of arming themselves against spy-ware, spam, viruses and the reality of coping with a M$ operating system.

Let me preface this advice with the fact that I am a proud Mac user (read: zealot) and the only experience that I have with this is when doing maintenance on my wife’s laptop where she uses Word & Mozilla almost exclusively. This does not make me an expert, only experienced (and a geek to boot).

My Recommendations:

First things first, don’t use IE (Internet Explorer). My personal favorite replacement is Firefox. In my opinion it provides almost no learning curve for those of you that use IE. It has all of the features that the average user wants, and has an incredible number of extensions that are available for those of us that want a lot more out of their internet browser. Firefox has one of the most useful features that everyone is interested in: Popup Blocking! And an incredibly useful feature that many uninitiated IE users wouldn’t be familiar with; tabbed browsing! Rather then going into some long and drawn-out explanation download Firefox, install it, run it and either press “control + t” or select File >> New >> Tab. Once you use it you will never be able to get away from it.. .ever. Additionally, Firefox has more extensive support for CSS & HTML, the languages that web pages are (primarily) written in, and because of this it displays web pages more correctly.

Here is an excellent article about switching from IE to Firefox. Download Firefox (Windows)

For those of you that are a bit more technically inclined: it is based on Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine that also powers Netscape, Camino and Mozilla. Plus
you can run firefox from a USB thumb-drive!

A List of cool & useful Firefox extensions & themes:

  • Sage– an excellent (basic) RSS / XML news aggregator. Personally for my RSS reading I prefer NetNewsWire (that I have hacked a little).
  • GoogleBar – an open-source duplication of Google’s toolbar
  • Adblock – blocks those annoying banners & other ads everywhere on the net
  • Firesomething – an amusing plugin that re-names the browser (e.g. : WaterArdvark)
  • Noia (Extreme) [Theme] – looks really cool, check it out.
  • WebDeveloper – Because that is what I do when I am not in Paramedic mode. An excellent tool that allows web developers to check their work for errors.

Other Mozilla applications

Spy-ware, Spam & Viruses-

Spy-ware – I recommend running 2 different anti spy-ware applications. BUY THEM, the added features are worth it. The two that I have had the best experience with are Ad-aware & Spybot Search & Destroy. They do different things but achieve the same endpoint. Set these to run automatically. In addition run the complete scan weekly (including archived file searches until you get a clean scan that does not inform you of any problems. Download Spybot , Download Ad-aware

Virus Scan – I have used both McAfee & Norton. Both work well, but I prefer Norton’s SystemWorks suite of applications. Make sure your virus definitions are up to date. Set you applications to check the definitions very frequently. If you don’t want to buy the applications you can download trial versions from both McAfee’s & Norton’s web sites free of charge. I recommend buying one of these.

For the More Technically Proficient

  • Disable autorun : autorun will automatically execute (.exe) files on removable & other drives.
  • Install ZoneAlarm : This is a firewall application.

Support the companies that make the products that you use. And remember that you don’t have to worry about any of this stuff if you switch to Mac!

Update: Brad Choate has posted a Mozilla Resource page on his site

Update: 5-27-2005 – I found this post by Dave Scoble that should help some also.