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Issue #178: December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas my faithful geek minions!  I say that now, almost a week before Christmas, because by the time my next column comes out, Christmas will have come and gone.  I’m sure for many of you that will mean a new PC or laptop under the tree this year.  This week’s column is intended to help you start out on the right foot with your new computer.  You only get the chance to unbox and start playing with a brand new computer once, and while your computer may be new, fast, and error-free right now, I promise you that somewhere down the road it will be transformed into a bloated, error-riddled source of such frustration that it will cause you to write many vaguely-worded e-mails to your favorite computer tech columnist.  When that happens, if you have followed these tips, things will be far easier for both of us.

Okay, here are The Geek’s Tips for Long-Term Computer Happiness:

  1. Locate, obtain or create operating system backup/recovery disks.  You wouldn’t believe how often I hear someone say “My computer didn’t come with any disks.”  Well, I’m here to tell you that ALL computers (unless purchased from “Joe’s Backseat of My Car Computer Store”) either come with disks, or have the facility to create them from pre-loaded files.  At a bare minimum you can contact the manufacturer and they will mail you disks.  Regardless, I absolutely promise you that at some point you are going to want these disks, and that is not the time to discover you don’t have them.  Once you have them in your hand, put them somewhere safe, and then remember where you put them.  Tape a note to the computer indicating their location if you have to.
  2. Run Windows Update.  What’s that?  “Update” my brand new computer?  Why, Geek?  Well, because the computer may be brand-new to you, but chances are it rolled off the assembly line months ago, and the software it contains months before that.  New software updates come out weekly with everything from bug fixes to patches for security holes.  No matter how new your computer is, you need to update its operating system.
  3. Install security.  Almost all computers come with a trial edition of one of the big name Internet security suites, such as McAfee or Norton.  The trial inevitably runs out and you need to either purchase new coverage, or find something else to use.  The time to make these arrangements is now, while you are configuring your brand new system.  There are still a few good free security products around, but they are often limited to simple virus scanning.  For total protection you’re going to need to spend a little money.
  4. Remove unwanted bundled apps.  One way computer manufacturers keep their prices down is by loading “free trials” of various applications onto your computer, which are the computer equivalent of television advertising.  Most of these applications are either crippled versions of the full software, or are full versions that are time-limited to 30-90 days before they quit working.  There are also often a dozen or more games that many people just don’t want or need.  Don’t be afraid to remove any software apps that are hanging around just taking up space.

By following these tips, you should have fewer problems, and when problems do arise, you’ll be better equipped to solve them!  Have fun with that new computer, and Merry Christmas!

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