Sunday, December 24, 2006

Setting Up Your New Toy

Getting a new Windows XP computer for Christmas? The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro wants to talk to you about it in today's Fast Forward column. He notes that "with most new laptops or desktops, the work doesn't really start until after you first turn it on, thanks to the mix of obsolete or useless programs onboard." He then gives a list of things you should add to your machine to protect it, make it useful, and to enable backups. I'm not going to list everything, but here are some highlights:

  • Protect the Computer:
    • Turn on Window's firewall
    • Update Windows and third-party programs that are one or more versions out of date: Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader, Java, Flashplayer
    • Get decent anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. The ones on your computer will expire in a few months. Alternatively, download the Google Pack, which has this stuff.
    • Note that if you have a Mac, turn on the Firewall.
  • Make it Useful:
    • Download Firefox, and use it instead of IE. (Or, alternatively, Opera.)
    • Download Thunderbird, and use it for email instead of Outlook Express. (Or get both Web Browsing and Email in SeaMonkey.)
    • Upgrade Windows Media Player from version 10 to 11, and/or download Apple's iTunes, and maybe go get RealPlayer. If you've got a Mac, you can't play Windows files without something called "flip4mac" from Microsoft.
    • I'd add: if you don't absolutely need Microsoft Office, download for all your word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation needs.
    • Added Christmas 2006: If you look carefully at the sites you browse, you'll see that most of the ads aren't being served from that site. No, they belong to some advertising site that exists only to fill your web pages with garish graphical garbage. You can get rid of these. First, install the Adblock extension for Firefox or SeaMonkey. Then, find Mike's (another guy) Ad Blocking Hosts file and install it on your computer. Adblock stops particular sites/graphics from displaying in your browser, the Hosts file doesn't even let your computer find those sites. (Hey, it's Christmas morning. I did a better explanation of the Hosts file some years ago.) Note: I have not actually tried this on a Windows machine, but it works like a charm in Linux. Any Windows users out there who have tried this?
    • Delete all the trial versions of software you'll never need.
  • Back it up: get a big USB drive, or install backup software to write to DVDs periodically.

Needless to say, these are all good ideas, even if you are going to upgrade your computer to Vista when it comes out in a month or so — at which time you'll need to do all this again.

Funny, though, Linux-nay sayers are always telling us how hard it is to properly set up a Linux machine, that you need a tech support notice to get it working properly. Well, to you think Gran and Gramps, getting their first computer, are going to do all of the above without any help? Nope, their going to turn the thing on and start downloading viruses and Trojans and spyware (Oh My!) as fast as the CPU can push it out.

What's more, there is no central place to find all of that software. Yet every good Linux distribution has all of it readily available. Depending on your view of what's socially acceptable in a Free Software system, you might have to enable a repository or two, but you can get everything you need using yum, apt-get, or some variant, either from the command line or with a graphical interface. And, of course, Linux has all sorts of alternatives for every computing need.

Of course, some things just won't work. That's not a problem for Linux, though. That's a problem for certain companies that don't want to take your money. (No, Macsters, not even yours.) Write them, and tell them they are passing up a quick buck. (Incidentally, the advertisement shown on the page touting this service played just fine with Firefox and mplayer.)

Have fun with your new Windows machine. If, in the future, it gets bogged down, and your friends complain that they get lots of spam with your name on it, remember that there are alternatives.


Tony said...

Good mention of Flip4Mac. Telestream has a new DVD imaging app out now. Free in beta for a while: Check it out Also a blurb about it here
Also check out pict2icon, Gallerie, Unsanity FruitMenu and Appzapper....good useful programs.