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By Woody Leonhard/Windows Secrets
When you’re the designated alpha geek for your family, friends — and maybe the office, too — you know certain duties come with the territory.
One of those duties is setting up new PCs. Here’s my quick-and-easy checklist of tasks to do it right.
It usually starts out with something like this: “Hey, I just got a new PC! You know all about ’em — could you help me set it up?”
If you’re lucky, the invitation comes attached to a satisfying supply of leftover turkey sandwiches, pecan pie, and cold beer; if you aren’t so lucky, it’s take-out pizza and warm soda. But whatever the inducements, you know full well you’re on the hook.
You could easily write a book about setting up Windows 7. (Come to think of it, I have.) But after setting up a hundred or so Windows 7 PCs, under a wide variety of circumstances, I’ve developed some specific steps to make setting up a new Win7 system as painless as possible — a sanity-saving checklist, if you will.
So the next time your Aunt Gertrude invites you to help her — or your boss calls you into her office to fix the mess left behind by the corporate IT guy — take these seven steps to a well–set-up machine.
1 – Get rid of the pre-installed junk software
PCs ship with tons of useless software. If the friend you’re helping has played with her new PC for more than an hour or two, chances are good it has even more garbage installed. Before you try to do anything else, defenestrate (to use my word of the day) the junk.
Begin a thorough cleaning of a new PC by going into Windows 7’s Uninstall or change a program utility. Click Start, Control Panel; then, under Programs, click Uninstall a program. Now sit your friend down next to you and decide whether any of the more questionable programs are absolutely essential to her future happiness. Those that are not — zap ’em.
And while you’re at it, get rid of the trialware; she’s likely to end up paying for apps she doesn’t need.
Next, remove all the space-wasting programs preinstalled on the PC, starting with the devils you know — such as manufacturer-specific utilities, unwanted browser plug-ins, and other digital detritus. Then take a few minutes to download and run PC Decrapifier (download page), a remarkable, free-for-personal-use utility that roots out and destroys the most common offensive programs. PC Decrapifier is particularly good at finding stubbornly attached pieces of unneeded antivirus programs.
2 – Free does not always mean useless
If your cousin Bill’s new PC came with a so-called free antivirus program preinstalled, get rid of it. (The exception to this rule is Microsoft Security Essentials. Fred Langa weighed in on the superiority of MSE in his Sept. 16 column in the paid section of the newsletter.) Antivirus companies pay computer manufacturers big bucks to install trial versions of their software on new PCs. These apps are usually good for a few months, and then you have to pay to keep them current.
Once you’ve removed the trialware AV app, install Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s free for personal use or for use in companies with 10 or fewer Windows machines. MSE is fast, very effective, and unobtrusive; and best of all, it never begs for money.
If your cousin has already paid for a different antivirus program, tell him to wait for the subscription to run out and then replace it with MSE. One final — and extremely important — point: make sure you download the real Microsoft Security Essentials (download site), not one of the cleverly dressed malware fakes Fred discussed in his Dec. 2 column.
3 – Change Windows settings for safety
Windows 7 has a handful of default settings that drive me nuts. Your opinion may differ, but at the very least you should consider these changes:
Show filename extensions: In all my books, I rail against Microsoft’s decision to hide filename extensions by default. The ‘Softies argue that neophyte users don’t need to see the .txt on a text file or .doc on a Word document or .xlsx on an Excel spreadsheet.
But in my experience, not showing filename extensions leads to all sorts of confounding behavior: errors such as accidentally naming a file incorrectly — mystuff.txt.doc, for example; running an unsafe or unexpected program — double-clicking on iloveyou.txt.vbs, for instance; or making their files difficult for other people to open — such as sending XL2007sheet.xlsx to someone using Excel 2003.
To make Windows show filename extensions, click Start and Documents. Next, click Organize in the upper tools bar and choose Folder and search options. Click the View tab and uncheck the box marked Hide extensions for known file types. (While you’re there, consider checking the Show hidden files, folders, and drives box.)
Create a user account: Most people get a new PC with just one administrator account, typically with a name such as Admin, Owner, or even something silly such as Satisfied Customer. Whatever it’s called, this default admin account usually doesn’t have a set password. You know the dangers of unrestricted system access, but many PC users don’t.
Give them a leg up on safe computing by first assigning a password to the default admin account (it doesn’t have to be anything fancy). Then, set up a new account — under the user’s name — that is set to the more restrictive Standard user security level. You can add a password for that new account, too, or create additional accounts — whatever the situation dictates. Give your friend the password to the admin account, but emphasize that only the standard account should be used.
Consider turning off Automatic Updates: I always get a flood of hate mail when I make this recommendation. If your Aunt Gertrude doesn’t understand Windows security and fears that winning a game of solitaire will make her PC blow up — fair enough — she needs to have Windows Automatic Update turned on. If a PC is likely to run unsupervised for a while, it should get automatic updates, too.
But most moderately alert PC users are capable of regularly checking whether the monthly Black Tuesday, er, Patch Tuesday updates are safe to install. Excellent information on the latest patches can be found in the Patch Watch column of the paid section of Windows Secrets, on my AskWoody site, and in many other sources. Give the recommendation that it’s better to apply patches when the user want to — not when Microsoft first rolls updates out the chute, sometimes to ill effect.