Relentless development in software, hardware, and the online world means living life in Beta with all its attendant problems. Each machine is different, and yet the Windows-based machines I’ve worked on for the last four months have all had the same trouble, and require the same steps to resolve it. Some of the problems result from the very first days that the computer was fired up, but use (along with spyware, adware, malware, viruses, and enormous software muck) only makes them worse.
Here are the steps that have worked for many Windows machines in recent days.
Step #1: Uninstall Norton products and uninstall McAfee products. These are free-to-try programs that usually come with the machine you bought from a big commercial manufacturer. You can also buy them off the shelf.
They are designed to block viruses, malware, etc., and there was a time when they were a lifesaver. But their corporate bureaucracies of developers became too big, with ever more functionality being added without a fundamental redesign of the underlying code.
The typical user gets a free trial with these things, so he figures: hey, I’ll give it a go. In time of course the companies begin to charge for these services.
That they charge is not a problem. The real problem is that they are way too big, invasive, and slow. They drag down your machine to the point that you can’t use it anymore. They are great for keeping certain problems from invading your computer. But what good is that if your machine doesn’t work right? After all, the best protection against online invaders is to unplug the machine altogether.
In any case, go to your Control Panel — Add or Remove Programs. Take every shred of these programs off your machine. This will take some time. Norton will often have two to three programs running. McAfee is the same way. Remove every bit of both, so that no product from either company exists on your machine. The advantage is that your machine will run vastly more efficiently and you won’t have to keep shelling out for these products.
Of course you need virus and adware protection. So what do you do?
Step #2: Install free AVG or free AVAST. I use the former but many people use the latter, so I’ve included both. These links will take you to free home-use editions. The commercial and corporate editions are costly. The profit model of these companies is rather ingenious. They are giving away home editions, with an awareness that employees also have computers at home and tend to test products on their machines. If AVG and AVAST work at home, employees go back to work and suggest to their admins that these programs be installed on their networks.
In any case, they are both very lightweight programs that do only what they are designed to do, and they do it with near infallibility. You will get quick updates and autoscans running in the background every day (if you accept the program defaults). Mostly you will never notice them. You will not be dunned for money. You will not have to manually install uploads. The whole cost is the download time, and that goes very quickly.
Once you do, you are now fully protected from viruses. Reboot and note that your machine runs about twice as fast already.
Step #3: Download Spybot Search and Destroy. This little tool has many impersonators, some of which are actually spyware, but it is overall the best tool available for immunizing your system and cleaning out the bad stuff from your machine.
Once you download it, you will need to take some other steps. First, download updates to the programs. The only one you really need are the detection rules. Second, run the “Search & Destroy” tool. It will scan your whole hard drive and memory. Once it finds the bad stuff (as few as 20 but as many as 500), click Fix these problems. Finally, go to Immunize. Immunize your whole computer against all bad products.
Reboot your machine. Already most all your problems are solved.
Step #4: Download the Firefox browser and use it. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which most people think of as “the internet button,” is the main source of invasion into your machine. You should stop using the Blue E as soon as possible. Firefox has a thousand times the functionality of IE. The tabbed browsing is indispensable, as are the thousands of possible extensions and themes, as well as the toolbar RSS reader that cuts browsing time dramatically.
As great as Firefox is, however, some people just can’t kick their IE habit, for whatever reason. If that is you, at least you should update your IE6 with IE7, which is still in Beta but it is a vast improvement over IE6. You can get it here.
Step #5: Delete any programs that you don’t use and don’t plan to use. Go back to Add or Remove Programs and take out strange stuff that came added to your machine when you bought it that you do not otherwise use. You can tell the commercial stuff by its flashy icons and names, such as Webblast or VideoMonster or whatever it is. Just take them off.
Step #6: Deal with your email. Many free-standing email clients are not suited to handle the sheer volume of new and archived emails that people have. Consider cleaning them all out and starting fresh. You can export your old emails to a disk or hard drive, or buy a nice external harddrive and put them on there.
If you use Outlook Express, please consider something else that is more robust, like the full Outlook program or Thunderbird.
If you are ready for a big change, consider going to all web-based email. The best solution here is, of course, Gmail. One solution for people who can’t let go of email programs is to forward your mail to Gmail, and then receive your mail using Gmail’s excellent POP system. Leave a copy on the Gmail server. This way if your system crashes, you always have a backup.
That’s it! Your machine should be vastly improved in every way.
(Please don’t write to tell me about the wonders of Mac [granted] or of the feasibility of end-user Linux systems [please!]. You aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know, so I’ll just delete your email.)