Your Shiny New Toy Needs Attention

Sunday, December 24, 2006; Page F03

If only the some-assembly-

required phase of computer ownership ended when you'd figured out what plugs go where, a new PC would be no harder to set up than a new DVD player -- not that manufacturers should take any pride in that accomplishment.

But 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.

Here's how to go about fixing all that.

? Protect the computer. This is the important part -- if your computer gets hit by a virus, it won't just be your problem. The virus will probably add friends' e-mail addresses to spammers' mailing lists, then broadcast copies of itself.

Windows XP now comes preset to block the worst online threats. Its firewall program stops Internet break-in attempts and its automatic updates ensure you're not missing important fixes. Don't stop Windows from doing its job. No matter how long the first round of patches takes -- including one entirely new program, Internet Explorer 7-- let it grind its way through.

Then update the other major programs that display or play data off the Web: Adobe's Reader ( http://www.adobe.com/reader/) and Flash Player ( http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer), plus Sun's Java ( http://www.java.com).

If the prospect of installing anything else makes you ill, skip the rest of the download advice here and get the free Google Pack: http://pack.google.com.

Otherwise, read on: Your new computer probably only includes a month or so of virus protection. Pay for a year's subscription or be ready to switch to another anti-virus tool before the free coverage lapses. (The free AVG is an excellent alternative: http://free.grisoft.com.) For spyware protection, get Microsoft's free, straightforward Windows Defender ( http://www.microsoft.com/windowsdefender).

If you use a Mac, your risk is far lower, but you still have some work to do. First, turn on your Mac's firewall -- inexplicably, Apple still leaves this off. Select "System Preferences" from the Apple-icon menu at the top left of the screen, click on the Sharing icon, then the Firewall tab, then the Start button.

Then, while you have System Preferences open, select its Software Update icon, then click the checkbox next to "Download important updates in the background." Finally, grab the latest version of the Flash Player at the Adobe address listed above.


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