7 Steps to Get Your New Computer Running Right

By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, December 20, 2007

The consumer electronics business can craft products that can be taken out of the box, turned on and properly used without a glance at a manual, but the home computer still isn't among them.

It's not that you can't get a computer out of the box and online quickly -- but without the right configuration, it will be less secure and less useful than it needs to be.

Setting up doesn't have to take vast amounts of time. But often the problem is that much of it isn't intuitive -- and the how-to details that ought to be in a manual get left out.

So I'll try to fill in those blanks.

Step 1

Your first order of business has to be securing the machine from online attack. The Internet abounds with crooks looking to hijack your computer with some virus, worm or Trojan horse program.

Protecting a Windows machine involves activating any security software bundled with the PC so it can download updates to spot new viruses. You may need to register an e-mail address with the security vendor. No matter how annoying this is, get it done first.

You can always switch to a better security program after the first month or two at no cost because most new PCs come with three months of free security updates.

Apple's Mac OS X has seen only a handful of malware attacks, none successful, so you don't need to buy a security-software suite. (Really. Download the free ClamXav program -- http://clamxav.com-- if you want, but so far it has only helped stop Mac users from forwarding Windows viruses by mistake.)

But Macs do arrive with an important line of defense left open: firewall software to block online worms. To activate it, click the "System Preferences" icon in the dock at the bottom of the screen, click its "Security" icon, click the "Firewall" heading and then click the button next to "Set access for specific services and applications."

Step 2

The next step is to download any available security updates. In Windows Vista, click on the "Start" menu, click "Control Panel" and then click the "Check for updates" link. On a Mac, go to the Apple-icon menu in the top left corner and select "Software Update." Leave the computer alone until it installs these patches.

Step 3

But wait, there's more! On a Mac or a PC, the Adobe Flash software that displays those nifty animated elements on many Web sites most likely needs updates. Go to Adobe's site for the latest version: http://adobe.com/flashplayer. Windows users will also need to hit http://java.com and http://apple.com/quicktime for updates to the Java and QuickTime software many Web sites employ.

Step 4

After you've added all these updates, you can get rid of some unnecessary programs. Most Windows machines arrive loaded with junk programs that mostly waste space.

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