Every couple of months, I get asked to help someone pick out and set up a new computer. Here are my opinions on the kinds of things most of us need in a home computer. It’s the starting loadset I put on my kids’ computer. I think it’s secure and functional enough while also keeping costs as low as possible. I’d be curious what thoughts or other suggestions you have.

  • Operating system – Macs are fun but they don’t have the market share. Linux is great for the tech-savvy but not for the rest of us. That leaves Windows, buggy as it is. And Windows 7 is about your only option right now. Luckily, it will come pre-installed on the machine. Set a password on the machine, though.
  • Anti-virus – I don’t have especially strong opinions about which one to use as long as you have one and keep it current. I’ve been using AVG which was free and has been good enough, I think.
  • Patch management – I am a big fan of Secunia PSI. It’s easy to use and can be set on autopilot for the most part.
    The Windows updates should be set to automatically load themselves. (For most of us, the risks of running unpatched outweigh the risks of a hostile “patch” installing itself.)
  • Firewall – Again, have one. Which doesn’t matter that much. A wireless router that’s properly locked down will serve as a hardware firewall.
  • Web browser – I really like FireFox with the following add-ons. Adblock Plus, Image Zoom, NoScript, SearchPreview. It resolves many (though not all) browser vulnerabilities.
    You can’t uninstall IE but you can kill all the IE icons and set Firefox as the default browser.
  • Email – A free account with Yahoo, Gmail or one of their competitors is good enough. You’ll be able to piggyback on their spam filters and will have much better data backup than if you try to do it yourself.
  • Word processor, spreadsheet, etc – I recommend OpenOffice. It’s as capable as MS Office but hundreds of dollars less and there are far fewer security patches to manage. And unless you are using really esoteric spreadsheet functions or advanced formatting, it’s fully compatible with MS Office docs.
  • Adobe reader, flash, etc – You need to load them to read many things on the internet.
  • Google Earth – just because it’s sooo cool.
  • All the rest of that demo software – Go to the Windows Control Panel, find Add/Remove Programs and delete all that unnecessary garbage. I was reluctant at first, thinking that I might someday want to try the program but the software brings vulnerabilities and patching requirements that are impossible to keep up to date. Kill it all. Buy what you want once you really need it.

I also strongly recommend that everyone create a “computer maintenance” folder where you keep track of what you’ve and what you’ve loaded on the computer. The list doesn’t have to be perfect but the more you can record, the easier it will be when your niece comes in to update the computer.

So what’s missing from that list? I have to admit that I haven’t yet found a picture-management program that I think is worth the money. And I’m not completely happy with my data-backup routines. Any suggestions?

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