Suggested Setup for My PC

[updated 2016.9.6]

Some personal recommendations from the editor:

This is a personal listing of the software I usually install on Windows-based PCs which I use.  It may not be to anyone else’s taste, but it may be of interest to those looking for ideas on what might be useful to install.  YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

These are available in versions for Windows XP and Vista (sometimes the same version, sometimes different versions), usually 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista.

If the computer is my property, I always do a backup first. This is usually the first instruction in the manual, anyway.  Preserve the initial setup as it, at least, should be functional if not ideal, and it’s one place to start over if necessary.  Get a blank CD or DVD and do it before anything else.

Then comes the following:

Basic Settings

I open My Computer and select Tools, then Folder Options, then the View tab.

I check:

  • Display the full path in the address bar
  • Show hidden files and folders

and UNcheck Hide extensions for known file types as this allows me to see the real nature of potentially dangerous files (files that will run programs even though they look harmless — such as a picture file that really ends in .exe or something like that.

I also Display the contents of system folders and UNcheck Hide protected operating system files but those are optional if you never get into changing them.

Protection

My work computer has protection behind the campus firewall and the provided anti-virus.

Currently I’m using Microsoft Security Essentials on my laptop.  There are some other good freeware anti-virus programs out there.  Check this page and the posts for it.  You should only load one anti-virus — they fight each other if there is more than one.  Comodo offers a combination product free.

WARNING: Never, never, NEVER use a product from a strange popup window that offers to download itself to “fix” your supposed infection — it’s a scam and may actually be a virus or trojan infection itself.  These are “scareware” forms of malware.

I use at least one spyware/malware program (you can load more than one of these) such as Spybot and/or Ad-Aware (you can just get the free version).

Not all programs on a computer are necessarily up-to-date, and they certainly won’t stay that way.  Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI) will scan your computer and check for outdated software that may pose a security threat.  Select the personal version to use it for free.  I like FileHippo to check for other software updates.  Between these two free programs, I should be pretty well covered.  You can use both together.

SPECIAL NOTE: if Secunia keeps telling you that a program is out of date (Java, for example) when you already updated it and re-scanned, the old version may still be on your computer (as some programs just add another version, not replace the old one, Java being a prime example). Use Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs, and remove the oldest (lowest number) version(s) — all but the latest. Then re-scan with Secunia.

For a firewall for a computer connected to the Internet — if you feel you need one — there are several free programs.  Zone Alarm and Comodo (there are free and pay versions; the free versions can be selected) are both recommended often by reviewers.  Windows comes with a firewall now, but it’s generally considered pretty lightweight, and replacing it is probably a good move.  Only use one firewall.  Firewalls are a slight nuisance to train (allow this and check the box to remember this next time) but once you get them trained to your usual routine, they can keep an eye on anything sending or receiving that shouldn’t be.

Browser

Another point of protection is to use a browser other than Internet Explorer (IE).  You can — and should — have more than one browser, anyway, in case one has trouble doing something.

I’ve long used Firefox as my main browser.  It’s not always the fastest, but the updates and fixes for any problems or holes are done very quickly, and the add-ons are really great.  Also, it isn’t attacked by the bad guys as often as IE.

For add-ons, I always like to load:

  • Download Statusbar which is great for showing progress in your status bar and gives you options on handling downloads.
  • Forecastfox which I like to configure up in the toolbar line.
  • IE Tab which lets me assign those “use Internet Explorer only” sites to use the IE engine without having to leave Firefox (usually).
  • LastPass which lets me sync passwords securely from any browser where I install it.
  • PDF Download which isn’t the only substitute for slow, bulky Adobe Acrobat Reader, but it’s faster and smaller than Adobe and usually does the job.
  • Sage for my RSS feeds from blogs, news sites, etc.
  • Tab Mix Plus for better control of tabs in Firefox.
  • Update Notifier to tell me when updates are available for Firefox, add-ons, and themes.
  • Web of Trust (WOT) to warn me about dangerous sites.
  • XMarks which lets me sync booksmarks and more on all my browsers. You’ll need to install this once each (go to it with each browser) on each computer where you use it. Versions for Firefox/Pale Moon, IE, Safari, and Chrome.
    Note – do NOT use both XMarks and any other sync addon — they tend to fight and lose bookmarks.
  • Zotero can “help you collect, manage, cite, and share your research sources.”

I’m also partial to BookBurro for comparing book prices on sites using ISBNs.

Themes (the colors, general appearance, etc.) are personal, but you might want to try some different ones.  Remember that some of these might not work as well for you as others (some, for example, don’t work well with Delicious and some other programs as they show text in the popups in a pale yellow that’s hard to read).

However, lately I’ve also been using Google’s Chrome browser, which loads and runs a bit faster.  It has an updated version of BookBurro, too.  The big catch is that there is no Sage for RSS feeds, and I’m not that happy with the Google feed Reader — so I tend to open Firefox to read my RSS using the Sage add-on.

Utilities

I like the following free utilities anywhere I am:

  • Auslogics Disk Defrag Screen Saver is a neat way to defrag (gather pieces of files together for faster access) painlessly.  You can still interrupt it if you need to, but letting this run at lunch or while you’re away for a few minutes will speed performance without the hassle of stopping everything to defrag once a month or whenever.  Windows 7 will defrag itself if you keep your computer on all the time without a shutdown, but you can also do it manually.
  • Fences by Stardock, which let you organize your desktop icons by categories (hey, I’m a librarian, organizing is my life)
  • Evernote which lets you keep notes no matter which computer you use — this is a freeware alternative to Microsoft OneNote. HOWEVER this only allows two free places to use it.
  • Irfanview is a handy graphics viewer for pictures, photos, and such, which also lets you do some editing and change formats.
  • Jarte which is an enhanced WordPad alternate that can handle novel-length files, convert to .doc format if you like, but is faster and smaller than Microsoft Word or OpenOffice
  • LastPass (as above) is available for multiple browsers to handle logins securely.  It’s really handy if you use more than one computer, or smartphone, or fill in forms, and it’s unlimited (unlike Roboform or some other services).

General Software

Software for other uses is going to be determined by personal use.

Word processor and Office-type suite: LibreOffice, which is like having Microsoft Office Suite for free.  With the latest version, you can import Office Open XML (Microsoft Office 2007), Works, WordPerfect files and T602 documents also you can import WordPerfect Graphics graphical files too.  I’m a long-time WordPerfect user, but now I can still use all those old WP files without having to pay to update at intervals.  You can do word processing, presentation (PowerPoint), spreadsheets, draw, and even a database.

Foobar 2000 for music, with the Windows 7 Shell Integration addon to keep the Taskbar control it had in XP.  It sits on your Taskbar and mousing over it allows you to pause it or check what’s playing or several other functions from there.

That’s a basic list, subject to change as I find new “basic” favorites.

Windows 7 Options

Windows 7 has some nice features.  I strongly recommend getting to know and expand the use of the Libraries feature, to find all the files of relevant types (music, for example) anywhere on your system and bring them all into one place for that.

For desktop gadgets:
  This is “shift” and each part of the flag (red, green, etc.) has a function: shutdown, log off,     restart, switch user.  Elegant way of showing the most useful options.  There’s a “yes/no” confirmation and then it goes to work.

All CPU Meter  The All CPU Meter covers the CPU activity, the free RAM memory, and how much storage is used and how much still free.  It can also, if you install the Core Temp gadget (which goes in the Startup directory and then can be minimized), show the temperature on your CPU cores if you need to watch out for overheating.  You can also see how long it takes to settle down after booting up, which is always a lot longer than you think.

I also boosted the text size to 120% to make it easier for me to read.  This is an option, depending on your screen resolution.

Clipboard Manager  Clipboard Manager lets you have more than one thing on the clipboard, and choose which to paste where.  In this example, I have a couple of graphics of these gadgets as examples and it shows the size, which comes in handy.  It also handles chunks of text.

Longer Notes1  Longer Notes! shows a longer note than the Sticky Notes that comes with Windows 7.  Multiple notes are possible.

Weather by iMap  The weather gadget you prefer is probably a very individual choice.

I admit, I haven’t quite settled on one, so I’m trying different ones on different Win7 systems I use.  This one from iMap customizes to your stated location and seems attractive and functional.

Imp’s Drive Info covers my hard and other attached drives, even though I have multiple ones.

Your choices may be different, of course.

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