Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Computer Gifted

Planning on getting a new computer for the holidays? Here are a few things to consider.

My recommendation for any Windows-based computer setup is to immediately do the following:

  • if you are comfortable with the pre-installed antivirus solution your vendor has provided, enable it immediately, and make sure you keep an eye on the expiry date. Expired or not updated antivirus software won't protect you! Write the expiry date on the kitchen calendar, right away!
  • if you don't like paying a regular fee to keep your computer safe, download a free antivirus, like AVG Free Edition or Avast!, and keep it updated regularly.
  • install a spyware protection tool, like Spybot S&D; these aren't always perfect, but better to at least have the fix handy if something does crawl inside your computer's virtual innards! Spybot's TeaTimer can be a pest while installing all your new programs, but it can be disabled while you put everything you want on your new PC.
  • when connecting directly to the Internet (through phone modem or directly to a cable or DSL modem) always enable at least the default Windows firewall and pay attention to the warnings it gives. Another good option is to use the free version of Zone Alarm.
  • never open attachments in your email without verifying with the person that sent it that they meant to send it -- thousands of viruses, trojans and worms are lurking out there, trying to get into your computer.
  • if your computer doesn't come with a reinstallation DVD or CDs, find the utility that makes a backup of your installation and use it right away. You do not want to try find this after a hard drive glitch makes your computer unbootable. Once you have your install media, put it away in a safe place where you will be able to find it later. Much later.
  • unless you're ready to fork over a couple hundred more dollars, don't get used to the trialware installed by default on most computers; uninstall it right away! Saving your documents in some new format can be difficult to fix or retrieve when the software stops working at the end of the trial period.
With WalMart and Dell now offering Linux-based computers directly to the public, you're more likely than ever to get a PC with Linux as a gift. Or, if you have a Linux geek in your life, you may end up with both Windows and Linux (called "dual booting"). Take care of the Windows side of things as above, but keep these points in mind for your new OS:
  • although you are now safer using your computer than ever, you are not invulnerable to computer problems. Again, find that reinstall media and save it somewhere safe.
  • viruses and malware aren't a problem with Linux to date, but that doesn't mean you can be lazy about security; make sure your administrative account has a decent password and pay close attention to what you're installing on your computer.
  • if given the option to install updates automatically, try to opt for only security updates to keep the system as stable as possible.
  • be patient; it's not Windows, and if you've ever used Windows you will have different expectations. Some web sites won't load "right" or at all (due to Internet Explorer-specific extensions). Ask Microsoft to provide this browser for Linux, or try out IES4Linux if you really need to access Internet Explorer.
If by chance you happen to get a Mac this season, I'm afraid I'm no authority. I know a little about Apple's computer experience, but I'll refer you to someone who apparently knows much more about the experience than I. For good measure, here's an online magazine to whet your appetite, as well.

Happy Holidays!


nudepenguin said...

Dual booting is ok, but in todays world virtualization is the gift for Christmas. Ubuntu 7.10 has Virtualbox in the repository so it's an easy install. Windows XP in a virtualbox on Ubuntu is the way to go.

Anonymous said...

If you want to get a computer for Christmas go to and get one. You can get one for as low as $300.00

Karl O. Pinc said...

New Linux users should stick to the software supplied by their Linux distributor. Do that and you'll be able to easily upgrade software and have a stable system for years and years. (Some distros are better than others when it comes to upgrades.) Install 3rd party software, especially binary-only drivers, and unless you're careful not only will upgrades be difficult but you'll suffer from instability and unreliability. Many people switching from MS Windows have this problem because MS Windows owners must go to 3rd parties for software and drivers. Don't manage a Linux box as if it were MS Windows or you'll suffer the same problems that MS Windows has.

The freegeek people have recycled computers from between $0 and $50.

Webmaster said...

Thanks. I'll put a link to that permanently here! I love the "freegeek" idea!

Karl O. Pinc said...

You might consider a link to the freegeek family page (
rather than their home page so people can find freegeek in their area. (OTOH, it's freegeek's problem that the sister locations are hard to find on their website....)