Tips for Setting up Computers in the Home

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This site is intended to bring together in one place, information and links used for setting up your PC Wholesale laptop and PC Wholesale desktop computers and keeping them running smoothly. If you have suggestions for additional tips, please send a message to The site will eventually be better organized. For now, it is organized simply as a list of suggested software, and other suggestions that are likely to be useful. See related topics topics on this site for infomration about the Internet, PC Wholesale, creating web sites, and for recommended hardware for your home office.

Suggested Software

The following are the programs that I use, and the reasons why.
  • Linux - I run Linux as the operating system on my main computer at home, and if you are technically inclined, you should too. But, there is lots of software that won't run on Linux, and for that I use Windows XP. If you are not technically inclined and ready to learn a new operating system, then for now you are probably better off sticking with Windows. The rest of this page is devoted to suggestions for Windows, even though Windows is only my secondary operating system. I mention Linux because the system is significantly more reliable than Windows, and at least because most viruses and malicious code today target Windows, Linux tends to be less vulnerable to the most common of todays attacks on security.

  • The Firefox web browser - This is the browser you should be using. Internet explorer has too many bugs and is so widely used that it is a target for exploits that can harm your system. Though not bug free, as of the time I am writing this, the Firefox browser has had fewer and less serious exploits than Internet Explorer, and they were quickly fixed. I also find the user interface to be nicer, and the browser to run faster. Firfox will run under either Linux or Windows.

  • The Thunderbird mail reader - If you want to read your e-mail locally, downloading it from the server, then this is the main reader you should be using. Outlook has too many bugs and vulnerabilities, and is so widely used that it is a target for exploits that can harm your system. Thunderbird provides better security, and greater extensibility. I also find the user interface to be nicer. Thunderbird will run under either Linux or Windows. For even greater security, consider installing the enigmail extension to Thunderbird.

  • Gmail Though not software, if you are looking for a mail server, and a new email address, consider gmail. At the moment it is in beta, and you may have to wait to get an account, unless you have a friend who uses gmail and can send you an invitation, but it is well worth it. The gmail service is free and provides 100GB of storage, but more importantly, it provides better ways to organize the email you receive, and a very effective search method to find things from within that 100GB. It also supports forwarding of email to other addresses, and downloading using POP, all for free.

  • Use the Picasa photo organizer to manage your photos. Recently bought by Google, Picassa is a free tool for sorting, annotating, searching (based on annotations and labels) and performing basic manipulations on your photos.

  • Google Desktop is a useful tool for searching for files on your local hard drive. The tool extends Google search to most kinds documents on your computer that contain text. One search finds documents in email, web pages, word files, text files, spreadheets, etc. Searches are fast, and I have found Google Desktop to save me lots of time searching for thing that I never used to be able to find. Beware, however, because this search tools also makes it easy for anyone else using your computer to find document, including not only documents that you might not want them to find, but even documents that you have deleted (like the network version of Google, the index contains cached summaries of documents as they were indexed, even if the document has since been removed). While a potential security and privacy problem, if you are the only one that uses your computer, this can be a feature in that you may be able to go back and view earlier versions of documents that have changed on disk.

    Depending on the options you select when you install the desktop search function, Google Desktop will also index the web pages you have visited, so that when you do a search you find not only documents on your computer, but web pages you have recently viewed. This is useful when you remember seeing something on a web page, but can't remember where. But again, there are privacy issues if your computer is used by someone else. They can do a search for something like the letter "a", and Google Desktop search will display all of the web pages you have recently visited.

  • Get your own domain name - Would you like an email address that you can keep, even if you change ISP's or mail repositories. Services like Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail will give you an email address, and some of them will even forward your mail elsewhere, like to the mailbox at your internet service provider, but you may be concerned about what happens if they change their terms later. By getting your own domain name you not only protect yourself from such future changes, but you can have an e-mail address that is more meaningful after the @-sign. Unfortunately, a domain name is not free, but it is inexpensive. See the page on web hosting for a discussion of the best options for registering a domain name.

Other Suggestions to keep your computer running smoothly

    Does your system run slowly on startup

    If you are running windows XP and you find you system has been taking longer and longer to boot since you first got it, the problem is likely that over time you have been adding more and more programs to your system startup. You might not realize it, but many of the programs you may downloaded and install want a preferred place in your system and set themselves up to start automatically whenever your system boots. Most of these programs don't really need to be in the startup at all, and all that they do is make it take longer to boot, and hog memory needed by your other programs, slowing down the system in general.

    To see just what is running on startup, you will want to run the program "msconfig", which is likely already installed on your system. To run it, go to the start menu and select "run". Type msconfig and select "OK". The programs that start automatically can be viewed under the startup tab. But be careful! Many of these programs actually are needed for certain features of your system to run properly, especially your anti virus system, so you will want to investigate the purpose of the auto started programs before disabling them. A good source for information on msconfig is netsquirrel.

    Similar performance problems plague windows vista, but msconfig does not work on vista. If you are using vista, you can use TweakVista to accomplish similar results. TweakVista is not a free program, but they do offer a limited time trial which will likely be long enough to clean up your system the first time. Since Vista and XP both then to acrete these startup problems over time, you will have to run it again down the road, probably after the trial expiration, but by that time you will have seen the results, so you will know if it is worth the purchases.

    Is your system infected with spyware?

    By now you should know that you absolutely need to run antivirus software on your system. It is also a good idea to scan your system for spyware. Spyware often accompanies, or is part of, programs or plug-ins that you have chosen to install on your system. Such software may send personal details, or information about your activiites to other sites, or record the information in such a way that the information is presented to certain sites when you visit them. Some software takes your personal information and sends it to people trying to steal your identity. Some spyware will pop up ads when you visit certain sites or type certain keywords, and it may try to redirect traffic to advertisers

    An anti-spyware system will tell you about the spyware running on your system, or advise you about the spyware like behavior of software you have intentionally installed, and it may give you the option to remove the offending software, or to disable certain aspects of it. Most publishers of anti-virus software also sell anti-spyware products, and there are several purely anti-spyware products on the market. But you don't have to pay extra to scan for spyware as there is a good freely available package that you can download and run called Spybot Search and Destroy. This is an excellent product that was developed and is maintained by volunteers (Patric Kolla and others). While they do not require you to do so, if you find the program useful, you are encouraged to make a donation through paypal on their website.

    See my Security and Privacy web site for more information on spyware.