This is a guide for people using Windoze on a home computer. The kind of person who gets online, sends e-mail, chats over AIM or ICQ, surfs the web and maybe writes a letter or something like that. The average person. Unlike zealots, I'm not going to recommend a whole new operating system to you. Instead, I'm going to hopefully make you aware of some software that you will find useful. Some of it will sound technical. Why does anyone want to upgrade their web browser, anyway? Every piece of software that I bring up explains why you need it.
In the interests of absolute transparency of purpose: This is not a guide for the very computer literate Windoze user. If you already know about Annoyances.org and have disabled read/write access to the IE DLLs (not to mention hacking ActiveX off at the neck) then you will find little of use here. The next step in your education is to make the logical switch to a real OS.
AVG for Windows — http://www.grisoft.com
Windows users without anti-virus software have only themselves to blame when their computers get infected; and they will. It's a cold hard fact of being online. Viruses no longer require you to click on an e-mail attachment, just getting your machine online is enough for them. AVG is updated weekly (you can set it to update automatically every week) and costs nothing. Grisoft maintains a policy whereby you have to opt in to get advertising e-mail, but having used the software for years I've not seen more than one mail from them in any given six months. AVG works, and will keep you protected, as long as you keep it updated.
Ad-Aware — http://www.lavasoftusa.com
Adware is a kind of software which installs itself on your computer, either as part of installing something else (software by Claria is notorious for this) or without your knowledge as you look at the Internet. Adware's main purpose is to open pop-up windows whenever your computer is online. These windows typically try to get you to visit other sites, ranging from competing stores to pornographic sites. At its best, Adware is an annoyance that gets in your way and slows your computer down. At its worst, it can cripple a system totally. Getting rid of it is the only solution, and Ad-aware does just that.
Spybot S&D — http://www.spybot.info
Spyware is adware's ugly cousin, sitting somewhere between advertisment and virus. Spyware does not normally flash up adverts. Instead it runs quietly in the background where you won't notice it. It could be letting other people use your computer to send junk e-mail (spam), or allowing them to use your machine to bring down a website. It could log every keypress you make when at a certain list of websites such as online banks — capturing your user names, passwords and account numbers &madsh; and send it to someone else, all without you knowing. Spyware also causes a lot of crashes by taking up too much space for Windoze to run properly. Like viruses and adware, scanning every week with the latest definitions is the only way to beat it.
ZoneAlarm — http://www.zonelabs.com
If you have a broadband connection to the Internet, like DSL or cable Internet, getting a firewall will help stop people breaking into your machine. Without one you are a target, easy prey for viruses and people who want to break into your computer system1. A firewall like ZoneAlarm (the basic version of which is available for no cost) will help stop people getting in to your machine when you don't want them to. I will advise that when you install you have someone who knows computers at the end of a phone line. Some of the settings can be confusing to people who don't know about things like network ports and if you intend to use instant messaging programs like ICQ or AIM then ZoneAlarm may need setting up to allow these.
Mozilla Firefox — http://www.mozilla.org
Everyone online uses a web browser. Most people think of it as just "The Internet", the window that they use to access the World Wide Web. The web browser that comes with Windoze, Internet Explorer, has numerous security problems that are the number one way in which spyware and adware install themselves on your computer. This mis-managed state is the default state. Rather than tweaking individual settings to get things back to somewhere near normal, I suggest trying another browser. Mozilla Firefox is a completely free web browser. It is inherently more secure than Internet Explorer and the default options are a lot safer as well. In addition, it implements a lot of features that web designers have been using for years but that IE doesn't support. At it's most basic, Firefox will block pop-up adverts on web sites unless you expressly request them, and it allows you to use tabbed browsing to view multiple web pages without using up a lot of your computer's memory.
Mozilla Thunderbird — http://www.mozilla.org
Like Internet Explorer, the Outlook family of e-mail programs (both the Outlook Expres that comes with your Windoze computer and the various versions of Outlook available as part of Microsoft Office) are dangerous to use. They have some features that were originally designed to ennhance e-mail communication but that were swiftly seized upon by malicious computer users to help them spread viruses. If you only read your e-mail on a web-site like Hotmail or Yahoo, this doesn't matter to you, but if you use Outlook for e-mail, consider Thunderbird as a replacement. In addition to being a lot safer it is easier to customise, and also has a built in junk e-mail filter that will, after a couple of weeks, target most of your junk e-mail for deleting.
Miranda IM — http://www.miranda-im.org
Next to e-mail and visiting web pages, the most popular use of the Internet is to communicate with other people. Lots of people use instant messenger programs to do this, such as ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) or MSN Messenger. These programs often have annoying advertisments, and some install adware or spyware as part of the program. In addition, running more than one at the same time takes up a lot of your computer's memory, which makes it more likely that your computer will crash. Miranda is one program that allows you to chat with people using any of the popular Instant Messenger services, including AIM, MSN, ICQ, and Jabber. It does this all in one program, without displaying advertisments, and is a lot more customisable than the standard programs. You can use your existing number or user name with Miranda and it will import your contact lists automatically.
0The software company that makes Windoze would require this page be covered in an ugly mess of , © and ® symbols which probably won't mess up your reading this page but that do distract the eye from the flow of the article. For this reason the soundalike name "Windoze" is used in place of the name of the operating system. Back
1The The media likes to refer to these people as "hackers", but that word properly refers to someone who possesses a need to tinker with computer-based things. This is confused further by malicious idiots referring to themselves as "hackers" (or "h4><><0rz"), which is nothing to do with those of us who enjoy messing around with computers.Back