New PC Setup

By Merle Nicholson, Tampa PC Users Group

For some reason, I’ve been setting up new computers the last few months – mostly notebooks. Offhand I’d say six since Christmas, just ten weeks ago. I thought I’d go through what I do to these machines and recommend software to add that will make them a "complete" PC. That would be just those mostly free software applications that should be of interest to everyone. To those, you’ll have to add your own software that follows your own interests.

To get started, the first thing I do to a new computer is make operating system backup disks. Sometimes it’s not necessary when disks are included in the package. However it’s handled, it’s the number one priority. Do it first. Also, later that day after removing crapware, it is necessary to make some Acronis image backup CDs and then a bootable Acronis CD for recovery and put all these CDs away for WHEN (not IF) you need them. I don’t consider a recovery partition a valid option because it’s useless in the case of a hard drive failure.

I’ll continue to use the new $550 HP/Compaq as my example. There is an HP program that you can only run once that will make recovery CDs. It is not an Operating System CD, so it will put the PC back to its delivery state. Do it now, not later.

The second in priority is to clean the crapware from the new PC. The last notebook I bought for myself at Office Depot, the sales guy offered a $15 program on CD that will clean up my computer! Later I found it on the HP site as an ordering option. I was just a bit indignant, and my wife said to him "That’s why I have him to do that!" meaning me. It’s true I’ll do a much more thorough job because I have a very well-defined crapware definition. "If I don’t know what it is, uninstall it!"

I uninstall everything I do not need from the "Programs and Features" in Control Panel. On an HP consumer PC, there’s a lot to do, almost all of them identified as HP. They have even rebranded Wild Tangent as "HP Games". That was the first to go. The problem in uninstalling is the risk of losing something essential, but I’ve never really encountered that. If I were to accidently delete a hardware driver, I can get that driver back from their web site. I always uninstall any "trial" software. That will include copies of Office and Norton AntiVirus. Also, I uninstall anything that has the word "toolbar", "MSN" or "AOL". Now reboot one last time, and install an antivirus. Then start doing Microsoft Updates. All this will take quite a while.


At this point I usually install AVG Free 8.5 ( ). There are a couple of reasons. First, it’s free. Second, it’s reasonably unobtrusive even on a netbook PC like ASUS EeePC. It includes anti-spyware, and it has a very understandable user interface. If I put footprint size as most important, I’d use Sunbelt Software VIPRE ($29.95) at They have specifically tested on netbooks. Remember also that Vista has Windows Defender installed by default, and it probably was installed in some Windows XP update. It’s just an anti-spyware program. So if you install a fully integrated anti-malware program, you can disable Defender if you wish. It’s in your startup list in msconfig, labeled "MSASCui.exe. It’s also installed as a Service in Computer Management, Services. Find it, right-click for Properties, stop and disable it.

I also use Microsoft Windows Live One-Care,, on three of my computers. It’s very easy to install and use. It’s $50 for three PC’s for one year. It’s very unobtrusive and has the best reporting system and user interface I’ve seen. It includes an enhanced two-way firewall, schedules tune-ups, checks for updates and schedules automatic backups. By the end of 2009, Microsoft is supposed to rename it and make it free.


If you don’t want to depend on the Windows Firewall, and your antivirus package does not include one, there are several free ones available. My favorite free one is Webroot Desktop Firewall, free at: .


After the antivirus and firewall programs are running, it’s time to install all updates. First make sure XP is at Service Pack 3, and Vista is at Service Pack 1. If not, install those first, then do the remaining updates. After you have the updates installed, do it again until there are no more updates available. The reason is that updates need updates, and you’ll get the first one, and when Update rescans, it’ll find more.

In Windows Updates, there are usually "optional" hardware driver updates. I always, always skip those, and also I’ll mark them as hidden so I won’t be bothered with them again. Then I’ll go to the manufacturers’ website to see if there are later drivers there. My philosophy on hardware drivers is: Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

Back Up:

Ok, here’s a very good time to back up the system. All the crapware is off, and it’s up-to-date and an anti-virus is installed. Also, the backup will not be large because I haven’t begun to move data files, and I haven’t installed any software. I usually do an Acronis full backup. I really don’t want to use a file backup here now because I want to have a fast recovery method. So I use either an external hard drive or DVDs – or both. Then I make sure I have a CD that will recover the image.

Essential Software:

PDF Writer: Every PC needs a PDF printer installed. It appears in your printer list, along with all other printers. The difference is that the resulting print is a PDF file. You should never send someone a word document or a text file just to have them read it. Everyone has a PDF reader.

There are many PDF printers. I use PrimoPDF. Other popular freebies are CutePDF Writer and PDF995, all from

PDF Reader:

Well, everyone has Adobe Reader., and you probably need it for the add-in for Internet Explorer, but it’s gotten so very large it takes forever to load. For a while the install included an IE toolbar which you had to uncheck. And now it installs Adobe Air, and you don’t have any choice. However, you can go to Add/Remove and uninstall just Adobe Air. Also, you must (should) remove Adobe Reader from Startup in msconfig. I hate programs that are always "calling home." I would never install Adobe Reader on a netbook.

A very good solution to Adobe Bloat is to install a lightweight reader. Foxit Reader ( ) is very popular. My personal favorite is Haihaisoft PDF Reader. It’s very small sized at 1.7 MB.

Office Software:

Everyone needs word processing. Most students need a presentation program and a spreadsheet. You can’t go wrong with Microsoft Office. The current price for Office Home and Student is $100. I purchased one in December 2008 that is licensed for three computers for $90 at But there are some competitors, and they’re very good. OpenOffice is free at . Its close cousin, Sun StarOffice, is $34.95 at You should not have file compatibility problems sharing with Word documents. But check the compatibility out first before committing a lot of work.


My favorite free photo searcher/viewer/slideshow/cataloger/photo editor is WildBit Viewer 5.3 at The photo-editing capability is not complete like you’d expect of a commercial package, but it does a lot. I found it because I was looking for a program that would sequentially rename all of the photos in a folder. This does that, and much, much more.

More Photos and Paint:

Two very good free Paint Shop substitutes are Paint.NET and GIMP. GIMP is a Linux derivative and is the standard photo and paint program in Linux. Also there is a smaller version of GIMP called GIMP Portable. All are available at

Media Player:

It’s hard to beat the free VLC Media Player from VideoLAN Project. I always get frustrated with the Windows Media Player because I can’t seem to remember what file types it WON’T play. With VLC you don’t have to worry about that for audio and video files. It also has a simpler user interface than WMP. Any program that offers "skins" isn’t for me. Hell, I don’t know what a "skin" is.


It’s hard to beat the free Microsoft SyncToy 2.0. But if you use Vista, don’t forget that a built-in "Backup Status and Configuration" (Orb, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools) is very good and easily scheduled. SyncToy 3 is available at the Microsoft Download Center:

Disk Defrag:

The built-in Windows defrag is pretty boring. I use the highly rated Auslogics Disk Defrag from

Outlook Email Organizer:

xobni (all in lower case – inbox spelled backwards) indexes and searches all your outlook emails and attachments. It’s a plug-in for Outlook 2003 and 2007. Once you see what it can do, you’d actually pay money for it. Thankfully it’s free.

Three Windows XP Specific MUST HAVES:

Microsoft ClearType Tuner

Microsoft ImageResizerPowerToy

Microsoft TweakUI PowerToy 2.10 u