Monday, May 30, 2011

Windows 7 - Everything Else Is FREE

I read a two part article series on the WindowsSecrets blog written buy Woody Leonhard. If you follow my blog you have read about WindowsSecrets before. I like the skinny of these two articles so much that I "stole" their text from the second part of the article to post it here, with some textual changes and additions to enhance the readability and understanding by non-geeks, IMHO at least.
Most if not all of the software that stores will try to sell you when you buy a new computer does not need to cost any additional money. But since stores and dealers live from selling you something they will try - and sometimes really hard. The most often applied method to up-sell an unsuspecting not-too-PC-literate customer is good old FUD, Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. The sales guys in some stores can scare the daylights out of you just to get you to buy some additional software.
The kicker is that if you steadfastly refuse these software add-ons they sometimes even will throw it in the bag anyway "because it's free"; stuff they five minutes ago wanted to charge you for! If my customers got any antivirus program in this manner I always tell them to give it as a gift to their best enemy.
If you buy a new PC with Windows7 Home Premium pre-installed then there is hardly anything else you need to pay money for besides your fast Internet connection.
Let me go into a few more details for the most commonly offered add-on packages. This first part is from the WindowsSecrets blog with some textual additions.
Antivirus: Microsoft Security Essentials is free and works for the average PC-user just as good as commercial products and often even better.
It runs totally unobtrusive in the background and it's work load balancing is so good that even on weaker older computers you hardly ever will recognize that it is running.
Even while it is scanning your machine you can still work with your computer; I don't know any other antivirus program that does that in such a graceful way.
And if it has to "talk" to you it speaks in clear, simple English; you don't need a college degree to understand what it's telling you.
Backup programs: Windows 7 backup isn't particularly neat or fancy, but it covers the bases automatically and (almost always) works well.
I strongly recommend to invest a little bit of time to learn the ins and outs; it's all right there in the Windows 7 Help and Support displays.
And I strongly recommend to buy an external disk drive to keep the backups outside of the computer. A backup on the C: drive is no backup at all, at best it's a fig leaf.
Defragmenters: Windows 7 defragments your drives automatically (once a week by default), and you don't need to lift a finger or spend a penny. But you can set it to your liking, like have it defragment daily at a certain time - or only manually started. The latter then very soon gets forgotten anyway.
Disk Partitioning: Windows 7 does all you'll need!
No, Windows 7 doesn't have a full-fledged disk-partition manager. But it does everything with partitions that most people need (if you need it at all!) -- and it gets the job done without messing up your hard drive. Which is more than I can say for some third-party disk-partition managers.
Where is Windows 7's partition manager you ask? In an administrator account, click Start and in the Search box type "Administrative Tools", without the quotes naturally. In the resulting window double-click Computer Management. In the left panel, under Storage, click Disk Management.
You will see all your disk drives and the partitions on the disk drives.
Again, I strongly recommend to invest a little bit of time to learn the ins and outs; it's all right there in the Windows 7 Help and Support displays.
Registry Cleaners: Some do more harm than good.
I have never seen a real-world example of a Windows 7 machine that improved in any perceivable way after running a registry cleaner. Registry cleaners and Defragmenters may have been useful for Windows XP (before SP 2) and certainly were a good thing for Windows 98 and ME as long as these programs worked correctly - what sometimes they did not. With Windows 7 I think they're useless, if not worse than useless.
In my experience, working with hundreds of Windows 7 machines, I have never found a single Registry cleaner that caused any perceivable change in performance.  The Registry is an enormous database, and all this cleaning really doesn't amount to much. It is like sweeping out one parking space in a parking lot the size of Texas.
Even Microsoft has abandoned its Registry cleaners. E.g. Windows Live OneCare (precursor to Microsoft Security Essentials) once included an online scanner and Registry cleaner.
(Disclaimer: I can not confirm this claim but usually Woody Leonhard is a dependable source of such information.)
Windows 7's Firewall works only one way, that is inbound.
Like its predecessors, the Windows 7 firewall only keeps outside threats from getting in — it is an inbound firewall. Outbound firewalls alert you when an unauthorized program attempts to send data out of your computer. At least that's the theory. In practice, many outbound firewalls bother you mercilessly with inscrutable warnings saying that obscure processes are trying to send out data.
If you simply click through and let the program phone home, you're defeating the purpose of the outbound firewall. On the other hand, if you take the time to track down every single outbound event warning, you might spend half your life chasing firewall snipes.
Some people think an inbound-only firewall is woefully inadequate. I think it's good enough for almost everybody. It certainly is big time good enough for the computers in my household.
It's surprising how much old advice isn't valid any more!
So much for the part that was inspired by and partly copied from WindowsSecrets. Let me add a few categories that are not part of MS Windows.
Office software: Almost all new brand name computers I have seen over the last 6 or 7 years came with some Microsoft Office package pre-installed.
When you just start to use these programs they will work for 30 or even 60 days. After that point in time you will have to buy a license from Microsoft or your favorite computer store. Depending on the version of MS Office the sales clerk talks you into that is anything between $100 and $300. Ka-ching says the cash register and sales guys in the store smile.
You don't need to pay for this! There are at least three packages with office programs around that will not cost you a single penny! They can read and write files in the commonly used Microsoft formats, at least for texts, spreadsheets and presentations.
Currently I favor LibreOffice; it covers 99% to 100% of what the average home user ever uses or needs; only in very "tricky" formatted text or spreadsheet files you will find some features that maybe are not 100% compatible; in this case the Help forum mostly has a workaround.
A category by itself: Google Earth just because it is such a great toy. Whether you want to check out a new vacation location before you book or just see the Kremlin or Tiananmen Square from the birds eye view, it is worth trying it. Even on average decent basic computers like I recommend to my customers it works very well; the speed of the Internet connection is much more important.
Photo Management and Editing: For the average home user Google's program Picasa IMHO is unbeatable. just watch it finding and removing the red rabbit eyes from the photos of your loved ones. And that for FREE! You can build albums with it, publish photos to the internet so the family members on the other side of the planet can see them and, and, and…
Web browser: If you are my customer or listen to me on WTKM then you know that I strongly favor Mozilla's Firefox web browser. Although quality and security wise Google's Chrome browser is a very serious contender as well.
Email Client: If you are my customer or listen to me on WTKM then you know that I strongly favor Mozilla's Thunderbird email client. I don't even know whether there is another alternative still around.
Should you require any other software and don't know where to begin to look for it, I will gladly help. For much if not most of what you may want to do on your computer there likely is a free solution available.
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.
Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

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