High-tech resolutions for a digital new year


Published: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 9:52 p.m.
Retail surveys have indicated the big sellers in this year's holiday season have been consumer electronics and computers. If you were fortunate enough to get a new computer for the holidays, or need to keep the old one going another year, make a resolution to stay on top of PC maintenance for 2006. Here are some of my favorite programs and suggestions for keeping your computer clean and up to speed.
Get an anti-virus program and keep it up to date. Less than a quarter of the computers I see for the first time have an up-to-date anti-virus program. Most computers that come from manufacturers have a trial commercial ant-virus program lasting no more than six months.
Many users then fail to update the program, but still feel safe they are "protected." The reality is that new viruses show up every day, and a computer that's not consistently updated, and run, becomes more vulnerable every day. Fortunately, there are good free anti-virus programs that perform just as well as commercial programs readily available for home users. They include Avast! Anti-Virus Home Edition (www.avast.com), AVG Anti-Virus (www.grisoft.com), and AntiVir Personal Edition Classic (www.free-av.com).
Businesses, especially those running networks and handling sensitive documents, need a commercial solution, but protection can often run less than $20 a year per computer, a small price to pay for network safety.
Get rid of spyware and adware on your PC. Even moderate Web and e-mail users can find their computers overrun with spyware and adware that can dramatically slow PC performance. Computer memory and Internet bandwidth can both be choked by adware and spyware. Unfortunately, there is no one solution, especially on the free side, that can take care of adware and spyware alone. However, a small suite of programs run every week or so can keep adware and spyware at bay.
Microsoft XP users have access to the free Microsoft Ant-Spyware Beta (www. microsoft.com). Two other programs that are necessities on nearly every computer are Spybot and AdAware, both of which can be found at www. download.com. Another good free choice to knock out adware and spyware is A-Squared Free (www.emisoft.com). Trend Micro's free online HouseCall (http://housecall. trendmicro.com) now scans for spyware as well as viruses. If you're looking for a more automated solution and are willing to pay for it, the best program is likely Web Root Spy Sweeper, which costs about $30 a year.
Run Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter On A Regular Basis. Non-optimized hard drives can also slow PC performance. It's a good idea to run Windows Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter on a weekly basis before leaving your computer at night. You'll find these programs in the System Tools Folder in Accessories. Run Cleanup first, then Defragmenter. Doing so arranges the data on your disk so that it can be found faster on your hard drive. If your Disk Cleanup offers you MS Office setup files, leave them on your hard drive to speed program updates, rather than removing them.
Get the new Microsoft Update. Microsoft Update is now out in full force, and will update more programs than the prior Windows Update. You can get it at http://update.microsoft.com. Let the program update your system automatically for optimum results.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant whose column appears on Mondays in WorkLife. He can be reached at webgator@bellsouth.net or via www.tvccs.com. His columns also are available at www.gainesvillesun.com.

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