Last year, I took a class to gain CompTIA A+ Certification. Basically, what that means is that I have achieved the lowest rung on the IT professional ladder. I am qualified to repair computers. Unfortunately, that and a buck-fifty gets me a cup of coffee. I can't get work because employers require at least one year of experience in the field. I can't get experience until I get the work. It's a Catch-22. I cried and pissed and moaned about this for a couple weeks, then figured, hey.... I'll just go it solo. So, I got flyers out and posted an ad on Craigslist, trying to keep this thing underground and off the radar of the IRS. As of today, I have done.......absolutely nothing. Just my luck.
So, what to do? Well, here's something: Many people don't have access to the information that I did, and, being a generous soul (kaff, kaff), I feel compelled to share the knowledge I have with others.
Don't worry, this isn't going to be a regular thing here. That would be really boring. And I may be disseminating information that the reader already knows. After all, the information is out there if you look, and there are plenty of magazines available at the local supermarket about computers as well. So if you already know this stuff, great. Stop reading right now. If not, read on, and I'll try to give you something useful.
The most important thing I can tell you is to back up your data. I say this from experience: a couple years ago, my hard drive crashed. Windows would not boot, even with help from Microsoft tech support. I was on the phone with the Microsoft guy for over three hours, and still nothing. I wouldn't have been so upset had it not been for the over 8,000 music files I had spent the previous 5 years collecting from various peer-to-peer sources. Yeah, I pirated music. And I still do. So sue me, RIAA. Like a stupid noobie, I had not even thought of backing up my hard drive. 8,000 songs. Gone. And you know how much I love music. Some of the most obscure tunes you could name, I had. And lost.
There are plenty of applications which make backing up your data easier. I can't recommend one over the other, because I haven't tried them all. A simple Google or Bing search can lead you to several options. Windows has a backup utility included in its software; however, if you use XP the backup is not on the basic install. You must insert the Windows XP install disk, and find the installation files for Windows backup. To learn more about the Windows backup application, read this article.
Must Have Applications
There are many applications available to make your computer run better, and safer. The first app I would recommend is Ad-Aware from Lavasoft. Regular use of this will rid your pc of adware, malware, and other malicious pests which are placed on your computer by various websites. An alternative to Ad-Aware is Spybot, which performs the same tasks. I have both apps on my pc, but if you do this, be careful. Spybot may recognize Ad-Aware as a malicious application, and vice versa.
Now, let's talk about anti-virus programs. Your ISP probably came bundled with either McAfee or Norton anti-virus, and both are satisfactory for the task. If you don't have either, I recommend either Avast orAVG. Both are free, and both are light years ahead of McAfee or Norton. If you have the money and want the best anti-virus going, I would recommend PC-Cillin from TrendMicro. TrendMicro also has valuable tools such as Hijack This, which I have found to be very useful.
Another good application is Web of Trust, or WOT. WOT is a website rating system that warns you when you are trying to access a website with a poor reputation. Its rating system consists of a green light for sites which are safe, a yellow light for sites which are questionable, and a red light for sites which are malicious. If you try to access a red light site, WOT will actually redirect you to one of its pages warning you and giving you the option to get out of the site immediately. I follow its recommendations religiously.
You will also need a firewall. A firewall prevents hackers from gaining access to your files or hijacking your PC. Again, your ISP should have provided you with a firewall, and Windows has its own, although you will have to activate it. If you're looking for something with more muscle, though, I recommend Comodo or Black Ice.
That is the basic package. There are other utilities and apps that you may find interesting, but are not necessary. Ccleaner, or "Crap Cleaner" does just that. When you run ccleaner, it removes all the useless files and partial files that are cluttering up your system. CCleaner is free to download and use. Anti-Keylogger protects your pc from spyware and malware, specifically targeting those programs that would invade your privace by keylogging, or tracking what you input on your pc. Anti-Keylogger is free to try, but you must purchase it after the trial period.
That should get you on your way to a safer and cleaner computer.
NOTE: There is one thing you should avoid. Many pop-ups and ads try to get you to download a registry cleaner. While a registry cleaner is a good idea, it's only a good idea for people with intimate knowledge of computers and how they work. I won't even try to mess with the registry on my pc. Yes, many programs that you install and later uninstall will leave files on your registry. However, those files are so small they take up very little space on your hard drive. And if you delete the wrong files from your registry, you just turned your computer into a very expensive paperweight. I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT FUCK WITH YOUR REGISTRY.
I hope I've helped.