You have gathered your tools, you can replace hardware, now what about software? Well there are some very very basic tools I use frequently, and no true geek should be without them. Since this is Tech For Free, I am going to focus on the free ones. Let's start with protection:
You to need anti virus. Plain and simple, if you don't you will get infected and you may lose time, data and worse could get your identity stolen. A good number of PCs come with anti virus preinstalled, and that is great while it lasts. Yes I meant while it lasts, you see most of these programs require a subscription in order to get updates. And most don't do a good enough job of explaining this. That is why I wind up wiping out PCs on a regular basis, because sometimes that is the only good way to get rid of the virus. Can you get free anti virus? you bet. I have been using AVG Free for about 3 years, and no problems so far. Some people I know have had good luck with Avast, but I have only installed it once, and it seemed okay. Either one, make sure you always download the free version, not the trial version, that expires. If you want to buy anti virus, I highly recommend Trend Micro's products. In fact if you think you have a virus, you can go to their free online scanner called Houscall and test for Virus , Trojan horses and some spyware. This does not count as installing anti virus.
Spybot search and Destroy, my hands down favorite. Absolutely free, easy to install and includes some handy extra tools, like the startup cleaner. Download, install it, follow the instructions to update it, and then let it clean your system. I don't use the Spybot memory resident bit, or Tea Timer from them, you can if you like, but they annoyed me. You can also use ad-aware, but it does want to be purchased, and will point that out to you. Get spybot, run it about once every couple of weeks or so. Love it. Make sure you run the immunization to prevent other problems.
If you have Windows XP you have a minor firewall, if you have SP2, it is better. But if you want to get something better than that, comodo free firewall is pretty good and pretty easy to set up. you can also get a free copy of zone alarm, but I have never loved this program. It is pretty good though, and the pay version is very good.
I hear someone back there saying "I have a wireless router, isn't that already a firewall?" or "Gigantic Internet company gave me free software for that already when I got internet through them?" The answer to both is a very big well...kind of. The answer to this is a future blog entry anyway, but here is the long and the short of my opinion. To the router; yes but use a firewall on your PC too. To the Big Internet Company, do you really trust this software from them? if so, please do so...if not use your own choice. Me, I use a firewall on my router and my PC too.
Practice Safe computing...
We call it that, kind of like safe sex. The big thing is, run your windows updates, if you don't like to do it yourself, turn on the automatic updates. Update all your software frequently. Keep your antivirus up to date, don't open emails attachments from people you don't know, or odd ones from people you do. Be careful what links you click on, and if you are not sure what it is Check Snopes to see if it is a hoax, fraud or real. Some good reading on snopes.
SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM
I highly recommend using a web mail program like gmail (www.gmail.com, or ask me to give you an invitation, I will be glad to). Gmail has a pretty good spam filter. Use the built in spam filters in your mail client (outlook 2003 has a pretty good one, but set it to high). And here is a big one...don't just give your email out. I keep a special email address just for filling out forms on line and in life, that is my junkmail only email address. Don't drop your business card in the fishbowls at restaurants, they sell those to data miners for email addresses. I spoke to a friend recently, their CTO told them that each week their email system processes 3,000,000 plus emails. Out of these 50.000 are legitimate email, the rest is spam. Some people say 90% of the traffic on the internet is spam. So do your best to get rid of it, don't buy products sold to you in spam. Don't reply to it, just delete it.
Next...windows without installing windows?