Sunday, June 07, 2009
Windows Vista Laptop Survival Guide
Here is my collection of utilities and "must have" programs in order to keep a newbie's Windows Vista laptop in good shape. I am writing this from my experience with several laptops, including my own Vista machine. I have put my money where my mouth is, having purchased a Toshiba laptop from the Laptop Center in Israel, for a friend who is moving to Israel from South Africa. Since I can no longer provide her with computer support, this is what I have arranged for her machine.
The first item to install is the Norton User Account Control utility, in order to deal with those annoying UAC popups that plague Vista users. It doesn't make them go away, but it can remember what applications you agree to run, and so not bother you every time you use it. Say goodbye to the Microsoft User Annoyance Control ;-) 1,180,672 bytes. Reason*: when you are setting up the machine, you can disable the UAC messages that pop up regularly, so they don't bother the user any more.
Next, install CCleaner. This utility can keep your system clean and tidy, find registry problems, and assist in disabling all those weird utilities that load when Windows starts. When installing, make sure you unselect the Yahoo toolbar, as shown above. 3,247,736 bytes. Reason*: you can set up the defaults once, and then show the user how to "Run CCleaner" from time to time, or just set it to run automatically.
I have mentioned the Vista Battery Saver utility before, and it really seems to be making a difference to the lifespan of my laptop batteries, in addition to saving power. Battery life is extended by using less power, even when your laptop is running off mains. 965,120 bytes. Reason*: set it up to save power, and then tell the user not to play with the settings.
Hard Drive temperature is also very important, and HDTune monitors the temperature of your hard drive, and warns you if the drive temperature is getting near danger levels. In order to use it, you need to set it to start up when you log on, which is explained here. Use the free version 2.55 (642,632 bytes). Reason*: once it's set to run, tell the user what to do if the hard drive gets too hot.
SpinRite is not a utility you install. You buy it, download it (196,608 bytes) and create a boot CD from the .iso image it creates. If you don't have software to do this, use the free CDBurnerXP utility (3,158,425 bytes). Once you have the bootable CD, boot up from it and run SpinRite in "Maintenance Mode" every 4 months or so. It's the best US$89 you'll ever spend. While refreshing the magnetic signal on the drive, it also recovers data from any unreadable sectors, and warns the drive of any impending data loss. Most people only use it when they have already lost data, but SpinRite is best at preventing data loss and warning you about a drive that is about to fail. There is no trial version, so they offer an unconditional money-back guarantee. When Penny's HP laptop blocked all low-level access to her drive, they offered to refund me. I refused, because I use the product on other drives. Download size is tiny. Reason*: Once the boot disk has been made, show the user what to do once every 4 months. If they forget (they probably will) then at least the disk is available for data recovery when required.
The PlaySound utility isn't going to save the world, or your laptop. But it is a way of reminding you to slow down a bit, and give your PC a chance to get organised. Select the option of installing a startup shortcut, and you'll get the progress bar shown here whenever you log on. It encourages you to wait while your laptop software settles down. 1,736,704 bytes. Reason*: While the PC starts up it needs the user to leave it alone. You can get weird error conditions if you try to rush the machine. Rather wait for it to stabilize before trying to use it.
You also need a good antivirus program, and I can think of nothing better than the ESET NOD32 Antivirus package. It is fast, lightweight, has a good updating mechanism, and it works. I've had hassles with other antivirus programs, but not this one. If you want to get rid of spam, then you may consider upgrading to their ESET Smart Security program instead, or just purchase a license for SpamFighter. I used SpamFighter for a year before the ESET Smart Security product came out, and it gave me a good feeling nuking spam from my inbox, knowing that it was learning about the spam and blocking it from other inboxes as well. Reason*: install the antivirus and it gets on with the job. No user intervention required, unless a message appears.
Finally, you need a defrag program to keep your laptop hard drive properly organised. If you need a freebie, then use a combination of UltraDefrag for a boot time defrag, and JkDefrag 3.36 for the screen saver defrag. But you'll need to configure it properly. Rather splash out US$19.95 and get Puran Defrag 6. It's effective, simple to use, and has all the options you need. 2,428,928 bytes. While PerfectDisk may have won all the awards, and I haven't tested all the defrag programs yet, PuranDefrag is installed on my laptop and Penny's, and it is doing a great job. It is set up to do a boot-time defrag every Sunday morning, and it does a simple file defrag every 6 hours when the machine is in use, should this be required. Reason*: Set up the automatic defrag and let the user get on with more important things.
*I have supplied reasons why these products are newbie-safe. There are plenty of power utilities for power users, but I wouldn't install these on machines where the user barely knows how to use Word or a browser. There is such a thing as feature-overload ;-) and "No User Intervention Required" is always helpful.