Tech Tips #2 - Essential Software for a New Notebook

My recent purchase of the HP dv4-1225dx notebook was different for several reasons. First of all, it was bought for my sister who was looking for a capable replacement for her desktop, since she moves frequently between locations and required a notebook she could easily take around with her. Second, it was a notebook I needed to prepare for her, since she is not with the "geek" crowd and I wanted her to have a great turnkey experience, without dealing with software installation, junkware removal and OS settings.

While it is true that every user has their own particular setup for their specific reasons, some things are just a requirement no matter what notebook you buy or what you use it for. From the experience I have had reviewing so many recently, I have put together a list of the things you should look out for (in no particular order) when playing with a new notebook for the first time, including some recommended software.

1. Mozilla Firefox

Every Windows notebook comes with Windows Explorer, the same way every user knows that Mozilla is the better browser. For those that are still on Windows Explorer, I recommend switching over to Firefox - it is faster, smoother, less resource hungry and simply works better than Internet Explorer does. I make it a requirement on every notebook I touch, and it is the first download I perform.

2. AVG Free 8.0

Anti-virus software does not come with Vista, yet it is required to fully utilize the security features of Vista and keep the system working properly. Thankfully, you don't need to purchase anti virus software because there are a lot of free products available online. One of the best is AVG Anti-virus Free from AVG. It integrates with the security features of Vista and keeps the system up-to-date. Automatic scanning, definition updates and engine updates are included.

3. Disable Norton

Every notebook manufacturer offers Norton on their systems, and it will nag you to install and purchase it until you do. Why pay a subscription for something you can get for free? I've found that you can prevent the Norton nag screen by going into msconfig and unticking Norton in the startup tab. But if this option isn't available, simply uninstall Norton altogether. You won't be losing anything by uninstalling it (free trials can be downloaded all the time), but if you already have other security software, like AVG, you will need to remove Norton if it is installed for your other anti-virus software to work.

4. Remove Junkware

Every notebook comes with manufacturer installed software. Most of the time you don't need these as they are either useless, trial software, redundant or require you to pay extra for full use. In other cases they take up valuable space on your hard drive. If you don't need it, it doesn't need to be there.

5. Create recovery discs

One of the first things you should do if your notebook did not come with recovery discs is to create your own. Even if your model has a special recovery partition on the hard drive, you'll need something to grab if your hard drive goes down and takes that recovery partition with it. Trust me, I have had it happen - a dead notebook with no rescue discs is useless. On the HP dv4-1225dx, I used two double layer DVD's to burn a recovery disc set. Keep these in a safe place, and if you ever need to, you can recover to the factory settings if your hard drive fails or you decide to swap for a bigger hard drive later on.

6. Install backup software

Unless you are using Windows Vista Ultimate, you will need to look for your own backup software to do a full system backup that backs up your entire system. This is important since a virus or simple user mistake can ruin Windows to a point where it may not even boot properly, or a hard drive failure will make everything on your notebook inaccessible. With backup software, you can keep a copy of your entire system on either DVD's or a spare hard drive. Keeping regular backups will ensure you are also prepared if disaster strikes. My choice for software here went with Acronis True Image Home. It works with Vista nicely and allows many options for automated backups, including bootable rescue discs and smart backup file maintenance.

Keep in mind that while recovery discs will bring your notebook back to its factory settings, you will still need a full system backup to save everything else you've worked on since you first got it, including files you've added, programs you've installed, updates that were done and any settings you've made.

7. Check security settings

With Vista, I make sure that all Windows and Microsoft updates are enabled, my firewall and Windows Defender are turned on, and any anti-virus software is also working and recognized by windows. You may also want to set update times here, since if you are connected to the web your notebook can keep itself up-to-date overnight while you count sheep.

8. Customize display/trackpad/sidebar as desired

Set your theme, screensaver, trackpad settings and anything else you're used to having. With the Vista sidebar, I set up the calendar, local weather and notepad. Organize your desktop icons as you want them. Some folks like to have a double-height taskbar as well.

9. Install other software/apps as needed

For my sister's HP dv4-1225dx, I also got IM set up and installed Google Earth. Other stuff I installed included MS Streets and Trips for local mapping and WinDVD for movie playback. I also made sure Works 9.0 was running fine since she needed that specifically.

10. Enjoy your purchase.

Everybody knows how great it is to open up that new shiny notebook and spend hours playing with their latest purchase. With the easy tweaks and tips I have shown here, that great new notebook will run even better, make you even happier, take the user experience up another level, and give you even more fun and satisfaction. You'll be feeling really good.

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