You pull your brand-new notebook out of its packaging and plug it in for the first time. Then you go through the Windows setup, and you're all done, right? Not really. Your laptop is not really ready--or truly yours--until you do some tweaking. Here are ten things you should do with your new system.
You wouldn't walk through Times Square with your bank account number and PIN written on your T-shirt. So why would you start browsing the web on your new laptop without virus and malware protection enabled? Your new notebook almost certainly comes with a free 30- or 60-day trial of a popular security suite, but if you want to take advantage of that trial, you need to register. Registering typically involves providing your credit card number so that you can be billed for a monthly subscription if you don't cancel by the end of the trial period.
If you want to save money and avoid nagging ads, you can uninstall the pre-loaded antivirus program and install , which is not as comprehensive as some paid suites, but is free for life. Download it at www.microsoft.com/en-us/security_essentials.
No matter how recently your notebook left the factory, there are still plenty of important Windows updates you need to install. There's a good chance that the moment you connect your laptop to the Internet it will start pulling down updates automatically. However, to be on the safe side, you should manually get Windows Update started.
To manually download Windows updates:
Your new PC won't truly be yours until it holds all your important data files and favorite applications. Windows Easy Transfer, a freeware app from Microsoft, makes it simple to move files, pictures, settings, and even e-mail between your old computer and the new one.
To transfer most applications, you will need to reinstall them, either by downloading them onto the new computer or running the programs on their original install CD or DVD-ROMs.
You shouldn't use a 2011 computer with a 2009-era web browser. Unfortunately, a number of Windows PCs still come with the outdated Internet Explorer 8 pre-loaded. Not only is IE 8 significantly slower than other browsers; it also doesn't support the latest web standards.
To find out which version of Internet Explorer you have, select About Internet Explorer from the browser's Help menu. If there is no Help menu visible in Internet Explorer, look for the About Internet Explorer option under the gear icon, though this probably means you have IE 9.
If you have IE 8 pre-loaded, visit beautyoftheweb.com to download an update to IE 9. You may also want to try Google's Chrome Browser (www.google.com/chrome) or Mozilla Firefox (www.mozilla.com) to see which you like best. Our tests have shown fairly similar performance on all three browsers.
Each of the major browsers has its own set of unique features. IE 9 has a clean look and lets you pin favorite sites to your task bar. Chrome opens faster than any other browser and supports cloud printing. Firefox has the most extensions and customization options.
After you've downloaded the latest browser, be sure you have the latest plug-ins for Flash, Java, and PDFs. Chrome updates Flash automatically and comes with a built-in PDF reader, but for IE or Firefox, you will need to download the latest versions of these plug-ins from www.adobe.com and www.java.com.
You'll also want to remove unnecessary tool bars. The more tool bars in your browser, the less space is available to view your favorite web pages without scrolling. Right-click on any extra tool bars, such as the Bing bar, and make sure they are unchecked in your browser's view menu.
What would your new laptop be without free software? Now would be a good time to start installing some programs that will help you get the most out of your laptop. These include:
Microsoft Live Essentials: Microsoft's free software pack features a great e-mail client, a competent video editor, an instant-messaging app, blogging software, and a photo editor.
Paint.NET: The best free alternative to Photoshop provides a simple yet powerful image editing interface.
Filezilla: If you need to upload or download files from an FTP server, this is your best bet.
TweetDeck: The leading Twitter client allows you to see feeds in a user-friendly column view.
OpenOffice.org: This free office suite has a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application. It can even open and save Microsoft Office-compatible files. Some new PCs come with Microsoft Office 2010 Starter edition, which features stripped-down, ad-supported versions of Excel and Word, but OpenOffice.org has full presentation editing and no advertising.
Once you get your favorite applications installed, you'll want to make it easy to launch them. In Windows 7, you can avoid scrolling through a ton of folders and get quick access to programs in one of three ways.
Create a Hot Key: To launch a favorite program, right-click on any shortcut and select Properties. Then, enter a key combination in the Shortcut Key box and click Enter. Be sure to use a unique key combination that doesn't contradict those used in your favorite programs.
Pin to Taskbar: Right-click on a shortcut in the Start menu and select Pin to Taskbar. The icon will take a permanent place to the right of the Start button.
Pin to Start Menu: Right-click on a shortcut and select Pin to Start Menu. The icon will remain at the top of the Start menu, not buried in the All Programs folder.
By default, Windows 7 combines an applications' windows into a single taskbar icon, with no descriptive text. This makes the taskbar look more like the Mac OS X dock, but it can be difficult to keep track of your windows or distinguish between a pinned shortcut and a running program. To get separate icons for every window, right click on an empty area of the taskbar, select properties, and select Never Combine from the Taskbar buttons menu.
Under the guise of protecting you from yourself, Windows hides certain files and folders from view to prevent you from accidentally erasing them. For example, AppData folder, which holds the default template for Microsoft Word and a list of sites/passwords for the FTP program Filezilla, is hidden.
Windows 7 also hides the three or four character extensions that appear at the end of all your filenames. If the extensions are hidden and you are looking at a folder of images you may not be able to tell the difference between a JPG and a GIF file or Word 2003 document that anyone can open and a Word 2007 document that requires a newer version of Office.
Remove these training wheels by going into Control Panel, selecting Folder Options, and clicking on the View tab. Select "Show hidden files, folder, and drives". Then uncheck "Hide extensions for known file types" and "Hide protected operating system files". Don't let the warnings spook you; if you're a cautious and responsible PC user, you won't need a nanny.
It's hard keeping track of your passwords these days, particularly with all the different websites you visit. In an attempt to keep all those credentials straight in your head, you may end up using short, simple passwords that are too easy for a hacker to guess.
A password manager can keep track of all your accounts, type in your passwords with a single keystroke, and help you generate complex passwords that nobody can guess. Though some notebooks come with their own password managers, our favorite is the free KeePass Password Safe.
Once your password database has been created, add new password entries by following these steps:
Most notebooks come with a vendor-supplied power management utility, in addition to Windows 7's power menu in the Control Panel. Use either one to create a custom power profile that meets your needs and work habits. It can save you valuable battery life.
Each vendor's power utility has its own set of menus, but to use the Microsoft power utility, launch Power Options from within the control panel, select one of the existing plans, click Change plan settings, and then Change advanced power settings.
In advanced power options, you will want to make a few key decisions, based on how you plan to use your notebook. Here are some of the most important choices you can make.