PCTechBytes is providing this daily checklist you can use this month to make you a better and safer computer user. While some of the things in the list below will not apply to everyone, we tried to compile a broad list of computer tips that focuses on some of the perils and pitfalls we come across in our computer forums each day. Print it out and pass it along to family members.
Day 1— On day one, we want to make backups. At this point, before we do anything else, we just want to make sure we can grab any important data and get it off of the computer. Usually copying the Documents, Desktop, Pictures, Music and Favorites folders is enough. But if you want to go a step further, open the Computer icon on your Desktop, click the C: drive and copy the entire Users folder. This will copy all of the user accounts on the computer at once. We recommend using an external USB hard drive for this.
Day 2— Now that the backup is done, we need to make sure we have all of our security updates. Visit Microsoft Update by clicking on the start button. You can normally find a link to Microsoft Update right in the Start menu. If not, visit the Microsoft Update website. Download and install all critical updates. This will probably include IE 10 and a service pack or two, depending on what Operating System version you’re running.
Day 3 — Install and update your Antivirus. If you do not have one, we recommend Microsoft Security Essentials. Once you install one of these, be sure to scan your hard drives. It’s important to make sure you have only one antivirus program install on your PC, so if your computer came with a free trial version or McAfee or Symantec, uninstall it.
Day 4 — Uninstall any unnecessary programs. Depending on how old your PC is, you probably have a lot of programs installed you never use. These programs could be an unnecessary security risk if they have not been updated. You can remove them via the Control Panel’s Add Remove Programs section. If these are programs you have purchased, you might want to make sure you have the serial numbers and disks in case you want to reinstall them later.
Day 5— Run Disk Cleanup to get rid of temp files and other junk that is cluttering your hard drive. Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Cleanup.
Day 6— Defrag your hard drive. Now that you have run Disk Cleanup and removed old programs run Disk Defragmenter from the same System Tools folder as above and it will re-organize your drive and speed things up. Note: If you have a Solid State Drive (SSD), do not defrag your hard drive.
Day 7 — Download a second web browser. Having Internet Explorer alone is dangerous. If it quits working, you may lose access to the Internet. Having a couple extra choices, like Firefox and Chrome could save you. Download and install them, even if you never plan on using these browsers.
Day 8 — Run CCleaner, a free program to clean your computer registry while making it faster and more secure.
Day 9 — Change your passwords. You don’t need to be a security fanatic. But you really should change your passwords every few months. Develop a password strategy that works for you.
Day 10 — Reboot your computer. If you’re the type of person that leaves your PC on 365 days a year, take a moment to reboot.
Day 11 — Clear your web browser’s cache. The process will differ slightly depending on what what browser you use. In IE, open the browser and go to Tools, Internet Options and under the General tab, look for Browsing History and click Delete. You will see several options. Check Temporary Files and History. Cookies are optional, as these contain information you may or may not want removed.
Day 12 — Run a thorough scan of your hard drive. You hard drive might be failing and you don’t even know it! Windows comes with Check Disk, a built-in tool that looks for file-system and physical defects on your computer’s drive. Access it by opening my Computer and right-click the C: drive. Click properties, then select the Tools tab. Under Error Checking, click Check Now and select both options to repair and scan. It will ask to reboot to perform the scan. Do it before bed, as it could take an hour or more.
Day 13— Remove unnecessary startup programs. Go to Start>Run and type msconfig and hit OK. Under the start-up tab, uncheck any programs you know do not need to start each time your computer boots. This will not remove them, only prevent them from leeching memory. You can always launch those programs manually if you need to.
Day 14 — Visit Microsoft Update. You should now configure Windows to automatically download and install updates. If you choose not to do this, make sure you visit update every couple of weeks. Typically, they patch on the second Tuesday of each month, but you might be missing a critical update that was pushed through early.
Day 15 — Install a limited user account for your kids. You can configure Parental Controls to limit their access to bad websites. The limited user account will thwart them from changing the settings back. The Parental Controls are under User Accounts in the Control Panel. You must be an Administrator and the user must be a limited user account to enforce this correctly.
Day 16 — Reboot your router and modem. Shut down your PC, then unplug your router and modem. Wait a few minutes, then plug them back in starting with the modem, then the router. Power up the PC. You have just power cycled your network.
Day 17— Blow out your fans. The front grill of your computer case will eventually get clogged with hair and dust. You should vacuum this are off, then take a can of compressed air and blow out your CPU, Video card and power supply fans. This can prevent your computer from locking up, running sluggish due to heat and extend the life of your computer.
Day 18 — Uninstall Java and update Adobe Reader. These programs will frequently have security issues. You can launch Adobe Reader through your Start menu and look under Help to search for updates, or better yet, remove Adobe Reader and install FoxIt instead. If you don’t use Java, remove it from your PC–you can always get it back later.
Day 19— Invest in an offsite backup company. Depending on your needs, use a service like Carbonite or Mozy to backup your computer online automatically. The price is around $5.00 per month. But it is well worth the money. If you don’t want to use a paid service, Look into Skydrive by Microsoft and Google Drive by Google for free online storage.
Day 20 — Create a System Restore Point. A System Restore point can revert your system back to that very point in time in the event your computer crashes due to a serious file system or driver error. Manually creating a System Restore point when things are running smooth ensures you have a safe place to return to in a dire situation.
Day 21— Look into OpenDNS. Your router uses your ISP’s Domain Name Service, which is the Internet’s way of matching up IP addresses with website names. OpenDNS gives you control of this service. You will have the ability to set times of day the Internet is used, the websites that are allowed, etc. Some even say it’s faster. If you decide to switch, you can optain the OpenDNS server numbers from them after you create your free account.
Day 22— Scan for spyware. Despite our best efforts, you may have spyware residing on your computer. Download the free version of Malwarebytes and run a scan to make sure you’re clean.
Day 23 –It’s that time of the month again. It’s been almost two weeks since your last backup. Copy that Users folder to a CD, DVD or thumb drive and take it to work or a family member’s house.
Day 24 — Organize your Desktop. Remove shortcuts, create new folders and put icons in them that relate to each other. A Desktop can be a beautiful thing when you can actually see it!
Day 25— Run Disk Cleanup again. You probably have temp files and a Recycling Bin filled with trash since your last cleanup. Disk Cleanup should be run twice a month. Defrag every three months.
Day 26— Get a SPAM email account. If you use your standard-issue email account given to your by your ISP, consider having a couple Internet email accounts. Yahoo Mail and Gmail are the best. You can dedicate one of these to a personal email, and a second to SPAM. Whenever you need to sign-up for something online, give them the address of the second account to spare your Inbox from onslaught.
Day 27— I’d rather NOT be phishing. Phishing is a ploy used by SPAMMers to trick you into clicking links in emails. These links appear to go to legitimate websites, but really attempt to steal your information or install viruses on your computer. If you see these emails, remove them from your Inbox and alert family members and friends, as these often come in spurts that hit everyone.
Day 28— Download OpenOffice if you do not have Microsoft Office. Applications like OpenOffice and Gimp are great alternatives to expensive commercial programs like Office and Photoshop.
Day 29 — Clean your mouse, your desk and your printer. Seems like something you probably already do, but have you looked behind your monitor lately? Keeping dust bunnies out of your components will save you time and effort later.
Day 30— We talked a lot about backing up, updating your computer and general security tips. Integrating these practices into your daily computing life will make you a better computer user and a responsible Internet user, as your computer will be more secure and not an unknowing participant that infects other computers. For more tips, be sure to Follow Us Online to get more great new tutorials to help make your PC experience a pleasant one.