’Tis the season for a new computer. Whether Santa sneaked a PC under the tree or you’ve decided to install Windows 7 onto an older machine, millions of Americans this month will be booting up a fresh start.
What better time to get your computer on a healthy diet of lean but powerful software and to throw out the bloated junk food that comes preinstalled on many machines? Here are some free programs that’ll help your new PC chug along for many winters to come.
(Disclaimer: While most of the Monitor’s software suggestions cover both PCs and Macs, Apple fans will need to sit this article out.)
Clean sweep: A lot of new computers come loaded up with software that you’ll likely never use. This clutter, often called bloatware or crapware, pays its way onto your PC in the hope that you’ll buy full versions later. However, the junk can also bog down your computer. Winnowing out these stowaways should be your first move. PCDecrapifier.com has a free download – $5 donation is suggested – that automatically rounds up many of these unwanted programs and deletes them. Now you really have a clean start.
Free protection: To make sure no other gremlins slip aboard, consider downloading security software right away. For-pay software often feels safer, but there are several perfectly adequate free options. This year, Avast surpassed most antivirus guards as one of the Web’s best. Another cyber-superhero, Malwarebytes, helps sniff out spyware and malicious code. Together, the two programs are quite a team.
Getting to the fun part faster: Brand-new PCs can be equal parts exciting and bothersome. Your (let’s hope) more powerful computer opens up new doors for entertaining software. But the clean slate will demand an afternoon – or perhaps an entire weekend – of waiting for programs to install. Ninite.com frees up your day with its set-it-and-forget-it queue.
The site has handpicked a few dozen of the best free programs – browsers, instant-messaging apps, and security software (including Avast and Malwarebytes). Click which applications you want, and Ninite creates a customized package that downloads and installs each of the desired programs. Once you’ve hit “go,” walk away. Ninite will do the rest.
If Internet Explorer is your default Web browser, this could be a great chance to try Firefox instead. The independent browser is faster and arguably safer, since more nefarious programmers seem to target Microsoft’s Explorer. Interested? Add it to your Ninite queue.
While perusing Ninite, consider tossing in iTunes, the sometimes slow but undoubtedly powerful music player and online store; Skype, the telephonelike service that lets you make calls without pesky phone bills; Google Earth, the amazing map application; and Hulu’s desktop app, which offers current and classic TV shows and movies free of charge.