Need to simplify Vista. Please do not answer "get a mac."
November 24, 2008 3:49 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to simplify my parents' new PC? I've never used Vista before.

I'm home for the holiday, and my parents bought a new computer last month. It runs Microsoft Vista, and I'm kind of overwhelmed by all of the superfluous features. I only have experience with XP and previous generations, and I'm really not in touch with what's happening in the Windows world anymore.

I've already installed Firefox, made default fonts bigger and switched back to the XP theme, but I don't know what else to do. It's primary used as an e-mail checking machine with very light web browsing.

Can I trust the Windows Firewall? What's the best virus protection? How do I get Vista to stop asking me for confirmation anytime I want to do something? Is there any benefit to keeping Norton, and if not, what is the best alternative? Any essential software recommendations or links to similar questions are appreciated.
posted by hooray to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This article was immensely helpful to me when I first got Vista. Contains a lot of instructions for cutting out the bloat, making Vista run faster, and turning off some of those annoying confirmations of "Are you sure you want to do that? Really? How 'bout now? Okay. We're really doing this now. Just... you don't really want to do you? Yeah? Still? Okay. Your loss..............seriously?"
posted by katillathehun at 4:03 PM on November 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

Ask your parents what they want to accomplish, follow them through the steps of what they would try to complete those tasks ("how would you send an email?", "What websites do you want to visit?"), and then streamline those specific tasks. Vista makes a lot of sense to people who haven't invested years and years in forming a mental model of computers already, and almost all of the Tweaks are things that would be invisible to a normal user.

n.b. I am not speaking of all the crap that PC vendors lard onto their machines -- that stuff sucks and you should probably uninstall as much of it as you can. But the core of Windows Vista itself is pretty usable for mortals. Windows Firewall is just fine, and there are many existing threads on AskMe about antivirus apps.
posted by anildash at 4:11 PM on November 24, 2008

Delete everything from Start Menu > All Programs > Startup. You likely don't need anything to start automatically unless your folks have accessibility concerns.

Also run regedit and see what's in
set to run at startup. Generally, you don't need anything in there unless it's a touchpad driver or similar.

DITCH NORTON. Norton sucks and slows down your PC. Almost any alternative is better.

Windows firewall is OK, and in conjunction with decent antivirus/antimalware solutions and Firefox will protect your parents from most exploits.

I would also set Windows Update to run, download updates, and install them automatically but use the common registry hack to disable automatic restarts so your folks don't lose any work.

Other than that the guide posted by katillathehun is surprisingly good as those types of guides go.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:12 PM on November 24, 2008

I've found AVG to be an excellent, light-footprint free antivirus package on my vista machine. If you want a bit more strength for a modest fee, Nod32 comes highly recommended. Definitely ditch Norton though. If you want to beef up the firewall, you can run the free Comodo firewall which was voted best free firewall on Lifehacker. Also, I use TweakUAC to cut down on the popups.

Since you're supporting your parents, you may also want to check out the free Logmein which allows you to take remote control of their desktop. It's been a lifesaver for me.
posted by mattholomew at 6:04 PM on November 24, 2008

Make sure at least 2GB of RAM are installed. Seconding removing all the programs that came installed, including Norton, and turning on Windows Firewall and Windows Update.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:05 PM on November 24, 2008

I have used this to remove "bloatware" (I think it's called) from a new PC.
It worked for me.
posted by lungtaworld at 7:05 PM on November 24, 2008

I know this isn't necessarily what you want, but just for the record: I've actually downgraded a few laptops over here where I work from Vista to XP, mostly at the request of the exasperated users. XP can also be a bloaty mess in its own way, mind you, but at least I've learned how to cut it down to size. Vista has been a whole new learning curve for me.

[oh, and you're probably already sick of hearing this, but: if you can afford it, a Mac provides a smoother interface and an easier learning curve for non-computery people, IMHO--but I know that Macs aren't always an option]
posted by LMGM at 6:45 AM on November 25, 2008

Once you've built the PC and installed all software, take an image of it and put one copy on a (hidden) partition and burn another to DVD.

If all hell breaks loose then you can backup the remaining data and re-image the PC back to something sane.
posted by mr_silver at 10:04 AM on November 25, 2008

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