Please help me set up a new Windows computer the correct way.
May 1, 2012 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Please help me set up a new Windows computer the correct way.

My sister bought a new PC last week from Best Buy. The fact that it's not a good time to buy a computer, where she bought it from, or the brand of computer are all water under the bridge facts. She wanted a computer now, and Best Buy is where she wanted to get it from. From what she's told me all I know is that it's has a tower, and runs windows 7 home edition. The Best Buy employee told her she'd need to make a 'restore disk', since it didn't come with the computer, and also gave her a disk with Norton Anti-virus that is free for 6 months.

10 years ago I knew the PC world up and down, but I moved onto the Mac platform in 2002, and I've been happily ignorant of the Windows world ever since (for the most part). But I'm going over in a couple of days to help her set it up (she promised she'd wait).

She will be using her computer for work, is not computer savvy, and her young kids will probably also play on the computer. I'd rather not be her weekly tech guy, so I ask any Windows experts, how would you set up her computer?

Use Norton or something else? I guess I'll make a restore disk? What browser should I make as her default? I'm guessing the kids need a separate account to protect hers?

Any advice or suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by ratherbethedevil to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Mozilla/Firefox is your best bet for a browser, but I'll bet she'll use Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Also, it may have an operating system (Windows 7) but she may need to spend a couple of bucks on some programs to go with it. I got Microsoft Office 2010 with my new Dell, and we got a cheapo Toshiba, so I bought it again for $15 from my job. Check around, many people's jobs offer similar deals. If not, that's another $120 to spend.

Norton is fine, but if she's anything like the rest of the world, she'll never run it and when the free period lapses, it will go the way of the do-do.

Kids adds a whole new dimension because they click on malware like mo-fos. So you'll want some malware, spybot stuff on there. Firefox is great because it really cuts down on that stuff.

Also, IMPLORE her to back the thing up regularly. Especially if she's storing a bunch of pictures on it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:10 AM on May 1, 2012

Firstly, get rid of bundled crapware with PC Decrapifier. That will result in a faster, less annoying computer.

Uninstall Norton.

Then, install the software you need with the fabulous Ninite. That will save you hours of clicking and waiting. One of the choices in Ninite is antivirus; I suggest MS Essentials. Free, fast and effective.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:10 AM on May 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just about everything Norton makes is memory-hogging crap software. If they need virus protection, AVG is good and free.

Chrome as a default browser would be a good idea. It's not the gaping security hole IE is and I've never managed to use Firefox without memory leak issues (which are easily resolved, but not by someone who doesn't know computers well.)

Also, if she bought it at Best Buy, it'd generally be a good idea to format the entire hard-drive and do a clean Windows install. The Big Box stores tend to throw a lot of auto-booting crap on their computers. I still do it the old-fashioned way (find drivers/install files for everything, throw them on external media, format, reinstall OS, reinstall drivers) but I'm pretty sure there's all sorts of ways to make the process simpler now.
posted by griphus at 7:11 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely create the restore disks, and then stash it somewhere. Separate accounts for all users. Download and run PC Decrapifier. Ditch Norton and replace it with Microsoft Security Essentials, a free and reliable product. Set up automatic Windows updates. Install Chrome or Firefox, if you like.

As far as avoiding becoming the PC tech support guy (oh, how I feel your pain), user education is the only real preventative. Sadly, one constant I have found in life is that people will go to great lengths to avoid learning even the bare minimum of best practices as far as PCs go. Good luck.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2012

also gave her a disk with Norton Anti-virus that is free for 6 months.

Ye gods! Avoid this like the plague. Cut it up with kitchen shears lest someone be tempted to use it, and then recycle it.

how would you set up her computer?

Definitely go ahead and make the restore disc; often the OEM will include a utility for doing so.

I would set up separate accounts for your sister and each of the kids - or a joint account for both kids if they are very young and your sister would find it easier to manage. All of these accounts should be of the "standard" type - a separate administrator account should be configured, but used only for software installation and maintenance tasks.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (the free version) is well-regarded in that arena, and Microsoft Security Essentials is decent (and free).

Set her up with a Dropbox account or similar and point the root folder to C:\Users\Sister\Documents. If she plans to handle a large volume of sentimentally important pictures, a flickr account or similar as an organization + backup method is a good idea.

Firefox or Chrome are better choices than IE9.

Keep all her warranty information, receipts, etc. related to the purchase in one place in the event that some hardware component turns out to be a lemon.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

(Okay, if that Decrapifier program linked above works the way it should, you don't need to reinstall the OS.)
posted by griphus at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2012

Yeah, instead of Norton, I'd just use the (included) Microsoft Security Essentials for AV software. It automatically updates in the same manner as Windows itself updates (though, more often, as it should), and it's free. Make sure the automatic updates and the firewall are turned on. The Decrapifier works pretty well at removing all the ad-ware that new PCs come with. This plus installing Firefox *with Adblock*, has been the best I've been able to do with my parents (well, besides buying them an iPad...).
posted by bluefly at 7:22 AM on May 1, 2012

Just wanted to second Busy Old Fool's reccomendation of Ninite. It is fantastic. It might be worth finding out how she finds things and opens programs on her computer. For some people, if it's not on the desktop or in "my documents" it doesn't exist. If she's going to be using programs regularly they should be in a place she knows, and if she's storing pictures/files she should know how to find them again. Maybe that's outside your job description, but could save you time and hassle later.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:23 AM on May 1, 2012

Mozilla/Firefox is your best bet for a browser, but I'll bet she'll use Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Please try to encourage her to use Firefox (or Chrome, I like Chrome too). IE is just a bunch of viruses and malware waiting to happen. Most of those forms of crap really exploit IE. I think you can use virus fear to steer her away from IE.

Also, it may have an operating system (Windows 7) but she may need to spend a couple of bucks on some programs to go with it. I got Microsoft Office 2010 with my new Dell

I just got a new PC and didn't buy Office. You can actually download a Microsoft Office "Starter Edition" which includes basic functional versions of Word and Excel. They are missing certain features (for instance, no Track Changes on Word) and they have an ad sidebar encouraging you to buy more Microsoft - but they're free, and they save me a lot of pain in converting file formats for stuff I brought home from work.

But it's good to have Open Office too, which replicates most of the Microsoft Office functions and has presentation software, etc. It's good for filling in the gaps Starter Office doesn't cover.

Also, I think restore disks are going the way of the white wolf. I just bought my new Windows laptop online, and it came with no disks. Everything was downloadable online (nice, IF your station works out of the box), and you're on your own to create an initial backup.
posted by Miko at 7:24 AM on May 1, 2012

So depending on how 'dangerous' your sister and her kids are at this stuff consider restricting access to the administrator account to yourself. The less they can change unassisted the less likely you are to get calls that 'xyz has stopped working, can you come to have a look'....She wants stuff changed she keeps a list and you come over once in a while and do it.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:27 AM on May 1, 2012

Some of this is repeating advice given above:

- Ninite is great. Use it. I'm not bothering linking to any software packages I mention below because they're all on Ninite.
- Avoid Norton like the plague. Microsoft Security Essentials is free, unobtrusive, and Good Enough.
- If they want Office, definitely try OpenOffice/LibreOffice first. It will work fine 99% of the time. (LibreOffice is the preferred version. There was a bit of a developer schism.)
- Web browsers: Firefox or Chrome. Chrome is more minimalist, and faster. Adblock is available for both.
- If you anticipate having to play remote tech support, install TeamViewer.
- Definitely encourage her to use a separate non-administrator account, especially if kids are going to be using it. She'll still be able to perform administrative functions, but only by entering the credentials to an admin account. This is roughly the same as the OSX security model, EXCEPT if someone is logged in as an admin, there won't be a password required (just a prompt) -- which is bad with users who are prone to clicking "Yes" on everything.
posted by neckro23 at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2012

Seconding the recommendation to install AdBlock, especially with young kids who might wind up clicking on random ads by mistake.

Look into the various security extensions in general. NoScript might be too annoying but maybe it can be set up in a user-friendly way or something, at least for the kids' accounts. There are also extensions that warn about sketchy sites and so forth.
posted by trig at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2012

Mozilla/Firefox is your best bet for a browser, but I'll bet she'll use Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Please try to encourage her to use Firefox (or Chrome, I like Chrome too). IE is just a bunch of viruses and malware waiting to happen. Most of those forms of crap really exploit IE. I think you can use virus fear to steer her away from IE.

Not true! Browsers are no longer the primary vector for malware attacks, 3rd party plugins are. And so far, IE9 does the best job at sanboxing/encapsulating threats. If you had to pick FF or Chrome however, Chrome with the built-in flash is a decent choice as they've worked with Adobe to sandbox the plugin. Once you put the commerical version on however, it's all up to how you're set your primary account.

Which brings me to the root of the malware problem...running under administrator credentials by default. My recommendation is NO user is an administrator, but that you have one available on the PC to elevate rights when needed. (if interested, I've written up a guide in my profile on how to secure Windows 7 PCs).

The only things I can think of not mentioned so far that might be worthwhile:
- My Web of Trust - A site adviser for most common browsers that can help steer you away from bad sites.
- Secunia PSI - A free memory resident software updater that will keep track of 3rd party plugins and other types of software commonly exploited (think of it as Windows Updates for everything else)
posted by samsara at 9:04 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had nothing but trouble from Norton products, so add one more recommendation for nuking Norton and installing Microsoft Security Essentials instead.

AVG Free isn't terrible, but it tries to upsell users to their premium version, so I wouldn't want to leave it on a non-techie's computer, lest they fall prey to the marketing BS.
posted by jcreigh at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2012

Set up a standard user account, and an admin account. Make the admin password something she will not be likely to forget. Give that password to her and to her only, make sure she knows that the kids are NOT to have that password. Windows 7 runs fine as a standard user. It isn't the huge PITA it was with earlier versions like XP.

Anything that requires admin permission (installing programs, for example) will ask for the admin password, much like OS X does.

Make sure she understands that the standard user account is the one to use for everything, and the admin is a "rescue" account for when something is broken.

(While you are at it, ask about adding a separate account for the kids, to let them play havoc with the screensaver and desktop background without messing with her preferred settings.)
posted by caution live frogs at 9:55 AM on May 1, 2012

First, Busty Old Fool's advice is exactly what I do for every new family computer. MSE is a great replacement for Norton, free and excellent protection. The only other things to do are:

Make certain that both Windows update and MSE update regularly. You only need the critical Windows updates.

Setup a separate admin account from your sister's main account as an administrator (in case all else fails). Password protect it. Your sister will probably want a password as well, if the kids have access to the computer (if for nothing else to prevent the kids from buying crap on ebay on mom's account).

I'm guessing the kids need a separate account to protect hers?

Most definitely, and they should not have admin rights. This allows the kids to have private email without hoops to jump through, different chat and forum accounts, different settings and saves on on-line games, and so on. If one kid fubars their account, it's less likely to wipe out everyone elses'.
posted by bonehead at 10:37 AM on May 1, 2012

Lot's of great information everyone. Going to make a list and everything and give it a go. Thanks again for all the great answers.
posted by ratherbethedevil at 1:35 PM on May 1, 2012

- The recommendation for multiple accounts is good, but they'll probably ignore it.
- Tell IE and Firefox to never ask to remember passwords. Set up their accounts with all but admin rights.
- Install Microsoft Essentials as the anti-virus; it will update along with Windows, because you'll set it up to check updates daily.
- Install Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash, Java, Mozilla Firefox (make it the default for web content).
- What does she need on it for work? Teach her to use a gmail account and google docs, and have her request a google drive account, for work stuff. It's actually really handy to be able to save stuff from home and open it at work from a cloud storage account.
- The Ninite list is quite good, doesn't show the just-released Google Drive, which I like having integrated with G Docs.

I like:
- VLC for playing videos
- Winamp for playing music. (No DRM)
- Skype
- Ccleaner is a pretty good cleanup tool to run occasionally.

De-crapify it with decrapifier and MSConfig.

- Rename the administrator account and email the password to yourself.
- Set up an admin-enabled account with a scary(Critical Restore) or dull(Backup) name, and horrible theme colors, low contrast dreary grays is annoying, and maybe a dreadful font. Delete all it's games and fun icons, so it won't be tempting to use. Email the password to yourself and her.

Fun and Ease of Use
- Make google the default search in IE, and get rid of most of IE's defaults.
- Bookmark Lifehacker, which is pretty darn useful, CNN, NYTimes, her fvaorite sites, facebook, etc. Find the best online flash game sites and bookmark them on the bookmarks bar in a folder called Fun. Kids are going to play games; help them find ones that aren't all hosed up w/ malware.

Install VNC from Ninite and hide the icons and menu folders. it's there so oyu can connect in when it's all borked up.

How Can I Support My Tech-Challenged Loved Ones Without Going Insane?
How to Fix Your Family’s Computer This Holiday So the Rest of the Year Is Easy
How to fix Mom and Dad’s computer

Make desktop shorcuts for running
- defrag - label it Once a month
- Microsoft Update - Label it Once A Week

If you can, make her a Linux emergency boot cd; it can salvage a horrible mess.

She should use a router, for wifi, and for limiting intruder access.

Tell her and the kids about the wretched scum and villains who want to sucker them into installing useless crap by lying to them, and to try really hard not to download tons of stuff. Remind her that backing up things like pictures of the kids, her resume, their music, etc., is cheap insurance.

Let her be really, really sweet to you for doing this.
posted by theora55 at 4:06 PM on May 1, 2012

I generally set up an Admin account with the password set to "Infect Me"; then set up separate user accounts for each person who will use the PC.

Ninite is a very useful tool, but has some gotchas involving badly behaved installers that install stuff per user (in a subfolder of %APPDATA% rather than a subfolder of %ProgramFiles%) which makes installing things for multiple users painful and bypasses all the security protection that Windows 7 provides for %ProgramFiles%.

Dropbox and Chrome are both affected by this; there may be others.

To do a proper system-wide installation of Chrome, use their Business version.

To do a proper system-wide installation of Dropbox, save this Dropbox installation script in the same folder as the Dropbox installer, then right-click the script and choose Run As Administrator. Let me know if it does anything stupid on Windows 7 as I've only tested it with XP.

I will join the chorus of those who say Norton is more trouble than it's worth, and that you should ditch it in favour of a good freebie. My preferred freebie is Panda Cloud Antivirus. It's very unobtrusive and very effective. The only thing I've ever seen it break (apart from malware) is installation of Windows XP Service Pack 3, and it's easy to turn off before doing one of those.

I'd rather not be her weekly tech guy

You should know that if you do choose to get involved with setting up your sister's computer, then that's exactly who you will in fact end up being, because Best Buy's drones will look at what you've done, realize it's not what they've been "trained" to deal with, and give your sister a bunch of static about you breaking her computer.

If your aim is to give your sister the least troublesome Windows box she can have, then by all means set it up using the advice given here. But if your aim is not to waste hours of your life tangling with a stuffed-up Windows box, then you should step away right now and make her understand that buying a Windows computer from Best Buy means she's bought into the whole Windows nightmare that you got your Mac to escape, and that for the sake of your mental health you are going to have nothing to do with the whole hideous mess.
posted by flabdablet at 5:29 PM on May 1, 2012

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