Advice for switching to Windows 7
October 14, 2014 4:35 PM   Subscribe

I recently purchased a new desktop PC running a clean install of Windows 7, without any other software installed. What should I know or prepare for before I get started with daily consumer use?

I'm switching to the PC as my primary gaming, media, and web browsing device. Nothing special, really. I'll be moving from an old laptop running Osx 10.6.8. I know a huge world of compatibility and options is opening up, and I'm kind of daunted by that.

I'm mostly concerned about the initial switch to Windows 7 and changing habits. Should I still use Itunes and Libreoffice? VLC? I used to love Winamp, but that's no longer supported. Will just using Chrome and Adblocker be good enough for peace of mind re: viruses (are viruses still a thing?)

Basically I'm asking: "You are a windows user, and you are setting up a new machine. What are the first few steps you take?"
posted by kittensofthenight to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Viruses are still a thing. There seems to be conflicting information about Microsoft's anti-virus offerings so I use the free version of Bitdefender. It's simple to use and seems to be very highly rated. I also use Chrome, Adblock, LastPass, and Privacy Badger. I've never had any problems.

When I start over on a gaming PC I install Chrome, VLC, Steam, and Bitdefender and then go from there. I don't play music on my gaming PC so I don't install iTunes. If you have an iPhone or iPad and this will be your main computer then iTunes is probably the simplest solution.

Probably the very first thing will be to download dozens of Windows updates. You're probably just going to want to be a little more careful about strange links/files/websites than you might have been with you Mac.
posted by sevenless at 4:50 PM on October 14, 2014

Run Windows Update until you're fully updated and set it to auto update/install. Install SpyBot and Windows Defender. Consider installing MalewareByte as well, which has good real-time protection when web surfing. Get in the habit of creating restore points from time to time. Instal SyncToy or a similar app for backing up your data to an external hard drive and have it autorun periodically, using Windows Task Scheduler to do that.
posted by mono blanco at 4:54 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Copy/pasted from an old email. Please note that turning off UAC and the firewall may be a bad idea, I included the instructions because it is something I always do.

On a clean install of windows 7 i do the following

1 - Disable UAC (User account controls)
2 - Turn off the built in firewall. My router already has one and I don't need to see warnings about programs using a port other than 80. (
3 - On a clean install i would use ninite ( to install launchy as well as the core apps i want on my machine. The list of core apps is:
-Flash IE
-Acrobat Reader
-Windows Security Essentials
-Launchy (a quicksilver/sherlock/etc replacement)

Configure explorer to display file extensions and hidden files.

Re security, I only use Windows defender.

I have not tried used it myself, but I hear good things about boxstarter. It would be used in place of minute.
posted by phil at 4:57 PM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, my first step every time I do this is to go to Ninite and just go through the checklist for everything I like/use. That gets you ~80% of the way there. If there's more-specific things you want to do, we can provide recommendations from there. (For example, I love Plex for media library/streaming purposes.)
posted by CrystalDave at 5:12 PM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Disable UAC (User account controls)

Please don't do that. That's like being fed up with having to lock your house everyday and removing your front door to deal with the frustration.

You've removed one annoyance but will probably have some new ones real quick.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 5:37 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I use an old version of Winamp and it works just fine. I always hated iTunes and I just keep my music as folders of MP3s. Try for Winamp.

I'd get a free antivirus like Avast. That should really be enough. I have other things like Spybot and Malwarebytes and I'm not sure how necessary they are. You can add them too though. I personally use ZoneAlarm as my firewall. Windows has its own firewall, but I like the control and interface of ZoneAlarm, personally. I can block certain programs and I can see all the connections.

I use VLC player, Windows Media Player and Winamp for videos, depending on the file type. Just do not use QuickTime for anything. Make sure you don't associate it with any file types. If you find any videos won't play, you can update your video codecs with a bundle pack, but VLC should play everything without additional codecs.

Install Firefox or Chrome. Do not use Internet Explorer, which may be bundled with Windows. Add any add-ons or extensions you like to use with your browser of choice.

I'm a Dropbox user, so that would be a top-tier install to get all my stuff synced.

I would turn off automatic Windows updates. It's just inconvenient and I learned the hard way (at least with XP) that turning off your computer during updates can ruin your computer. My updates are off and periodically I just check and download them when I am bored. You can set it up to notify you without automatically downloading if you want, but I turn mine off entirely. The updates keep your computer secure or whatever, but I have let my Windows go a long time without updates without issues.

Enjoy your PC! I have both and would take PC over Mac any day!
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:44 PM on October 14, 2014

One other thing, you can set a password that will lock your computer when it starts up, when it goes idle for a while and/or when you press ctrl+alt+delete. I'd write it down somewhere so you don't forget. If you're super serious about no one ever getting on your computer, set up a BIOS password, which is a little more advanced but Googleable.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:50 PM on October 14, 2014

Samsara's advice here on setting up a Windows machine with limited rights I've found very helpful, and of course the anti-virus and other recommendations are well worth reading.
posted by scooterdog at 8:21 PM on October 14, 2014

Best answer: MediaMonkey instead of iTunes.

I've used Security Essentials with Windows 7 but have no idea if the latest versions are bundled with it (it's the same thing as Windows Defender).

LibreOffice is fine.
posted by juiceCake at 8:26 PM on October 14, 2014

I'd go with the basic Antivirus SE by Microsoft. Yes there are many paid alts but at the end of the day where exactly is the user going to where he/she needs the extreme protection.

Media: CCCP is the best media player I've tried and compatible w/most formats.

Music player: Winamp its not longer actively maintained but so far it still works for me. I like Spotify for internet radio or looking up bands. I had Spotify free until the ads drove me mad in the recent updates.

CCleaner: Deletes and uninstalls Apps/Programs. It's free.

f.lux : Changes the color of the monitor depending on time /location and helps my declining eyesight. It's free.

Chrome/FF: The one time IE is used is to install better browsers.

MS Office: Available if you are a student or maybe some companies provide their employees with a discounted edition.

winRAR: Unzips and zips files.

Some form of PDF reader: Options are varied depending how you need to edit or interact w/PDFs.

Fences: New version is no longer free but older editions are fine. Organizes your icons in boxes and is useful to hide too many icons.

Google Drive: Depends if you're a part of the Google ecosystem but I like to store text files here. It's free.

Picasa: Basic photography editor. The image viewer is nice too. It's free.

Dropbox?: Recent news isn't exactly reassuring but I like to store homework or classwork here to avoid USB drives.

Oh and some kind of program for backups for important data on a external HDD is a Good Idea. It's best to be overly prepared than have to somehow recover data in the future.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 10:00 AM on October 15, 2014

* Ninite for loading software.
* Microsoft Security Essentials
* DO NOT turn off UAC. What you can do is just run your PC as a local administrator. The difference between a regular user account and a local administrator account is that the regular user account requires a username and password for an administrative action, and an administrator account gets a yes/no prompt. One other difference is that often with an infected user account, you can just delete the user profile and you're good. With an infected Admin account, you have to reformat the machine.
* DO NOT turn off automatic Windows Updates. Seriously. You WILL get infected doing that.
* I don't think you need Spybot or Malwarebytes unless you actually get infected.

Other Notes:
* You MUST keep your PC applications (Flash, Adobe Reader, Java and Quicktime especially) up to date. (And of that list, only load the ones you need.) This is the best thing you can do to protect your PC. I highly recommend Secunia PSI for this.
* Adblock Plus has a Disable Malware list that wouldn't be a bad idea to load.
* Also, whatever you do, get an SSD. It's still the single best upgrade you can do on a computer.
* Microsoft Office is a lot better than LibreOffice. The Student and Teacher edition is relatively inexpensive.
posted by cnc at 11:08 AM on October 15, 2014

I'm going to talk about using Windows a bit because that's important too. Some of the below are just my preferences, but they're so logical how could they not be yours too? ;-)

* If you are using a monitor that is considerably wider than it is deep (i.e. just about any monitor these days), right-click on the taskbar, select "Unlock", and drag the taskbar to the left or right side of your screen rather than having it at the bottom. Adjust the width by hovering over the edge and pressing and holding the mouse while moving left/right. This is just brilliant for gaining vertical screen real estate, which is where you generally need it.

* Pin the applications you use all the time to your taskbar. When the application is running, right-click on the taskbar's slot for that program and select "Pin this program to taskbar". You can also do this with documents. Then you don't need as many program shortcuts on the desktop itself, and programs are a click away.

* Go to Control Panel->Mouse, select the Wheel tab, and change the wheel setting to scroll "one screen at a time". (Mr. Efficiency Nut says, "everyone should have this turned on!", but non-Efficiency Nuts often disagree.) Adjust the mouse's sensitivity while you're there.

* Also about navigating Windows with the least effort, try some keyboard shortcuts:
** ALT-Tab to switch between applications (holding down ALT and pressing Tab again as necessary);
** the Windows Key by itself opens the start menu and you can browse it with cursor keys;
** WindowsKey-E to open the file explorer;
** WindowsKey-D to minimize all windows;
** WindowsKey-F for Find (searching the system);
** F1 for Help;
** ALT-F4 (or Alt-Spacebar, C) to close a window;
** Alt-Spacebar, X to maximize a window. Of course, there are many others and I'm probably not mentioning the best ones.

* Run ClearType, which tunes the anti-aliasing of text (or something). It can make a big difference to readability if you're staring at a web page of text thinking "well that looks like crap". Note that Firefox is the browser that most often has odd text rendering issues on Windows. Also explore your display's settings for brightness/contrast/etc as well as any configuration software in Windows (such as Nvidia Control Panel) that does the same. Use a page with images like this and follow the instructions. This can make a big difference in the long run, so you're not staring at washed-out whites or losing black differentiation.

* In File Explorer (it is called numerous things, but basically any window that displays hard drives, directories, and files), set a default appearance that matches the level of detail you prefer. Otherwise you end up viewing a different directory and the view is different and it's very annoying. So, having decided what View you want (file details or just icons, etc.)—and if details, what columns and what widths—see instructions here.

* Understand that you can access the command line by pressing "WindowsKey-R" and typing "cmd", enter. You may not do anything with it for a long time, but Windows does have a command line, FWIW. Understand that if a program is frozen and just won't close properly that the Task Manager, CTRL-SHIFT-ESC, will allow you to force it closed (in some cases you need to go to the second tab, select "program-name.exe" and press "End Program").
posted by sylvanshine at 7:26 PM on October 15, 2014

Do you have a lot of media files you have to move around? MP3s? Movies? Etc.?

Then get TeraCopy. It will make copying files smoother and more reliable. You'll be able to pause copy operations and resume them later. You get a display of which files copied well and which had issues, so if a copy gets interrupted, you can start where it left off. Once you've opened a TeraCopy window, you can even drag and drop other stuff into it to copy to the same folder.

Anyone who's ever had a copy operation of several gigs of mixed files fail and then been stuck starting from scracth will appreciate this (free, no-ads) software.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:09 PM on October 15, 2014

Also, Prino PDF. This will let you print anything you like as a PDF, which is super useful for everything from sending out resumes to saving an electronic copy of something in a hurry.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:53 PM on October 15, 2014

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