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I Have a Great New Computer! Now What?

I hope all of you had a wonderful, technology filled holiday. Myself I have a much larger and stronger wireless network at home and several new movies to watch (digital copies, of course), but let's talk about you. Did you get a spiffy new computer? Nice new MacBook, netbook, iMac, Windows laptop or desktop? Not an uncommon gift for Christmas, or a post-Christmas Boxing Day gift, these days.

Computers, Macs or PCs, laptops or desktops, are all much more affordable than they used to be, not to mention easier to use and much more powerful than they once were. Of course when you get this new machine (ah the new computer smell), and the first thrill of setting it up wears off, you probably wondering, "Now what?" What should I do, download, install, delete (yes, there is lots you can delete, especially on PCs) to get the most out of your new machine.

Lucky for you (and me in fact) there are lots of great "I got a new Mac/PC, what do I do now!?!" out this year. Don't worry, all of the lists are simple and easy to understand. Here are a few of the really good ones I found in the last week or so:

Lifehacker's Set Up and Get to Know Your New Windows, Mac, or Linux Computer 

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)'s Mac 101: AllThingsD delivers a video guide for Mac novices

In addition to (and reinforcing what some of the lists say) here are some of my top tips for a new machine:

  • Get a really good surge suppressor/power bar. I'm not taking about those cheap 6-outlet jobs you pick up for a few bucks, these are in the $20 and up range. These are the real deal and actually protect your computer, and everything connected to it, from power surges. If it's connected to your computer, it should be plugged into one of these. Trust me on this one.
  • If you have a laptop get a stand/desk/lifter. Depending on how you're going to be using your laptop, get something to raise it up off the desk a bit. This doesn't just help you work at it more easily, but lifting the laptop up off the desk a bit will help keep it cool (and extend the overall life of your machine). I have an array of stands, lap desks, and lifters at home. I'm never without one wherever I go in fact.
  • Download Firefox and Google Chrome. Doesn't matter if you use a Mac or PC you should have Firefox installed. For PC users, Firefox is going to give you a much better, faster, and safer browsing experience. Mac users, well, I use Safari day to day, but often need to use Firefox for specific sites that just don't seem to like Safari. Google Chrome is a relative newcomer to the browser pack, but it is well worth having installed, especially if you use services like Gmail, Google Calendar, or Google Docs. Chrome lets you use those services more like applications, even offline. Oh did I mention it's probably one of the fastest browsers you're going to run into?
  • PC users download and install spyware and anti-virus software now. No, don't take up the computer makers on their offers of free Macafee or Norton. Those little buggers are a) really hard to uninstall and b) they aren't any better than free alternatives. My go to favourites are still AVG Free antivirus and Spybot Search & Destroy. Giving credit where credit is due, I hear that Microsoft's new package of security software is pretty darn good, and free, so if it was installed on your machine give it a shot.
  • Be careful downloading. Remember Homer's The Odyssey? Remember the Trojan Horse? The easiest way to defeat your enemy is to get them to just invite you into their castle. While there is lots and lots of great software to download and use (believe me I download and use software all the time), there are also lots of apps that are just out there for you to download and install to breach your defenses. What's safe? Downloading from Apple, CNET, Version Tracker, Lifehacker, and other widely cited sites are generally safe bets. Going to sites that promise free, unlocked versions of Adobe CS4 or Microsoft Office, you're asking for trouble. Just don't.

Maybe my last piece of advice, and the one my father told me with my first computer of my own, is to read the manuals, at least the quick start guide at the very least. Often the first questions you have, will be answered there. On your computer use the Help menu. I do all the time. I'm often looking up commands or settings under help (or to be really geeky the man pages), when I get stuck. That's how I get myself unstuck.

Those are the best tips I can start you off with. If you have questions you'd like me to answer, drop me a line at [email protected] and I'll try to answer them in next week's column.

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