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Reminder: Pack Software Updates Before Heading Home For the Holidays

If your Thanksgiving weekend didn't feature a round of troubleshooting relatives' computers, the odds are that this upcoming weekend will. (In my case, both Thanksgiving and Christmas involve this task; it's yet another one of this job's many perks.)

Should your Christmas/Hannukah/etc. family time be similarly blessed, you may find the advice I dished out for Turkey Day tech support to be useful. Note, however, that since then Apple has released another update to Mac OS X Leopard, the 10.5.6 update discussed here last week, and it's waaaay too big to contemplate downloading over dial-up.

If your family's haul of presents includes a new computer, you've got a different situation to deal with -- although you'll probably have to download a batch of updates, you'll also usually need to remove a lot of the extra crud that most Windows computer manufacturers feel compelled to pre-install. You'll also most likely want to change a few system settings (for instance, turning on the firewall on a Mac).

Thursday's column, much like the column I wrote at about this time last year, will go into detail on what to remove, install or reconfigure on a new Mac or Windows machine to get it shipshape. You can help with that: If a non-technical family member asked you to help set up a new home computer, what changes would you usually make to it? Post your suggestions in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  December 22, 2008; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  Mac , Tips , Windows  
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Next: Present Unwrapping Open Thread


Here I am a Systems Analyst, on PCs all the time and my sister talks our parents into buying a Mac.

The good thing is that I never get hit up for support. The bad thing is when I go to visit I am confounded by the darn thing. If I can get on and get my Internet mail I'm doing good.

Whoever thinks Macs are easy hasn't spent their entire career on a PC!

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 22, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse

One thing I do is make sure their browsers are more than functional. For PCs, I download Firefox and set it up. In both Safari and Firefox, I turn on tabbed browsing, blocking of pop-up ads, and set the computers to accept cookies only from visited sites. I also will be downloading and adding Evernote this year, so that users can save web pages to be read later on any computer or smartphone later.

Posted by: query0 | December 23, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Turn off Vista Aero Glass and go back to the classic interface.

Nothing is more annoying than having the hard disk running at full throttle while you're trying to work or surf. A couple tips to quiet the hard drive:

Anti-virus software: Turn off the boot-up scan and any scheduled scans by the anti-virus software, but make sure that the system monitoring feature is on. Set that feature to scan when files are created (but not when files are merely accessed).

Swap file: Set the minimum and maximum swap file size to the same number. Otherwise, the hard drive will periodically fire up to re-size the file.


If the computer has on-board graphics and splits system memory between graphics and Windows, go into the BIOS and review how much has been set aside for graphics. It may be too much. For simple web surfing and DVD viewing, you only need 32 or 64 MB for graphics (this tip not applicable with Vista Aero Glass interface). You can even get away with just 16 MB.

For Windows XP, create a new administrator account and then convert their old account into a limited user account. Teach them to only use the administrator account when making system changes, installing Windows updates, or installing software that they "trust."

To encourage this split usage, use a long user name for the administrator account so that is inconvenient to use, such as, "theoneandonlyadministrator" Use a short and easy user name for the limited user account, such as "Kim"

And something that will require some periodic maintenance: install a custom HOSTS file to block known threats. For example, the one from (search for "Hosts file" on the site's search box).

Posted by: taskforceken | December 23, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse

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