Software packages:
All the bells and whistles that M$ didn't include, or if they did, screwed up badly.

 First program we're going to grab and install is Mozilla Firefox.  Internet Explorer is a worthless piece of garbage that does nothing but attract spyware.  If I'm not clear enough, let me say it again....


DO NOT USE Interet Explorer for anything other then Windows UPDATE !

90% of the spyware and virus infections I fix are caused by idiots who insist on (or just don't know any better) using IE.  It is so incredibly unsecure that simply typing in the wrong web address and hitting return can hose your system.

So, don't be an idiot, and avoid IE.  I recommend Mozilla Firefox. Grab the newest version here.  During the install, choose standard.  Let it install, and then load it.  Tell it to not import anything from I.E.  Say yes to being the default browser.  Inside of Firefox, go to tools, options.  Configure Firefox according to these screen shots.

#1   #2   #3   #4  

Using Firefox, download the newest ad block filter for firefox at this page.  Read the instructions on their site, download and install it.  Make sure you have it configured to use one of the ad blocking subscriptions.  Restart firefox as needed.

Now go to an advertisement heavy site like www.cnn.com .  Notice how much cleaner it is now.

For reading pdf's, avoid Adobe Acrobat.  Adobe is very invasive with regards to the machine, and loves to autorun bullshit and leak memory while in use.  Also, Adobe has gotten extremely buggy with their last few releases.  Use Foxit PDF reader instead.  Grab Foxit here.  When installing it, choose custom, then set the first group of options like this.  Set the second group of options like this.  Final group of options, deselect the lame ebay option at the bottom and hit finish.  

Download Adobe Flash player here and install it.  You'll need to restart firefox for this to be active.

Download Sun Java from here.  Pick the Windows (offline installation) version.  Run the download and do a typical setup. After installing (ignore any whines to reboot), go to the control panel, open java, and click settings.  Uncheck "Keep temporary files on my computer".  Still inside java,  go to update, and uncheck it.  Ignore the giant screaming whine about "are you sure you don't want to run crappy memory resident programs that eat massive amounts of ram, blah blah blah".  Then go to advanced, and set it like this.  Finally, check the startup control panel to make sure there's no auto starting java crap (some versions of java put a bunch of crap in there).

For a standalone (non webmail) email client, avoid Outlook and Outlook Express like the plague, due to MASSIVE security and stability problems (Don't come crying to me when Outlook wipes out 20,000 emails on a whim or gets infected by the latest worm and takes out the company Domain Controllers.  Yes, I've seen Outlook do this).  The best option by far is Mozilla Thunderbird.  Get it here.  Configuration and options will depend HUGELY on what mail server/ provider you are going to use.  

Get Crap Cleaner ( Yes its really called that, and accurately too ) here.  Make sure you get the slim build. When installing it, set the options like this.  You can access ccleaner by right clicking on the recycle bin.  Set the options inside Ccleaner as you prefer ( I have it nuke the hotfix uninstallers and scrub some custom folders as well).  Go ahead and run it.  

For handling zip files, the built in windows zip utility sucks.  (need to update this section)

For media formats like quicktime, itunes, windows media player, and real audio, do NOT download those programs, as they royally bloat the system.  Itunes in particular has gotten incredibly bad lately, by installing 4 different autoloading bullshit services, screwing with the network stack, piggy backing additional crapware thats not required, hijacking media preferences, etc,etc, etc.  Use K-Lite mega codec pack instead.  During the install, don't create a start menu icon.  Do default options for all other choices.  For quicktime support, download this sucker.  During the install, don't create a start menu icon.  Do default options for all other choices.

Virus scanner.  The vast majority of the big boys like Mcafee ( God I am old, I remember when everyone and their mom called them McAsshole), Symantec, etc, all suck badly.  Virus scanners that try to take over firewall duties from the OS (aka "Internet Security" suites) are particularly horrible, and should avoided like the plague.  A few good choices for AV scanners......  

First choice is a program called KAV.  KAV costs money, and isn't a good choice for really slow machines (anything made in the last 3-4 years should be fine though), but with this option set, it will find and nuke virtually any of the worms, spyware, viruses, etc that exist on the net.  In my opinion, this is the only way to go if you are in a high threat environment.  People who are going to get involved in music or file sharing should spend the money for this, otherwise you are at a EXTREMELY risk of getting nailed by some crapware.  If you use KAV, make sure to set it to scan for riskware, as shown in this screenshot.

Second choice, and the best option for low risk users and cheap skates, is the free and excellent AVG.  AVG doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but it works well and doesn't slow the system down to a crawl like Symantec and McAsshole.  Grab it here.  During the installion, you will come to a screenshot asking you for options like "link scanner" and a few others.  Deselect ALL of these options. Hit finish or continue for the rest of the options.  After installing, AVG will want to set up a scheduled time to scan your system (you can either set a time, or disable it, up to you), and then go online to grab all the updates.  Let it do so.  After it updates and is working (the system tray icon will be in a "rainbow" color when its fully updated), open the system tray icon, and go to tools, Advanced Settings.   Go to Schedules, and set it like this and this.  The times can be set to whatever you want.

Third choice, for people who don't like AVG, is AVAST.  I haven't used AVAST a lot, but coworkers have good things to say about it, so I recommend it as an option.  Use your judgement for any install options.

Finally, for spyware detection and removal, probably the best of the bunch is Spy Bot search and destroy.  Grab it here.  Install it, and set the options during install like this followed by this.  Get it installed and let it run.  Keep hitting next or continue until you see this screen.  Hit the Search for Updates, find the stable files mirror (if its not there, pick another US based one), right click the mirror in question, and set it as your preferred download location.  In the list of all the updates, right click in the middle, and select all the updates.  Then hit download.  After spybot reloads from all the updates, click yes to any nag screens, go to Mode, Advanced Mode. Ignore any whines.  Then go to settings on the bottom left, then settings again.  Set the options like this and this.

Malware bytes also is a good spyware removal program.  Default settings should be fine.


And finally.....................
Office software.  3 real options....

1. M$ office 2003.  Not cheap unless you get a student version or warez it.  M$ office 2003 is best choice for overall compatibility if you HAVE to use M$ office.  If using this, make sure you have ALL security updates installed from office.microsoft.com (hit the downloads tab, then office update).  Also, make sure to grab the office 2007 compatibility pack as well.  Install options are up to you, but its HIGHLY recommended to do a custom install and only pick the EXACT options you will need, and nothing else.   Many of the "features" in M$ office can slow down the system, or introduce further nasty security issues. DO NOT INSTALL OR USE OUTLOOK.

2. M$ office 2007.  Not cheap unless you get a student version or warez it.  VERY poor compatibility with any other version of Office unless they also run M$ office 2007.  Horrible interface as well compared to the other choices.  Also MUCH MUCH MUCH more bloated ( for the exact install options I use at the day job, install size is 220MB for 2003 vs 1030MB for 2007). No real advantage over M$ office 2003.   If using this, make sure you have ALL security updates installed from office.microsoft.com (hit the downloads tab, then office update).   As with M$ office 2003, install options are up to you, but its HIGHLY recommended to do a custom install and only pick the EXACT options you will need, and nothing else.  Many of the "features" in M$ office can slow down the system, or introduce further nasty security issues.  DO NOT INSTALL OR USE OUTLOOK.

3. Open Office.  Free, no massive security problems, and fairly decent compatibility with M$ office. The best option for people who want reliable secure software, or who don't want to give Uncle Bill even more money.   Lacks some of the more exotic bells and whistles that M$ office has, but should be more then enough for 99.9% of the public.  Grab it here.  Select whatever options you feel you might need (as always, the less crap you install, the better your computer will run), but make sure to set the optional items like this during install.