At this time of year you may be lucky enough to receive the gift of a PC or laptop running the latest Windows version and everything will be zipping along nicely.

In your excitement you will possibly install so many bits of software and listen to the advice of an army of PC experts. Here are my tips on configuring your new PC/Laptop.

When you switch on your lovely new PC you will be guided through a setup which seems simple enough. You might need to register and accept a few terms and conditions, which no one really reads! It may take up to an hour for everything to be fully installed and operational, so now what?

You will probably immediately go online and start using the internet but what is going on behind the scenes and do you really need to know? Yes! A basic understanding is crucial.

The internet is a lovely place but it is also a dangerous place and we have all heard the horror stories -- porn; phishing attacks (stealing your data); viruses....

In order to protect your machine from the worst of the internet you need some protection! Most new machines come with something pre-installed and it may be free, or may be a trial which you need to pay for later on. The most common one installed is Norton Internet Security (it's called many things but will be Norton...) In my opinion this is one of the worst pieces of software on the planet. It's not free, and will probably be a 90 day trial, requiring your credit card details at the end to continue the service. Uninstall it! The first thing I do when anyone asks me to look at why their PC/Laptop is running so slowly is uninstall Norton. Don't get me wrong, Norton is a reputable piece of software but it's absolute overkill.

The concept of the software is nice.... it sits in the background watching everything you and your PC are doing, holding your hand and ready to pop-up and protect you. In reality it's slow, confusing, and pops-up constantly with confusion message to the average user. Get rid of it! Do not pay for it! Your PC will suffer in the long term, as will your sanity. Trust me, I have removed countless copies of it.

Once it is removed you still need protection! You need something to check your PC for viruses and something to watch out for you while online.

Install Microsoft Security essentials -- it's very good, and it's completely free. This is your virus protection (and spyware)

Next, install the Web of Trust -- this is an awesome add-on to your browser. It quickly checks each website just before you visit it and pop ups a huge warning if the site has been reported as suspicious. It's completely free too! You can also rate web sites if you have any concerns, thus helping others.

Now your PC will happily keep you as safe as possible at no cost.

Next...Updates. You MUST keep your PC up to date. It's amazing how many people seem to ignore PC updates but they are there for a reason. Your virus protection software will probably check and update itself every day if it can. Don't ever stop it doing this. New viruses appear all the time so you need the software as up to date as possible.

The Windows system will also check for updates (usually weekly) -- again let it do this and let it do the updates. I can't stress enough how important it is to let these updates run. They will happen automatically but may pop-up and ask you if it is ok to install -- always say Yes, assuming it is a convenient time as they often need to restart the PC.

Avoid unnecessary Toolbars. These are handy little navigations bars which attach onto your browser with the aim of helping you search more quickly, or jump to your email or a shop. They are mostly useless. Often spyware masquerading as something else but in reality they are watching the sites you are visiting and throwing up adverts. Of course there are reputable ones from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc but on the whole you probably don't need them. I blogged about toolbars earlier and it's worth a read.

Finally, to be safe be sensible. In real life if it sounds too good to be true it is; equally so on the internet. If you get an email saying you have won the Canadian lottery think about it. Did you ever enter it?! Or someone in Nigeria wants to send you money but first you need to send them your bank details. Eh, No!!! Trust no one on the internet if you have not met them face to face. Anyone can masquerade as someone else and try to con you.

If you have kids talk to them about the internet and not trusting people. Don't scare them too much because the internet can be a fun place, but they should not talk to strangers (just like in real life). Take an interest in what they are doing online. Don't let them stay hidden in their bedroom for hours online without your supervision; pop in occasionaly to check they are ok and not being harassed, or chatting to strangers.

Enjoy your new PC -- be sensible and safe.

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