Protection and Productivity You Can Afford

I get asked a lot what programs should a person absolutely have on their computer. The answer varies a lot depending on what you are going to be doing with the computer and exactly what type of computer you have. But let me address the most general “need to have” application for the most typical users.

For the most part, my friends and family use some form of Microsoft Windows computer. First step is to make sure you are up-to-date with all the Patches. You can accomplish this simply by going to Microsoft’s Update site . This is a MUST first step. If you are running Windows XP make sure you install Service Pack 2.

OK once your system is up-to-date, you’ll need a Firewall (unless you installed XP Service Pack 2 which enables its firewall), Anti Virus, some software to kill Spyware, and you’ll most likely want some sort of Office Suite. Now there are commercial versions of all this software, however I am going to point you to Freeware and Open Source solutions instead. [side note] It’s important to understand that there is a distinct difference between Freeware and Open Source [/side]

I guess before we proceed, I should make sure you have at least some understanding of what you are getting when you use freeware/open source and make sure you are comfortable with this as your solution. Personally, I have no problem recommending these solutions but I do not guarantee their performance. OK real quick, freeware is defined as “Copyrighted software given away for free by the author. Although it is available for free, the author retains the copyright, which means that you cannot do anything with it that is not expressly allowed by the author. Usually, the author allows people to use the software, but not sell it.” Where as Open Source is “a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge, i.e., open. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community. Open source sprouted in the technological community as a response to proprietary software owned by corporations.”


Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s continue with the programs. Once you’ve got your system up to date, the next step before doing anything else is to install a Firewall. Windows XP actually comes with a firewall and if you install service pack 2 it gets enabled by default. Personally, at the time of writing this, Service Pack 2 for XP is still very new and I do not use the Firewall feature built in instead I opt for another firewall solution. So, if you would rather try another firewall, or your not running Windows XP, then the one recommendation I have is ZoneAlarm. They have several variations of it’s pay to use product but they also offer a slim down personal version for free. You might need to dig around on their website a little to find but usually if you go to their download section and look for their plain vanilla ZoneAlarm product that is their free version.

I’m not really going to go into how to download, install and use all these products as that’s a little out of the scope of this but I will say the Firewall will be the most intrusive product you download and install out off all the ones I recommend here. Mainly because of the nature of a firewall itself. Firewalls want to make sure you know of everything on your system that is trying to talk to the internet and everything on the internet that wants to talk to your system and so there is a learning curve for the firewall. Where you have to tell it what’s OK and what’s not. I know it’s a pain but it really is a requirement and you really need to have a firewall. So suck it up and do it. If I get enough request I’ll go ahead and talk about how to configure ZoneAlarm and what it’s doing exactly.


Now that we have our firewall in place and protecting the perimeter, let’s get some antivirus installed and protecting the integrity of the system itself. For a long time your only solution for Antivirus was to pay for a product like Symantec or MacAfee. This was actually not a bad deal. You usually paid about $60 and you got and antivirus that you would periodically go out and update the definition library and all was right with the world. Unfortunately, viruses got to be more and more main stream and the definition updates got to be more and more frequent and now we are to the point where the big boys in the antivirus relies their isn’t as much profit in providing a one time cost and have started to switch to a subscription service where you buy their product then you purchase a subscription to keep it up to date on a monthly or year cost. I can appreciate the dilemma the antivirus companies find themselves and understand why they feel they need to have subscriptions instead of raising the cost of their product. Personally, I would like to see the subscription cost go down a little but that’s neither here nor their and fortunately we have free solutions.

There are a couple of free antivirus solutions out their but the one I find myself turning to time and time again is AVG from Grisoft. Really a good product, free, and includes free updates. Again, just go to their site, click on their download section and look for the “AVG Free Edition”. It doesn’t include some of the bells and whistles on more commercial versions, including their own, but it is a bare minimum you need to protect your system. Antivirus, along with the firewall, are a must have on every system.