8 Things Every Windows User Should Know

I have whittled down to eight the most critical things to keep your Windows PC running smoothly. Any questions/comments/suggestions are much appreciated!

Windows ME is awful
Believe it or not, I still run across lots of people running ME and not realizing that most of the problems they’re having with their computer are due to this train wreck of an operating system. If you were one of the unlucky people who purchased a new PC in the relatively short time period between when new PCs were shipped with Windows 98SE and when they started coming with Windows XP, then you got shafted with Windows ME. WinME is by far the worst version of Windows ever released. It is buggy, horribly unstable, slow, and basically a disaster of an operating system on par with Hurricane Katrina. If you have ME installed and are having problems with your computer, there is a 99.9% chance that performing a clean install (not an upgrade) of Windows 2000 or Windows XP will solve all of your problems. The reason it is important to do a clean install rather than an “upgrade” is the fact that, as shown in the graphic below, 2000 and XP are based on a different, much more stable code base than the 95/98/Me family of Windows. Performing an “upgrade” from a member of the 98/98/Me family over to a member of the NT/2000/XP family will result in lots of stability issues and bugs, which are the problems you are trying to solve in the first place! Now of course the downside to the clean install is that you will lose everything on your C: drive, so you will need to either burn your beloved files to CDs or DVDs, or copy them to a different computer over a network. See this article for a good “how-to” on clean installing Windows XP.

Windows Family Tree

Strapped for cash? Rather than paying full price for XP Home or XP Pro at one of the big box stores, search for an OEM version on eBay. This is the the exact same software for a lower price because it is only supposed to be sold bundled with a new PC.

Keep a Linux LiveCD on hand
This one can truly be a life saver. If your Windows installation totally takes a crap on you and you can’t even get it to boot into safe mode, then having a Linux LiveCD around can allow you to boot into the Linux operating system directly from the CD and recover your important files before doing a clean install/pitching your laptop off your eighth floor balcony. Knoppix is my personal favorite, but Linux LiveCD’s come in dozens of flavors, here is a list. There is even a version that is a tiny 50MB and can boot from a USB memory stick!

Divide your hard drive into at least two partitions
If you only have one physical hard drive, when doing a clean install of Windows XP make sure to partition your drive into at least two pieces. This will allow you to have a D: drive in addition to your C: drive where your Windows install resides. This will make your life easier in the future because you can keep all of your data (documents, videos, music, etc.) on your D: drive and only have Windows and your other installed software on your C: drive. So, in the future, when you need to do a clean install again, you won’t need to worry about burning shiny discs or copying a bunch of data over to another computer, you will only format your C: drive, leaving your data intact on your D: drive through the whole process. It is a good idea to make your C: partition just big enough to store your Windows installation and your other software you will be installing and having your D: partition taking up the rest of your space. It will vary depending on how much software you are planning to install relative to how many gigabytes of data you like to keep around, but I recommend having your C: partition be 25-35% of your total hard drive space.

Ditch Norton AntiVirus
Several years ago, Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus used to be a decently efficient antivirus solution. Not anymore. It has become a horribly bloated and problematic piece of doggie doo. It often causes more problems than it solves, especially the sloppily implemented email scanning functionality. Between the freely available adware removers and the online virus scanners (detailed below), there is no need for Norton AntiVirus and most users will be best served by uninstalling it completely.

Install and run Lavasoft Ad-Aware
Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware is invaluable in detecting and eliminating the extremely annoying and intrusive spyware, adware, malware, and trojan horses than can easily find their way into your Windows machine (especially if you use IE, see below). Ad-Aware has a slick, easy-to-use interface and best of all, there is a version that is available for free download. Ad-Aware should be one of the first things you think of when your Windows PC starts misbehaving.

Use Spybot: Search & Destroy
Spybot: Search & Destroy is another nice piece of adware/spyware removal software available for free download. It performs essentially the same function as Ad-Aware but can sometimes catch things that ad-aware misses, and vice versa.

Take advantage of free online virus scans
Now that you no longer have any antivirus software installed on your machine (oh no!), how are you going to make sure your computer stays virus-free? Simple, use a free online virus scanner like TrendMicro’s Housecall or Panda’s ActiveScan. These online scanners are automatically kept up-to-date with the latest virus definitons and usually do a great job of at least detecting the viruses, if not eliminating them. Even if the scanner can’t get rid of the virus, once you know the name of it you can do a Google search and find a removal tool or instructions for manual removal. One caveat: Both Housecall and ActiveScan are only compatible with Internet Explorer.

Get Firefox
The many advantages of Firefox over IE are thoroughly covered elsewhere on the web. I won’t beat a dead horse here, but making the switch from IE to Firefox is an important step in keeping your Windows PC running smoothly as it will make you much less susceptible to malicious software.

17 responses to “8 Things Every Windows User Should Know

  1. Of course you could also use avast anti-virus since that is free and very good too.

  2. I agree with most of these, except for the last one.
    Why not Opera too?
    I would suggest both of them and let the user decide over time.

  3. Even better than Ad-Aware & SpyBot Search and Destroy (in my experiences) is Microsoft’s free Anti-Spyware utility. It finds and successfully removes stuff that no other app was able to do on my machine, resolving a number of problems. Would highly recommend anyone running Windows download it asap.

  4. I don’t know, when I installed the Microsoft one, it was pretty buggy. Woudn’t remove some things, and posted alerts. Althought ZoneAlarm fixed that. Free too!

  5. Good post. I agree with just about everything you’ve said on there! Have been playing with linux alternatives like Kubuntu, but there’s still enough of a learning curve to put me off in the short term.

  6. Good points, how about adding something about firewalls and the goodness of routers? The Linux Live CD is a very good idea – or even a copy on a USB Pen Drive?

  7. Steve, Head Sheep

    The worst computing experience ever was a Me computer running Norton at login. The screen would cut in half and be unusable. Which leads me to me appending my recommendation to your list:
    It’s like Linux, but it works.

  8. Nice post; thank You! I’m using WindowsXP mostly, because of some applications that doesn’t go under Linux (yet I hope). According to Norton AntiVirus I must agree – I had some problems few times and now it completly stopped to work for me. And most of all: I’ve been using Firefox for a year and I’ve really felt the difference! I recommend it to everyone 🙂

  9. Why don’t you just go and jam your caviats in your cramhole, Rory.


  10. yeah, zonealrm is an great free firewall.

    AVG rocks too, lets you scan files you download from a right click because it get put in the shell.

  11. Pingback: phil 2.0 » Blog Archive » Roundup

  12. I don’t agree about the win me as the worst OS.
    It’s better and run faster for old cpu (than XP) with 96 or 128 M RAM.


  13. Pipit,

    In those cases where the computer does not have the RAM and or processor speed to run XP, then Windows 2000 makes a great alternative , rather than Windows Me.

  14. ME sucks yes
    why on earth would i want linux ??

    Devide your harddrive into partitions ?? are you nuts .. ??? you obviously have no clue as to what youre talking about

    Ditch norton .. why ?? Norton is without doubt the best AVirus software i have ever tried.

    Lava soft adaware is good i agree .. so is the microsoft variant .. they seem to both find something theother one misses .. I suggest you use both .

    Spybot .. no ..

    Free antivirus.. yes .. if you cant afford norton

    Firefox ?? i have still to hear one reasonable argument to shift to firefox . Personally i like the way EI is integrated into windows .. Firefox works well aswell but i dont know why i would change ..

    All in all you seem like the typical person that wants to help out the imaginary people out there that hates microsoft ( for whatever reasons they might have ) but some of your suggestions are straightforward bad .. like the single drive partition .. why would anyone want to slow his/her system down like that .. if your harddrive fails ( hardware wise ) you’ll loose both partitions anyways ..


  15. Oh forgot the firewall thing.

    hardware or software firewall .. doesnt make a difference .. well i guess a hardware variant build into a router on your internal net wich is between you and the internet would be the absolute best thing .. but .. using a software variant is fine .. and tbh it doesnt matter wich one you use .. they all do the same basic thing .. they just close your ip ports .. the one integrated into XP is working perfectly .. no need to rush out and buy expensive solutions at all . If youre using Norton 2005 plus you’ll even have the build in “worm protection” that will add to your security by protecting the ports you have left open for normal use from worm and other hostile software trying to operate through them .. So please stop all these misinforming mails here .. and stop scaring people away from using MS .. it’s just as secure to use as linux if not better ..

    Try controlling your hostility and bring educated advice instead of this kiddie stuff ..


  16. Pingback: mattbasta.be » Blog Archive » Six Things Every Linux User Should Know

  17. Someone’s complained about Microsoft’s free Anti Spyware deleting Norton by mistake
    http://www.zeropaid.com/bbs/showthread.php?t=36050 (Auggie2k). Talvez, not by mistake, since I .am. one of the legions who hate Microsoft’s Monopoly Power, BTW. I like the way Firefox has tabs – better than IE’s confusing dropdowns. Firefox also has search engines integrated into it, useful, I find. Lastly, Mr. Brorim, I’ve found that hyperlinks in Microsoft Office now only launch IE despite Firefox being set as the default browser. This is in violation to the Justice Departments Settlement with Microsoft over its Monopolization of small computers.

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