These tools are indispensible. When I coach people through buying and setting up computers, I always suggest they forego the software pack that comes with computers purchased at Circuit City, Best Buy, and any number of manufacturer-direct shops, and install the following free software instead.
AVG Free Anti-Virus. This anti-virus scanner is as good as Norton or McAfee. The free version scans your memory, hard drive, and email for viruses, worms, trojans, malicious scripts, and anything else that might infect your computer. Updates are automatically downloaded almost daily, so the database of malicious items are always fresh.
Ad-Aware SE Personal. This software monitors your computer for spyware and malware. Like AVG, this software automatically downloads new information so the computer is protected against the latest spyware.
Firefox and Thunderbird. These are my two favored Windows-based programs for browsing the web and reading email. They are straightforward programs, but I’ll make sure the user knows how to operate them.
Speaking of email, I will set up a Gmail account for them as well. This is free, and it can be accessed via the web from anywhere or through Thunderbird. I’ve seen too many people use their account from their ISP (say Comcast, RoadRunner, or Verizon) lose their email account when switching to a new access provider.
If the user wants word processing and spreadsheet software, I might suggest openoffice.org, which is fully compatible with the basic uses of the Microsoft Office suite. Sometimes, however, the current version of Microsoft Office seems to mysteriously appear. I can’t explain it.
These are the first programs I install for people when setting up their Windows XP systems. There is no need to pay for any of these services when such good free alternatives are available.
Updated June 17, 2014 and originally published September 6, 2006.