NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2007
Accessories for that New Christmas Computer
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)

http://free.grisoft.com - AVG Free Antivirus Software
http://www.zonelabs.com – Zone Alarm Free (and commercial) Firewall
http://www.safer-networking.org – Spybot Search & Destroy
http://www.openoffice.org OpenOffice Free Office Suite

This Christmas season Santa is delivering countless new desktop and notebook computers to good boys and good girls of all ages. Many will also receive gift cards as welcomed presents, which will allow the recipient to purchase whatever he wishes.

While almost all new computers will run out of the box, these same new computers are often the epitome of vulnerability as they often lack appropriate protective security software. While many new computers come with some software and utilities, there are still several items which would make good last minute Christmas gifts, or an appropriate utilization of a gift card.

New computers are generally very vulnerable to a variety of attacks from hackers, crackers, viruses, spyware, and other virtual threats. I would strongly suggest that the new computer be accompanied by any one of the many readily available security suites. Under the premise that something is better than nothing, any of the commonly available comprehensive software security suites will do a reasonable job of protecting the computer. Brands of security suites from such well-known companies as Trend Micro, Symantec (Norton), McAfee, Kaspersky, Panda, CA (Computer Associates), and Zone Alarm, will all do a satisfactory job protecting the computer from attack. All of these brands, as well as most others, recently released the 2007 dated suites which include the latest in features, including antivirus, firewall, anti-spyware, and other utilities.

Those who will be using the computer with broadband access may decide to forgo the gift card and utilize the free security software offered by the broadband companies. Alternatively, free protective software from such companies as Grisoft’s AVG Free Antivirus software, (free.grisoft.com) if used along with a free firewall such as the free version of Zone Alarm (http://www.zonelabs.com – under the “Quick Links” heading on the bottom left of the page) will provide reasonably effective security. Since spyware of various types is now considered by many as a greater threat than viruses, anti-spyware software is a necessity. The above suites all include anti-spyware software, but those who want free anti-spyware can get the free and excellent Spybot Search and Destroy from http://www.safer-networking.org.

Regardless if a commercial or free product is selected, it must be immediately installed on that new computer, updated and configured (the default configurations are good enough for the common user), as computers are subject to immediate attack the instant they go online, and new computers lacking appropriate protective software are prime and juicy targets for miscreants and purveyors of malware.

Another very useful device that can be utilized with that new computer is one or more USB flash drives (also called thumb or pen drives). Since very few new computers come with floppy disc drives anymore, the user will need some easy and efficient way to move data between computers. USB flash drives are ideal for this purpose. The prices of these small drives have plunged in recent months, and capacities have soared. For reasonable prices these drives can be purchased at any computer store, electronics store, discount store, or warehouse club.

Many of us do much more with our computers than surf the net. We will likely need some productivity software that has a word processor, spreadsheet, and other utilities. Microsoft’s Office Suites (the MS Office 2007 Suite is just coming on the market) are arguably the most popular productivity suites on the market, but they are quite pricey, even if purchased as a student edition. Alternatively, there is an excellent suite published by Corel which continues the WordPerfect tradition with its Corel WordPerfect Office X3. Since many of us find that our finances may be a little tight following the holiday season, a free office suite may meet our needs. OpenOffice is an outstanding and comprehensive office suite consisting of a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, database, and other office utilities, and is available for free download from http://www.openoffice.org.

A new computer is often accompanied by a new monitor, printer, and other peripherals, most of which have demands for clean electrical power. A good surge suppressor type of power strip is a necessary but somewhat inexpensive adjunct to the new computer, in order to protect it from power surges and spikes that could “fry” sensitive electrical components. Surge suppressors should have a UL label showing that it meets the standards of UL1449. The ability to resist power spikes and surges is measured in joules, and generally the more joules listed on the label the better. It should also be noted that most surge suppressors can and do wear out, so it would be a good practice to include a new one with that new computer, or as soon as practical after Christmas. If the budget or capacity of the gift card will allow it, a good “UPS” (Uninterruptible Power Supply) may be better than a surge suppressor. As a caution read the package label carefully to verify that the selected UPS has the battery capacity to power the computer and monitor (other peripherals need not be connected to the battery side of the UPS) in the event of a power flicker or failure. If the power fails and an appropriate UPS has been installed, the user will have time to safely shut the computer down. If A UPS is selected look for features like “AVR” (Automatic Voltage Regulation) which will provide clean power to the computer in the event of surges or brownouts.

There are a lot of other useful peripherals and software which should be considered, such as media (blank CDs and DVDs), web cameras, digital cameras, backup software and hardware, and other helpful and necessary items.

Whatever you do with that new Christmas computer, be sure that it is always properly and adequately protected from a variety of threats.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

Click here to return to top