Most often, I get computers from people that are in a state of disrepair, and the most common culprit is malware, either spyware/adware or a virus. The difference between the two is that spyware and adware collect information about you without you knowing it, and viruses spread software, usually malicious in nature, from computer to computer. You get spyware/adware from browsing the internet, while viruses would come from downloading and installing a program from the internet, an email, or from someone else’s computer. I use a combination of products, and the first we’ll discuss is AVG Free Antivirus. There are a few other free antivirus products on the market, but AVG is at the front of the pack, as they’ve made their product available for a while now, and are constantly updating and improving their product. Downloading and installation is a cinch, and it can be scheduled to run automatically, so you don’t have to worry about remembering to scan your PC. One thing to remember about antivirus software is that you can only install one, so if you decide to use something different, you’ll need to uninstall AVG before you do.
For spyware/adware, I recommend Spybot – Search & Destroy, which is another free utility that has terrific support and gets updated frequently. It detects and removes a great number of spyware and adware infections, so long as you remember to run it on occasion. While scheduling isn’t included in its feature set, the dependability and cost (free) certainly make up for this slight shortcoming. One nice thing about spyware/adware utilities is that you can install more than one, and different ones might catch different infections. For a second line of defense, Microsoft offers a decent solution, Windows Defender, that is free for users with licenses of Microsoft Windows XP and Vista. Defender can be scheduled to run and is updated frequently, so having both Spybot and Defender installed will give you a great deal of protection for no cost whatsoever.
The last thing I would recommend installing is a registry cleaner. The Windows registry is where the operating system stores all of its information about the programs installed, settings, user data, and a ton of other stuff. After time, the registry can get bloated with information that is no longer used, and having it around seriously degrades your PC’s performance. CCleaner is the one I use, and in addition to being a terrific registry cleaner, it can also clean up temporary files, history from web browsing, and is terrific for uninstalling programs that might not show up in “Add/Remove Programs”. Best of all, it is free.
There are a bunch of other utilities out there that can do the things I discussed here, but I just wanted to share my favorites. For malware, you can also buy programs, so-called internet security suites, that can roll all of these features into one easy-to-use program. Registry cleaners can also be purchased, but if you don’t mind splitting up the tasks to a few terrific free utilities, I’d rather spend my hard-earned money elsewhere.