Okay so your shiny PC / laptop is sitting there quietly humming away, doing its job and making you productive (or even more productive).
The problem is that to keep it shiny and in good working order requires a bit of work and a block of time. I should also mention to those of you who keep calling me over to your house to do this an updated PC tends to be more secure: a lot of these patches are because of newly discovered security bugs.
There are two issues here: –
Your Operating System – as we are referring to a PC we are talking Windows (whatever version) and Windows Update.
3rd Party Applications – these fall into two categories: paid and free. The paid applications are usually quite good about updates but free apps range from the sublime to the ridiculous in terms of how they update, how often and what this does to your PC.
I’m going to mostly gloss over Windows Update because if you are smart you have this setup to do all the work for you; at the minimum to download the updates and inform you they need installing.
Windows Update will often force a restart at the end or at least keep flashing the annoying dialog box to restart. It is important that the user not think the update is complete until they restart but if you have a slightly older, slower computer and don’t need another coffee then you start to ask yourself if this whole restart thing isn’t just a big pain in the %$^$^.
What’s missing though? You have just downloaded from Windows Update website, installed new or updated software and made significant changes to your registry. Microsoft has the marvellous One Care Live site which has a Cleanup tool. I’m suggesting this should be the final, optional stage of any Microsoft Update.
3rd Party Applications:
I once suggested that it is in fact possible to have a PC running with only Microsoft software on. The fact is that this is possible but not realistic. Simply to browse the internet and have a rich, immersive experience you need 3rd Party plugins like Flash or Shockwave. More than occasionally you are going to receive a PDF (Adobe Acrobat) and most of us have a 3rd Party alternative to Microsoft Security Essentials to cope with Malware, Viruses etc.
Some of this software is great as seamlessly updating: you ensure the settings are to check for new updates and automatically install them (assuming that you feel that new versions are always robust and to be trusted) most 3rd Party applications however require varying degrees of manual intervention: –
Automatic download and installation: an example of this is the Firefox browser but a good Twitter friend reminded me that frequently this may not be a good idea as some updates can be buggy and cause subsequent browser / OS problems. Cheers @Taltalk
Download updates automatically but require the user to click on the installer to run it and at several stages approve the process: Adobe Acrobat takes this one step further and installs an updater that downloads only when your internet connection is free. Other examples of software with updaters like this are Div-X and Java Runtime.
The other extreme is if you didn’t go and check the 3rd Party Application’s check for updates feature then you have no idea how many versions behind you are.
Lest we forget, there are applications which still refuse to play nicely and insist on placing icons on your desktop and adding themselves to your Startup causing unnecessary bloat and slowing down your boot routine. You can ignore the icons until Windows asks if you want to delete unused Desktop Icons or manually delete them. Startup bloat is dealt with nicely by the fantastic Israeli Startup Soluto . I’m going to offer an alternative for those of you who like to keep control of these things in your own hands (see later). Icon offenders include Adobe Acrobat and Div-X (come on guys 4 shortcuts on my desktop?!??) but Startup bloat offenders include: Real Player, Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat, Java Runtime and others. Suggestion: if you are going to do this then offer it as an option and explain why I really want your application running as part of my boot routine otherwise just cut it out.
My personal favorite method for dealing with 3rd Party Application management is partially automated but still requires some manual intervention: –
Go to http://www.filehippo.com and install their Update Checker. This tiny app will see what you have installed that matches it’s database and offer a webpage with links to new versions via their site with an additional section of Beta updates.
Filehippo has a categorized list of 3rd Party software and not just for Windows and you will probably find yourself installing something from there that you didn’t have but decide you need. You simply click on each link to download the installer for each update and if you don’t want the latest version then each application’s webpage on Filehippo has a list in the right column of previous versions.
Once you have completed your installations and pay heed that some installers will ask you to close open browser windows (this includes the other downloads) e.g. Java Runtime; you will probably have to restart. Knowing which one’s these are in advance I tend to run all the other downloads first, install them one after the other and then run the installer(s) that require the other browser windows be closed last.
Following my restart I run the One Care Live site which has a Cleanup tool (N.B. this will clean your cache too).
If you are using the aforementioned Soluto then now would be a good time to run it to see if the updates added bloat and what to do about it.
This next step is not for the uninitiated or faint of heart .. tread carefully with your OS settings 🙂
Otherwise you can go to the Start – Run in Windows and type MSConfig and go to the Startup tab
The startup items are listed with a checkbox next to each item; disable those you know you don’t want and this will prevent them from running at Startup.
Of course over time this list will grow and MSConfig doesn’t allow the user to actually delete items from here even once disabled. These remain disabled but in the Registry. There are various tools for dealing with this and checking or even deleting Startup items: two of my favorites have been mentioned in past blog pieces: NCleaner and CCleaner each of which does a great job. NCleaner slightly beats CCleaner in this feature with the right-click menu "Google" feature which saves you the trouble of searching for that one Startup item you don’t recognize.
In summary, of all the tools to help the average user here Filehippo and Soluto are definitely the most intuitive and user-friendly but if you are like me and enjoy the drill-down into how Windows does all this stuff then the alternatives can be fun too.