After you have your graphics card drivers, you may want to increase your resolution and color depth. To do this, go to Control Panel, then to Display. On the settings tab you can change these. Most prefer 1024 x 768 for the desktop, but it depends on the size and quality of your monitor as well as your eyes. You should change the "Color Quality" option to the highest supported by your graphics card, which is hopefully 32-bit.
I won't tell you the names of a bunch programs to install, that's obviously up to you and your personal tastes. I will, however, recommend a few things:
If you already have a purchased product with a current license, such as Mcaffee or Norton, just install and update that. If you don't, get AVG from http://www.grisoft.com. You can get the free version, which is arguably better than all of the available pay programs on the market. I personally prefer Symantec Corporate edition, but I have access to it and most people won't, so I recommend the free version of AVG. There are other programs, and you should feel free to experiment, however you must never have multiple anti-virus programs on your system at the same time. That will bog your system down and make it very slow.
You may not know what spyware is, but you will almost undoubtedly get it if you use the Web, which you obviously do, since you're reading this (Editor Note: You won't get any spyware from TweakTown though!). We've covered the topic of spyware a couple times in our Spyware and Adware Removal Guide and PC Security Guide which is worth a read if you're new to computers.
Spyware can steal your personal information, provide you with pop-up ads, and/or just cause your system to slow down or have serious problems in general. Just think of spyware as a kind of virus that anti-virus programs don't bother with. Spyware can also be known as malware or adware, depending on the specific effects.
To combat spyware, there are several (free) programs you can get:
- Ad-Aware SE (my personal favorite)
- Spybot Search and Destroy
Note that these are all free, though some of them have versions that you can buy, as will a number of similar programs not listed here. I recommend the free versions of all of these for the simple reason that you will do no better with the pay versions. Remember to read our other full guides on spyware listed above for a more in-depth look.
A firewall protects you from the villains of the Internet. Crackers (erroneously known as hackers thanks to the mainstream news media), worms (a type of virus), various other viruses, and even some spyware can be prevented with the use of a software firewall. It is also recommended you read our PC Security Guide which goes into detail about firewalls.
Go to Control Panel\Network Connection and right-click on any connections there, then click properties. Under the Advanced tab, you have the option to turn on XP's built-in firewall. If you are a typical user that doesn't do much beyond e-mail, web-browsing, and word-processing, this is perfect for you.
If you are a gamer or use many programs, especially file-sharing programs, you will be better off with something that gives you more control and is easier to turn off. My personal favorite is Zone Alarm.
Note that you should turn this off before playing any moderately new games, for both performance and networking issues. There are other good software firewalls that I haven't listed here simply because Zone Alarm is my personal favorite. Feel free to experiment, however just as with antivirus programs, you should never run multiple firewall programs at the same time or even have them installed at the same time.
If you have a router, which you almost surely do if you have several computers on the same Internet connection or a broadband connection, you will have a hardware firewall. A hardware firewall is in many ways better than a software firewall, and for many people it may eliminate the need for one entirely. It differs in that you have very little control. You can't stop programs on your computer from accessing the Internet, which you can do with a software firewall. At the same time, it doesn't take up any RAM or processing power of your computer. I recommend most users have both, but more experienced users can do quite well without a software firewall.