Basic Computer Maintenance
A small amount of maintenance can go a long way.
Keeping your Mac or PC running at its optimal performance is not difficult, and a small amount of preventative effort can go a long way. Macs and PCs may operate quite differently, but the tenets of basic maintenance remain the same on virtually any platform.
Yes, they can be annoying. They have a habit of presenting themselves when it's most inconvenient. But they're important! OS updates, Service Packs, and security updates all patch security holes found since the software you're running was installed.
- Windows notifies you when updates are ready to be downloaded or installed. You will usually need to reboot for the updates to complete because Windows needs to update files being used to run Windows itself. You can usually get to Windows Update from the top of your Start Menu, after you click on "All Programs."
- Mac OS X, similarly, will launch Software Update on a regular basis to check for new updates, and offer to install them. Like Windows, the most serious updates will need you to restart. Software Update is easy to launch on your own; simply click on the Apple logo at the top left of your screen, and click "Software Update."
- Flash, Microsoft Office, and Adobe CS! Don't forget about your applications. Flash checks periodically in the background and notifies you when there's an update. Office and CS apps, though, only check for updates when you launch one of the applications. Every now and then, leave that update window open, so you can complete the update when you're finished working.
- Similarly, update all your applications! AppFresh for Mac, and FileHippo.com Update Checker are two of the most popular. Both of these applications check your computer and then poll their central servers to see if there's an update. If there is, you'll be presented with the download.
AppFresh can keep track of all your applications and their updates.
You really can't get away with not having any anti-virus protection running on your computer. That goes for OS X too. MacDefender is the first and surely not last example of Mac malware, and is currently making the rounds. Fortunately, there is an abundance of quality anti-virus applications for you to choose from. Some of the most popular are highlighted below. Keep in mind that the definitions, what the application uses to identify what is a virus and what isn't, need to be kept up to date. Most applications will do this for you, but best to check once in awhile.
Take note: because anti-virus applications are so important, and everyone knows that these days, rogue malware developers prey upon that fact. You may see a pop-up purporting to be doing a live scan of your computer, and reporting that you have a number of viruses. This pop-up will also suggest that you need to download (sometimes even purchase!) Windows 7 Professional Virus Destroyer 2011 to get rid of them.
Anti-virus software will protect your computer from malware.
This is a lie. Do not be fooled. Always do an Internet search on the name of an anti-virus application to verify its authenticity.
- Windows users can take advantage of Microsoft Security Essentials, free from Microsoft. Highly rated and reviewed, offering a great and low resource protection package. Other popular options include: AVG Free, NOD32, McAfee, Norton
- Mac users too, have a number of options. Sophos Free Antivirus for Mac is exactly as it sounds. Sophos is low on resource usage, and scans actively in the background for known threats, as well as suspicious activity that might be an unknown threat. Other popular options include: ClamXav, ESET Cybersecurity
Clearing Out the Junk
Spyware and malware is one of the biggest problems affecting computer users today. We've got a whole guide dedicated to Removing Spyware and Malware from your computer. Mac spyware is gaining traction, and likely won't slow down any time soon. But a lot of trouble can be saved by protecting yourself before anything bad happens. As you use your computer, all kinds of temp files, cookies, and caches build up. These are not inherently bad, but can slow down your computer.
- For Windows, CCleaner is a popular option, as it automates most of the cleaning work for you.
- Mac users can use OnyX, which works much the same as CCleaner, and offers a similar level of automation as well as advanced operations, depending on the user's preferences.
In addition to the above tools, Mac users can do some of the most basic upkeep natively, without additional software.
- You can find a fantastic tool inside your Applications > Utilities folder, called Disk Utility. In addition to monitoring the overall health of your hard drive, if things start to act a little funny, you can utilize both "Verify/Repair Disk" and "Verify/Repair Disk Permissions." OnyX has these same capabilities, but Disk Utility comes with every installation of OS X.