Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

When setting up a new computer, there are a few things that everyone should do and install first. I'll review my fairly short list.

You've written articles about selecting a new computer and the first eight things that you should do once you get one. For the casual, non-techie home user, what are the top six pieces of software that they should install and become familiar with to protect their new computer? I am talking about things like anti-virus/malware, backup, system monitoring, troubleshooting, and repair software.

I'm not sure that the number is six.

My take is that for maximum performance and stability, the less software that you install on your machine, the better.

However, there are definitely some things that you want to install when you set up your new computer or reformat/reinstall your old one. But some might not be what you expect.

For the record, order is important here...


This is perhaps a surprising first item on my list, but it is critical.

It may also not be a software install at all.

If you're connecting your PC directly to the internet, I strongly recommend that you either enable the Windows firewall (it should be by default, but definitely double check), or install a software firewall of some sort.

The problem is that there are constant attempts to infiltrate unprotected computers via their network connection. A firewall is the first line of defense in protecting your computer from this form of malware infection.

In recent versions of Windows, turning on the Windows firewall is probably enough.

Of course, if you're behind a router, you're done. In my opinion, no additional firewall is required.


Windows Update menu item

It may also be a surprise but I prioritize getting Windows as up to date as possible before installing anything else. I put the firewall before this because updating Windows will probably take some time as updates are downloaded from the internet and you need to be protected while that's happening.

This is also the best time to install updates because they stand a significantly lower chance of failing for some reason. Problems with other software on your machine and of course malware can cause Windows updates to have problems. By installing them first before anything else, you minimize the risk of running into problems.

Use the Windows Update menu item repeatedly until it says there are no more updates available for your machine.


This used to be two or more steps, and still can be, but for the average computer user, I recommend Microsoft Security Essentials as a good, one-stop anti-malware solution - both anti-virus and anti-spyware. Naturally, let it get up-to-date and perform a scan before you proceed to installing other things.

I do have a few alternatives listed in What Security Software do you recommend? in case you'd prefer not to use MSE or you're having problems with it.

Optional: consider installing WinPatrol at this time as well. As you install more software, you'll be alerted to the various startup entries and other system changes that each install performs. In some cases, you'll be able to opt out of some of the classically annoying ones like the QuickTime "qttask" application.


"Whatever backup solution that you choose, now's the time to put it in place."

Whatever backup solution that you choose, now's the time to put it in place.

In fact, this is the perfect time to take a system image snapshot of your entire system. Save this somewhere and if you ever find yourself with the need to reformat and reinstall, you can revert to this backup image instead. That effectively reformats and reinstalls the Windows restores in the same operation with all of the updates and installs that we've done to this point.

I use and recommend Macrium Reflect. Skip advanced features in favor of setting up your own schedule of full and incremental back ups. It's also the perfect tool for taking that initial system image. Don't forget to make a Bootable Rescue Disk using Macrium as well; you'll need that should you ever need to restore your system image.

That's it

I told you that my list would be short.

What you install next ... well, that's up to you.

This would be a good time to install a replacement browser if you don't plan on using Internet Explorer, or your mail program, or perhaps your Office applications. Basically, any of the "big" and complicated installs for applications that you know that you'll be using frequently.

This is also the time to make any customizations that you'd like, such as tweaking Windows Explorer.


After you've installed everything and perhaps even started using your computer a bit, I'd take another system image snapshot.

Sometimes, you don't really need to go back as far as the bare minimum that we captured in the first system image that we took earlier. Sometimes, this point in time - with all of your applications installed and all of your customizations applies - is just as good of a point to restore to should you find that you need to in the future.

It can save you a lot of time.

Article C4888 - July 28, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Mark J
July 28, 2011 5:23 PM

I agree totally with the minimalist approach you take, putting security first, but when I install an OS for people, I also include the most basic applications so they can actually use their computer ;-) Those consist of Firefox, Thunderbird and Open Office (which will actually be LibreOffice for future installations.)

July 29, 2011 6:23 AM

Hi Leo. Thanks for another very informative article. You answered one of my questions, namely: Should I update Windows first (which takes a long time the first time) or should I update my anti-malware software first (to be protected asap). One thing I have done differently from your article is, after first enabling the Windows firewall, I then install the Acronis backup software -- from a CD. I then make a system image of the PC, because I want to make a backup of the PC before it has ever been connected to the internet -- just in case I somehow get infected with a malware when I next update Windows and my anti-malware software. Maybe I’m being overly cautious.

Rod Thiessen
August 2, 2011 8:35 AM

I just want to say "Thank-you" for ALL the help You give me in my computer use. Being in the "older" generation a lot of it does not come as easy for me. Thanks for putting it in words I understand.
R Thiessen

August 2, 2011 2:48 PM

Acronis is a good imaging program. Disadvantage is that it costs money (unless it came with an external disk) and is not all that easy to use. For the casual user it may be easier to use free Macrium which works the same in XP, Vista and Windows7:

August 2, 2011 4:11 PM

"After you've installed everything and perhaps even started using your computer a bit, I'd take another system image snapshot.

Sometimes, you don't really need to go back as far as the bare minimum that we captured in the first system image that we took earlier."

Are there two seperate definitions of what constitutes a "system image" here?

Not really. One is taken as soon as possible to reflect the earliest possible starting point. The other is taken after things have been set up and customized. Ideally you'd use the later to restore your machine should you ever need to, but the first is available as an additional safety net.

August 2, 2011 8:28 PM

"An image copy is an image copy". An image copy allows you to restore a bootable copy backup to your HD.

There are 2 types of "Backup" (which do NOT have to be image copies): Full and Incremental. A full backup copies all files, and resets the "Archive" flag. An Incremental backup only backs up files that have been changed since the last backup. Incremental backups are much faster, but require a full backup as their starting point.

I would add one more thing to the start of the list. Install a router between the computer and internet. The router provides an extra layer of isolation from the internet and many routers include an additional firewall.

August 3, 2011 4:30 AM

Many thanks for this useful article, I am about to get a new laptop and will be following your good advice.

August 3, 2011 4:55 AM

For what its worth, I have, and very highly recommend, the following free software:

C Cleaner
Secunia PSI
Revo Uninstaller
Auslogics Defragmenter
Foxit Reader
Quickie Password Generator

August 3, 2011 5:08 AM

Also, for myself, I avoid registry cleaners like the plague, after learning the hard way!

Mark J
August 3, 2011 6:29 AM

Your suggestion was good, but it was already included in Leos's list:

"Of course, if you're behind a router, you're done. In my opinion, no additional firewall is required."

August 5, 2011 6:14 PM

Seems to me Norton Security or an equivalent would be near the top. It has a firewall, if you don't want to use the one built into Windows. Norton also has some anti-malware capabilities. I supplement it with two other programs. But nothing will download until you install the software that allows you to get to your ISP. I don't see how that can't be second after the firewall. My copy of Norton is a download, so internet software comes first or I have to buy a copy after I've paid for a subscription. So it's Firewall, ISP software, internet security software, Win updates, then... I haven't thought too far beyond that. The last time I had to do it was over three years ago. Yes, I know. I'm living on borrowed time.

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