Monday, January 09, 2006

Dealing with the Dell...

So Pop got his new Dell. Shipping was fast and delivery was also. It came in less than a week from the order date--even with standard shipping. The order was correct, with nothing missing. Lavie was able to unbox the system and hook it up without any issues.

I wasn't there when she powered it up, but from what she said, it ran the standard XP new system setup prompts--pick a user name, name your workstation, etc. She had it up on the desk and out on the net in less than an hour. The only thing she wasn't able to do was configure Pop's email account settings (more on that later).

Pop said that most of the software on his Win98 box was so old and outdated (it was) he wasn't concerned with upgrading or reinstalling almost anything from the old system. We just needed to be sure his personal files, photos and settings (bookmarks) got moved over to the new system. Also, he hadn't bought any office productivity software with the system.

So, with that in mind, and knowing pretty good how he and my mother-in-law use their computer I had spent Saturday night downloading and copying a bunch of files for them to use, some patches and security software as well as some "eye-candy" for the folks to get full enjoyment from their new LCD monitor. Then downloaded a whole smogasbord of open-source and freeware applications that I trust and use.

I was already ready for a fight with the thing. The folks at [H]ard|OCP did a review on a gamer's Dell system and found it heavily loaded with pre-installed software that really put the brakes on they system's performance until they cleaned it up. Dwight Silverman posted about this article and got quite a lot of feedback as well. blog also had a bit of note of the struggle between SBC DSL and Norton's on his Dell system.

Task One--Cleaning a fresh system.
The first job when I got there was to uninstall all the "3rd-party ware" that came on the Dell. I lost count of all the items, but there was a lot. I'm not going to name names (well maybe one or two) but there were at number of ISP provider trials, some Dell "help" stuff, a trial version of antivirus support, some non-MS (java) games, some trial software for image management, a music-jukebox player, some Google desktop tools/bars, etc. All in all I think I uninstalled at least 14 unneccessary items. Quite a few. To save time, I used Safarp.

Software list: Safarp

Task Two--PC Security

Next I got my IT tools out and scanned the systems startup keys: I used Autoruns and HijackThis. There I pulled off several more auto-run items that were not necessary or needed to run on this system. Done. Next I slapped on AVG-Free and configured it to automatically pull down updates as well as do a daily scan. Next came the firewall-ZoneAlarm. Done. I installed the malware/spyware scaners (but did not set to autorun/scan) AdAware-SE (free) and Spybot Search and Destroy. Pop knows how to use these and does so manually once a week or so. I then installed MS AntiSpyware Beta and configured it to run with realtime protection and periodic scanning. Since he had Win98 before, I had to give him a brief tutorial: Red=bad-deny it, Green=good-FYI, Blue=usually safe-call me if in doubt. I set Windows Automatic updates to run/install automatically and verified there were no critical patches left to put on. Good. I installed and enabled SpywareBlaster for additional surfing protection. Installed Spoofstick for IE. Finally we passworded his XP user account and set his personal documents file from being viewed by other accounts. Finally I installed/stored some IT troubleshooting utilities and tools in a utility folder, just in case I needed them in the future--they would be available on the machine. I verified that the Windows XP Security Center had correctly picked up the ZA firewall and AVG antivirus apps automatically, as well as the changes we set for automatic windows updates--it had.

Software list: a-squared HiJackFree, AdAware-SE, Autoruns, AVG-Free Blowfish Advanced CS, CCleaner, ClamWin (backup app just in case--not installed), Eraser, HijackThis, IttyBitty ProcessManager, Kerio firewall (backup app just in case--not installed), MS AntiSpyware Beta, Process Explorer, Safe XP, Spybot Search and Destroy, XPredit, TweakUIPowertoy for XP, SpywareBlaster, Spoofstick for IE, and ZoneAlarm.

Task Three--System tweaking.
I then added two additional accounts: a guest account was set up for family to use as well as an admintech account for me to manage the system with. Both his primary user account and the admintech account were given Administrator rights (he will have to install some software under his account in the future--this was just easier). And the guest account has limited rights. I installed TweakUIPowertoy for XP and we tweaked his desktop settings, icon preferences and the like. Finally we ran the MS Clear Type Tuner and optimized his LCD display.

Software list: Shootthemessenger, UnPlug n' Pray, Belarc Advisor, MS Clear Type Tuner.

Task Four--Application installations.
WordPerfect12(?) was installed on the system, but it was a 60-day trial version--so that got uninstalled as well. I did have to install his old Quicken Deluxe '99 as well as his old copy of MS Office 97. Why MSO97 when I put OpenOffice on the computer? Well, Lavie uses the pc sometimes when she visits her folks and still gets confused with OpenOffice. I then installed a selection of freeware productivity tools and utilities I really find slick and well executed:

Software list: Contact, EssentialPIM, EverNote, Free Commander, Foxit PDF reader, Faststone Image Viewer, iTunes, KeePass, Kyodai Mahjongg, Notepad2, Open Office 2.x, PDF Creator, Sequoia View.

Task Five--Internet and Email (Part One).
That means only one thing! Firefox and Thunderbird with supporting extensions. Granted, he isn't likely to use many of these, but these are (most of) the ones I find helpful. Thunderbird didn't get any additional Extensions at this time.

Software list: Firefox and Thunderbird!
Firefox Extensions: Download Statusbar, Fox Clocks, FoxyTunes, IE Tab, Image Zoom, Moji, New Tab Button on Tab Bar, Print Preview, Quick Java, Sage, Save Image in Folder, Sort Extensions and Themes, Spoofstick, Tab Clicking Options, TabX, Translate, Viamatic foXpose, and x Mod.
Themes: Outlook 2003 Blue for both.

Task Six--Data migration.

I had planned on pulling out the HDD from his old pc and dropping it in the Dell as a slave drive and doing a direct data copy. That's what I ended up doing. But the IDE cable for the HDD had only one connector for a HDD on it and no 2nd HDD drive bay. No problem. I used the IDE cable from the old pc that had two drive connectors instead and carefully ballanced the old HDD on the side of the case. A quick jumper change to slave and a manual BIOS adjustment and the drive was spotted. About 30min later the old drive was copied to the new. I used Sequoia View to show him how to manage his drive space. He thought that was really cool. When it was all said and done, there really wasn't much stuff that ended up being kept from his old HDD. I moved his My Documents folders, the pictures folders, his Outlook Express address and mail files, bookmarks and his Quicken data. All the rest he didn't want to mess with so it went into the trash hopper. The drive/cable was placed back and BIOS was manually reset to its original setting.

Task Seven--Internet and Email (Part Two).
Now that we had the Outlook Express files over, I could focus on Thunderbird. Lavie had tried to get Outlook Express set up, but the DSL account configurations confused her. I was pretty lost as well fixing the settings Thunderbird imported. I eventually had to punt and check the ISP site and use the info in their FAQ to get all the correct values. Once I had those--setup for Thunderbird went fast. Email was now working. Just some address book cleanup and email folder rearrangment after the OL express import of those files. Done. We verified that I had copied his IE6 cookies and favorites over ok. Then we imported those into Firefox.

Task Eight: Eye-Candy!
I snagged some golf-themed desktops from over at Next I found some pretty closeups of flowers, coffee, flags and such over at Mandolux. From there I selected some stunning beautiful nature photographs, city lights at night, and object closeups over at InterfaceLift. Finally I grabbed some bright and highly saturated "Vista/XP" style desktops from WallpaperStock. I showed Pop how to use Faststone Image Viewer to manage his wallpapers easily. It doesn't seem to come with a built in screen-saver to rotate images from folders. I don't really care for the MS one in XP, so we downloaded Imagewalker and set its screensaver application to do that work instead.

Task Nine: Misc Odds and Ends.
I finally verified that all the hardware was showing good status in the manager. XP had picked up the HP scanner driver perfectly. I did have to download the printer driver from Epson, but I had expected that. The final reboot (after many during this process). Finally I ran a malware scan with Spybot and MS Antispyware. MSAntispyware came back clean and Spybot only found two files remaining from some WildTanget java games that had come pre-installed by Dell. Done! He did a test run on logging into his system and he was good to go!

Still To Do.
Finish reconfiguring his D-link 4-port router--it burped the settings last week so we were just going with the direct DSL modem connection at this time. Also, put the old pc back together again and run a long cat-v cable from the router location into the kitchen. Finally set the old pc up in the kitchen and decide on SLAX or Berry (live-cd) Linux version--wait a minute! They can have both!

All in all it took about 4 1/2 hours--not counting the time Lavie spent unboxing and doing the first setup pass. Quite lot of time. I would say about 1/4 spent on 3rdparty software removal, 1/4 spent on security and productivity software installations and set up. 1/4 on data-relocation and the remainder on email and final system tweaking. I wish Dell would include a batch file to auto-delete all that 3rd party stuff--kinda like a red-self destruct button on the starcruiser's bridge in the sci-fi movies--but only it's an icon. One punch and it's all gone--but I know that most consumers (nor Dell's software providers) wouldn't want that.

All in all it is running very well and very fast. Not a bad day's effort!

So, now you know the Valca approved apps I like to use on a system. Give them a try and good luck!

And now, in other news...

Did you see this? Is this for real or not? I have got so many questions about this that my wisdom and judgement have slammed on my blogger's safety-brake, preventing me from commenting on this just yet. I need to watch it bake in the "real world" (no, not that MTV loft) for a little bit. Until then...form your own opinion while I try to analyze mine....

Write an annoying comment, go to jail: via Ed Bott's blog.
Create an e-annoyance, go to jail: via C|net.
BoingBoing wades in with a little less drama and more reason.

In the meantime, my crack legal team has advised me, to now, in the interest of fair and public disclosure, make a public statement that all posts here--as made by me--are done with no intent to annoy anyone. at all. not one bit. be kind. please. I love you all. Spread the love and karma and go eat a peanut butter and jelly samwich...with bannanas in it. You'll be glad you did. Do you feel the positive vibes? That's the only intent you'll find here!

Into the skies,


Anonymous said...

I'd love to see an updated version of what someone like you advises to be run on a new PC.

What can I safely get rid of?
What must I leave in place to avoid problems?
What 'SHOULD' be in autorun and what services 'SHOULD' run at startup.
These questions just for the OS no ttrying to figure out what a user would have to do to get some special software running.

What are your current tools, and must-have apps.

I just found this older post and I had used and enjoyed several of your little tools, tweaks and utilities. I have kind of gotten away from it for some years and am looking for a knowledgeable source to help me rebuild my toolkit and help my family get their system clean and reduce the bloatware.


Claus said...

@ Rick - Thank you for the kind comment and word you were still finding some usage out of this.

I did a slightly more recent post you may or may not have seen:

Dealing with the Dell … 2010 Edition

Then in August 2010 I set up a Dell Studio 16 laptop that pretty much followed that post.

I'll have to go back and review those to see if I have any new changes or modifications.

When I set up my new own new Dell laptop not too long ago I pretty much kept the process but added a few more utilities and tweaks...nothing I'd consider "hard-core" but just to make the system more usable to me and helpful from a troubleshooting process.

Click on the "utilities" and "software" post tags on the sidebar and you will get a boat-load of tools, utilities and other stuff going way back that might be interesting.


--Claus V.