Best Practices — Personal Computer Configuration

Here’re some standard recommendations that I discuss with my clients:

1. Use a password for your computer account. In other words, when you start up your computer, you’ll need to enter a password to access your desktop. While you may be able to change settings so this step is not required, remember that such a decision is a trade-off between convenience and security.

Sure, an expert may be able to view your personal files anyway, but some protection is better than none. (And if you’re really worried, then consider encrypting your files.)

2. Keep your files where they belong. Your User folder (or “Home” folder or personal “sandbox”) predefines folders (or directories) for Documents, Pictures, Music, and Video / Movies (as well as Desktop and Downloads). While you can store other types of files in the Documents folder, generally photos should go in the Pictures folder, Music in the Music folder, and Movies in the Video folder. What you download in your Web browsers should (at least initially) go in the Downloads folder.

Occasionally I’ve had clients store files outside the standard folder structure, knowingly for some reason or because a special program placed them there. Such a practice can make managing those files awkward and backup problematical, since standard backup programs do not recognize those locations.

3. When transferring photos from a digital camera (rather than a smartphone) to your computer, remove the camera’s storage card and insert that into the media slot on your computer. In fact, I recommend only using cameras that use the SD / SDHC card format, which is mostly the case anyway. Just ignore any cable (and typically any software as well) that came with your camera to connect it to your computer.

If your computer does not have a media slot, you may use a USB adapter.

4. Install at least two Web browsers. PCs come with Microsoft’s Interent Explorer. Mac’s come with Apple’s Safari. So, install another one at least, such as Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox. It’s like having two forms of transportation. In this case, two options for “driving” on the Internet.

In general, you want options, so that a problem with a particular program or application doesn’t stop you completely.

5. Install at least one anti-malware / anti-virus program and also Malwarebytes Anti-Malware on a Windows PC. Many PCs come with a computer security product pre-installed at the factory. (If nothing else, Windows 8 includes Microsoft’s Windows Defender.) Perhaps a trial version. From Norton (Symantec) or McAfee or Trend Micro. Any of these are good products, but remember that their inclusion is no endorsement of “best in class” or “best for you.” The manufacturers and vendors merely made a financial deal.

So, at the very least, install the free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (MWB). Generally it’s not good practice to have “two cooks in the kitchen,” but MWB won’t interfere with your other anti-virus program.

6. Set up at least two email accounts with different email service providers. Most of my clients use the email account which comes with their Internet Service Provider (ISP). If they have Time Warner high-speed Internet, for example, they use a Roadrunner account. Similarly for Verizon or ATT.

Some clients still use an AOL account, an AOL email address, which is fine. (And if you have high-speed Internet from another company, hopefully you’re already using free AOL, eh.)

ATT has had a deal with Yahoo, so some clients use a Yahoo email address.

So, at the very least, if you still need another address, sign up for a free Google account.

And, remember, each email account should have a different password.

7. Use at least two forms of backup for your personal files. For example, you may use a Flash drive to backup really important files whenever that’s appropriate; and a program to schedule backups of all your files to other Flash drives or portable hard drives.

While sometimes more technical, for disaster recovery it’s also best to use a program to make a complete image or clone of your boot drive — of all your personal files, programs, and system files.

Remember, the most common problem is not to backup at all.

8. Adjust computer settings appropriately to your vision, hearing, dexterity, etc. Generally such features are available via Accessibility options or preferences.

I’ve seen too many clients squinting at their computer screens or complaining of eye strain. (Even my vision suffers after working on a computer for hours a day.) There are settings to adjust text size and mouse or touchpad performance.

Do you use a special phone (like offered at Then maybe consider a better keyboard. Or consider speech recognition programs.

And, remember good ergonomics as well. Monitor distance and height. Arm and hand position. Chair support and height. Frequent breaks for your eyes and neck and back as well.

9. Spend some time learning about all the built-in Search and Help features for your computer. Whether you followed the best practices for file organization or not, modern computers have easy ways to quickly find items. Standard Help features have improved as well.