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Got A New Computer?… Try These FREE Programs & FUN Shortcuts

Lynnette's new Dell Inspiron notebook computer... and a fancy new laptop computer backpack. Did you recently get a new computer? If so, here are some fun programs & computer shortcuts you might want to consider…

In preparation for a little “outdoor computing” from the many porches of our new (soon-to-be-built) log home, we purchased a laptop computer for me this past weekend.

For those who are keeping tabs… yes, that makes a total of 5 (working) computers in our household at this point. That’s right… just two adults, no children, and two dogs — but even they haven’t tried their paws at the computer yet! But I have to say… we got a really good deal on each of them online!

Jim and I each have a desktop model and a laptop model… all purchased online through Dell computers. Plus, together we share a many-year-old Pionex computer that acts as a server — for all our backups & printing functions.

By the way, we couldn’t be happier with our many computer purchases at Dell. But I’ll save that story for another time.

So I’ve been spending the past day or so trying to match everything that’s on my desktop computer with what’s on my new laptop. (It’s the Dell Inspiron E1505.)

While it’s still fresh in my mind, I thought some people might be interested in knowing which computer programs and shortcuts I use most.

Okay, here we go…


Dealing With What Came Pre-installed

First thing I did on the new Dell laptop was to enable Windows Updates. (There are usually a ton you have to download & install right away when you buy a new computer).

Then I turned on the Windows XP built-in firewall. It’s not the best, but it’s better than nothing. Plus, we use other firewalls and a secured router for the wireless network inside our home.

Then I disabled McAfee’s security features — including the virus scans — and ultimately uninstalled the program altogether. Why? Because we’ve used McAfee before, and while we had no complaints, we’ve also had no complaints since we switched (several years ago) to a FREE anti-virus program from Grisoft called AVG.

I’m not crazy about the Norton Ghost program that came pre-installed on the laptop either. It requires that you pay $50 or so after the 90-day trial period. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to do that, but I figured I’d see what Norton Ghost is all about first before I uninstall it.

Oh yea, and I uninstalled anything related to AOL that came pre-installed on the new laptop. I dunno… just have bad vibes from AOL’s dummied-down programs. (However, their online video collections are quite nice.)


3 FREE Programs I Highly Recommend

After that little bit of “housecleaning” I immediately installed the following programs:

1. Firefox browser – the best Internet browser in the world. Tabbed browsing is just the tip of the iceberg!
…followed by my favorite Firefox extensions:

…and a new “skin” (technically a “theme”) for Firefox that’s much nicer than the standard one. (My fave is called Noia 2.0 extreme. Here’s what all Firefox Themes look like at a glance!)
2. AVG anti-virus FREE version – a reliable virus protection program.

I wrote about AVG’s free and professional versions before here.


3. 4t Tray Minimizer – keeps your workspace clutter-free on your computer monitor.

I wrote about the 4t Tray Minimizer before, too.


How I Organized My Desktop’s Browser

Then, I spent the next couple of hours (off & on), streamlining how everything is organized in the Firefox browser on my desktop computer. I found lots of new shortcuts and interesting ways to maximize space, plus I tossed out a few programs, bookmarks, online tools, etc. that I no longer use.

Next, I started creating Folders within my Firefox Bookmarks, so that groups of similar bookmarks could be organized together.

Best of all… I don’t just access my Bookmarks from one massively long dropdown list anymore — because my Bookmark Folders are stored in a Bookmarks Toolbar. (You can have as many toolbars as you want, but I barely use up more than half the width of the main Bookmark Toolbar — and I currently have nearly 100 bookmarks stored there!)


I Use As Many Web-Based Programs As Possible

Thankfully, it’s getting easier and easier to access your stuff and work on it from practically any computer these days.

This is great when you want to access something at home… and later at work… and maybe when you’re out on the road (from a laptop computer or a handheld mobile phone). Sometimes it’s really handy to be able to access things like your calendar, your e-mail, or your bookmarks from a friend or family member’s computer — like when you’re home for the holidays, or you’re a guest in someone else’s home. Web-based programs like these are a lifesaver!…

Diigo – This program makes it easy to right-click & store any web page in a central location so you can access all of your bookmarks from any computer at any time. It’s also got a TON of great features that make it fun and easy to use. The best part: with a web-based social bookmarking program, you never have to “sync” your bookmarks when hopping from one computer to the next anymore. Now, they’re all accessible online — from any computer!

Spurl – This is the first web-based bookmarking program that I signed up with a couple of years ago. It’s a reputable and reliable one. I’d highly recommend it. Of course, there are hundreds of social bookmarking sites you can choose from these days, so everyone’s going to have their reasons for choosing one over the other. But if it weren’t for Diigo’s advanced features (like tag clouds which make categorizing your bookmarks a cinch, and Diigo’s ability to highlight parts of an online article — and even make notes on that article!) I’d still be using Spurl. Truth is, I had so many bookmarks in Spurl that I just haven’t transferred them all into Diigo yet.

Yahoo Mail (free) & Gmail (free) – I’ve been using Yahoo’s web-based email for years & liked it, but this weekend Jeffrey hooked me up with Gmail. Currently, I’m still going back & forth between the two, trying to analyze the differences. I’m sure I’ll have some feedback after I’ve used Gmail for awhile.

Google Documents & Spreadsheets – Jim’s been using Google Spreadsheets for awhile now (though I think it’s a relatively new addition in Google’s repertoire of cool tools & programs). I was using Yahoo’s Notepad for years to store multi-page documents worth of copy for every topic under the sun that I could possibly ever want to write about on one of our websites. Google’s Document tool is similar, but better. Especially the Tagging feature, and incredible search features. This is the main reason I decided to switch from Yahoo to Google products.

Google Calendar – While we could have done this with Yahoo’s web-based calendar, Jim and I are having a grand ‘ol time sharing our calendars with one another with Google Calendar! It’s so neat & orderly… shows his activities in one color and mine in another color… and it’s so easy to search through this calendar.

Google Personal Homepage – I simply use this as a place to store my (many) To Do Lists, so I can access them from any computer. I make it the page all of my Internet browsers open with, so I don’t forget to keep my lists up-to-date. But… if you’re into having all sorts of info right at your fingertips, Google’s Personalized Homepage is the way to go! It’s 100% customizable.


If you liked this, then you’ll love my collection of fun computer tips & tricks!



A few other Firefox tweaks I forgot to mention…

Be sure to take a few minutes to configure exactly how you want your Firefox tabs to behave.

For example, in Tab Mix Plus, I’ve set the following:

Links – “Force to open in new tab: Links to other sites” (from a Google Search Results page, that page will stay in its own tab, and any link you click will open in a new tab).

Mouse – You can dictate exactly how you want to use your mouse keys! So when I double-click on any tab, it closes the tab. When I double-click on the tab bar itself, it re-opens the last tab you closed!

Session – I would “enable session manager” and “enable crash recovery”. That Crash Recovery thing has saved me on numerous occasions. When your system suddenly gets hung up & you have to re-boot your computer… even if you haven’t saved anything, the next time you open Firefox, it will re-open everything that was open right before the crash.

Events (Tab Features) – Did you know if you right-click on the tab bar itself, you can see a dropdown list of all the tabs that you’ve closed during this session? That’s much easier than digging through your “Internet history”, if you ask me! You can also change the number of closed tags that it will retain here.


Here’s an easy way to make the URL address bar in Firefox act like a regular Google search box:

1. Type in “about:config” (no quotes) in your Firefox address bar.

2. In the Filter box, enter “keyword.URL” (no quotes).

3. Double-click that Preference Name, and enter “https://www.google.com/search?btnG=Google+Search&q=” (no quotes) in the dialog that comes up.

4. Click OK.

[Thanks to forevergeek!]


After I upgraded to Firefox 2.0 (highly recommended!), I fell in love with the auto-spellchecker which works in any text boxes or documents you’re in… as you type. But it doesn’t check spelling in “input fields”. To turn that on, simply change the value from 1 to 2 in the about:config field entitled “layout.spellcheckDefault”. [Thanks Lifehacker via Sue Chastain!] More great Firefox tweaks here.

Another great Firefox extension is Google Browser Sync. What it does: Automatically synchronizes your Firefox settings between any computers (so long as you log-in to Google — gmail, calendars, docs & spreadsheets, etc. — on those computers. Google Browser Sync is truly amazing. Say, you have your laptop open AND your desktop computer turned on… Save a new bookmark on one computer, and it immediately shows up on the other computer the very moment you go back to the other computer. (It will also mirror your history, cookies, passwords, and more if you wish.)

One of the (few) things that bugs me about Gmail is the fact that you can’t use HTML in your Gmail signature. Wa-lah… enter yet another Firefox extension that I couldn’t live without is the Better Gmail add-on. There are literally dozens of other great things this plugin does, too.