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22 December 2009

PC holiday checklist

By Andrew Clifford

Here's a handy checklist for any PC maintenance you are asked to do over the holidays.

If you're visiting people over the holidays and they know you work in IT, they're sure to ask you to have a look at their PC. Here are some things you might want to try.

Safety first

Make sure Windows Update is switched on, and anti virus is up-to-date.

If there is no anti virus software, or if it is slowing down the machine too much (a problem with Norton), try one of:

These both provide protection without eating up too many resources.

Microsoft Office

If the PC has a version of Microsoft Office earlier than 2007, make sure the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack is installed to let them read office 2007 documents.

If they do not have Microsoft Office, consider installing the latest version of As well as being a fully-functional office suite, it can read Office 2007 formats.

Windows Live

Some of the Microsoft Live Programs are great add-ons to Windows.

Windows Live Mail is a much more modern replacement for Outlook Express. Windows Live Photo Gallery provides Windows XP with very similar photo features to Vista.


The most important part of backup is being able to restore important documents, emails, photos and videos if the machine fails. Backup software focuses on backing up the entire system configuration, but is not so useful when it comes to restoring files onto a new PC when you do not have the same or compatible backup software.

I prefer taking simple copies. Show the PC's owner how to compress their documents onto a zip file and copy that to a USB flash drive. If you are handy with batch files, use XCOPY (or on Vista ROBOCOPY) to automate the backup to a removable drive or another PC on the network.


To keep passwords securely, install a password manager like KeePass.

Startup programs

PCs are slow to start because of the large number of programs that insist on running at start up. Many of these are unnecessary. Use the msconfig utility, or download the Windows Defender and use the Software Explorer. (There may be problems if you run Windows Defender with Microsoft Security Essentials.) These will show you what runs at startup. A lot of programs install unnecessary startup components (particular Adobe, Apple, OpenOffice, Google). Experiment with disabling these to speed up startup.

Free stuff

There are thousands of fun free programs you could install. Two of my favourites are:

  • Google Earth which is a great way of exploring the planet from your armchair.
  • GIMP which is a superb image editor for anyone who takes a lot of digital photos.

Keep in touch

I love Skype, and use it all the time for work and to keep in touch with family. If the PC has not got Skype, install it.

This is not a definitive list. But it should be enough to earn you an extra mince pie this Christmas.

Next: Tidying IT


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