6 free Windows programs to fix and prevent PC problems on your own
Here are six (seventeen, really, but some are grouped) simple applications that will help - and they're all free for personal use!
1. PC Decrapifier - A lot of people that drop their systems off for repair say "take out any programs that don't need to be there." Well, that's exactly the kind of crud Decrapifier is designed to get rid of. It compares the programs on your system to a list of known bloatware (Wikipedia definition) and simplifies the removal process.
2. Malware Bytes - Those annoying popups you're getting? The weird pages you see when you try to search for something in your browser? Malware Bytes does a great job at removing the pests that cause those problems. It's usually the first program I run on horribly bogged-down computers. After a scan, clean, and reboot, they're usually much more cooperative.
3. Glary Utilities - The one-click maintenance mode in Glary is a wonderfully simple way for even non-technical users to keep their systems tuned. It tackles all kinds of tasks, from removing temporary file garbage and broken shortcuts to tuning up your registry.
One note: download the slim version to avoid the Ask Toolbar. You can opt out of it during the regular install, but slim removes it altogether.
4. Macrium Reflect or XXClone - No one wants to lose data when they drop off a system for repair. An easy way to make sure that doesn't happen? Fire up one of these programs and copy your entire drive to another hard drive (say, an external USB one).
5. A good antivirus program - Don't keep ignoring that alert from Norton that your subscription has expired. Surfing without up-to-date protection is a bad idea, especially when you can protect yourself for free. The link will take you to a previous rundown I put together of 10 programs that provide antivirus protection for your Windows system. None of them cost a dime.
Of the ten on the list, I recommend AVG, Avast, Comodo, and Rising Antivirus. If you're ok with beta (testing) software, Microsoft Security Essentials is worth a look, too.
6. Web of Trust - Savvy users might know what to watch out for online, but not everyone does. WOT (available as a plugin for Firefox and Internet Explorer) gives casual users a leg up by providing safety ratings for the websites you're browsing and links on search engines. Bad sites are flagged with a red circle, and you'll receive a full page, in-your-face warning should you accidentally wander somewhere you shouldn't.
Got another great, free application you recommend to friends and family? Share it in the comments, and let's empower some users!