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The Download Squad guide to making your new holiday PC more kick-ass!

Many of you probably received a shiny, new netbook, laptop, nettop, desktop, HTPC, or something else with a CPU in it running Windows for the holidays. One thing that has come to be synonymous with new PCs is dreadful preinstalled software (nerdy types call it crapware or bloat).

For the most part, the programs OEMs pack onto their systems suck. They're marginally useful at best, and just eat away at your PC's performance and disk space. Since you've got a nice, quiet weekend to get things done, let's take a look at how you can un-suck that new system!

It's really just a two-step process! Step 1: uninstall all the garbage. Step 2: install some free, kick-ass software.

Ok, so the steps might be kind of long, but it's still only two key steps. Let's break it down into a few more for clarity's sake...
Uninstall the crap!
Windows comes with a built-in function for doing this - add/remove programs in XP and uninstall/change in Vista and Windows 7 - in the control panel. We've covered plenty of tools which can help make the process a little easier - our two favorites are:
  • PC Decrapifier - It's got a great name, and there's no question what it does - it removes crap from your PC. Decrapifier has a large database of programs which it automatically uninstalls. It can save loads of mouse clicking over doing things manually.

    [ Read posts on Download Squad about PC Decrapifier, or go download it! ]
  • Revo Uninstaller - Revo is terrific at uprooting more stubborn programs. It's got a slick "hunter mode" which can get rid of programs with damaged or missing uninstallers. There's also tons of bonus functionality included, like a utility to clean up temp files and a web browser history eraser.

    [ Read posts on Download Squad about Revo Uninstaller, or go download it! ]
If you want to check out some others, Brad assembled a list of five add/remove programs alternatives that you may want to read as well.
Get yourself a free antivirus program!
One thing I can almost guarantee came preinstalled on your new system was a trial version of McAffee or Norton Antivirus. Those companies pay good money to PC makers to ship their sortware. They're hoping you don't bother to look for another option and just pay up for a yearly subscription.

You don't have to, though! We've got a list of 11 free antivirus programs for Windows and another post which runs down 6 free antivirus options for Windows 7.

Try an alternative web browser!
Your system probably came with Microsoft's own Internet Explorer 8 as the default (and only) web browser. There are other options out there which offer more speed, security, and customization! Some worth checking out are:
  • Firefox is extremely customizable and the number of add-ons available is mind-boggling. We've got a list of 14 extremely useful ones you might want to check out.
  • Flock is a great choice if you plan on spending a lot of time on web sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and more. It's basically a customized version of Firefox with built-in enhancements for those sites.
  • Google Chrome is all about speed. If you use a lot of web apps (like GMail, Google Docs, etc.) and want pages to load quickly, Chrome is a solid choice.

    If you're willing to use the slightly less stable beta version of Chrome, you can also install extensions to customize and power up your browser. We've got a list of 10 must-have Chrome extensions to help you choose.
  • Maxthon might be the option for you if you're used to Internet Explorer but wish it had a few more features. Maxthon uses the IE engine and bolts on useful functions like freeze preventions, form filling, ad-blocking, and much more.
  • Opera is also very customizable. A newly introduced feature called Unite makes it easy for you to share the pictures, music, and videos on your PC with your friends.
Add some extra security to your browser - whichever one you choose!
There are two browser add-ons that I recommend to just about every customer who buys a new system from me: Web Of Trust and Lastpass. Both of these work with Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer (and some IE-based browsers like Maxthon)
  • Web Of Trust (or WOT) adds easy-to-understand ratings icons next to web link so you know what's safe and what isn't. Rankings are submitted by other WOT users who have already browsed and rated millions web pages.

    [ Read posts on Download Squad about WOT or go download it! ]
  • LastPass will help you protect your web passwords - and help you use stronger ones which are less likely to be hacked! Use the built-in tool to create strong passwords then let LastPass remember it - all you have to keep tabs on is your email address and master password.

    [ Read posts on Download Squad about LastPass or go download it! ]

Want to play some games? Download some awesome ones for FREE!
Practical programs for things like office work and web browsing aren't the only free downloads you can find. We've covered loads of free games on Download Squad, like:

Even more free games!
Don't forget all our awesome Time Wasters! Many (almost all, in fact) of them don't even require a download - you can just play them right in your web browser! Pictured above is Monster Evolution, one of my personal favorites.

Hungry for More?! Here are 40 more excellent, free programs and games you can download!

The final step: prepare for the future!
Now that you've got your new system cleaned up and loaded with the software you chose (which didn't cost you a penny!), it's time to make sure you're prepared for what comes next. Two key things to focus on: making sure your system is properly backed up and knowing how to avoid problems - and fix them yourself! Share

Tags: bloatware, christmas, crapware, hardware, holiday, howtos, kick ass, KickAss, new pc, NewPc, tune up, TuneUp, uninstall, unsuck