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tech girl

Is your computer on the fritz again? Can’t figure out what’s wrong and don’t have a tech-savvy friend to help you? These days, taking a computer to a service can cost more than buying a new computer, and a lot of the time you can fix these problems without much cost to yourself. Often,these problems can be prevented with the right combination of tasks and applications.

Prevention and Staying Healthy

AVG Antivirus is a lightweight anti-virus program that’s not only reliable and free, but quicker and more lightweight than the new versions of Norton. It monitors your computer for viruses at all times and alerts you if you’ve accidentally come into contact with one, and a scheduler, so that you can tell it to scan daily or weekly as well as look for updates. (

Spybot Search & Destroy does exactly what it says: it searches for and destroys spyware. Spyware gathers information from your computer without your knowledge and sends it to companies that use it for marketing or advertising. Sounds creepy? You’ve got that right. If your computer gets too loaded down with spyware, it can become very slow and not function correctly. Spybot also comes with an application called a TeaTimer, which alerts you if/when a program attempts to install. This can be annoying if you’re installing a program itself, but it will keep you from accidentally installing browser toolbars and the like. Best of all, Spybot is free! (

ZoneAlarm is the “best free firewall on the market today,” according to A firewall is a program that prevents outsiders from gaining access to your computer. Cons: ZoneAlarm can be pretty “noisy,” informing you with little pop-ups that it’s blocked something or other. You can disable this feature, though. Also, ZoneAlarm prevents you from accessing the Mills server, and so you have to disable ZoneAlarm in order to map to a network drive. (

Besides protecting your computer from viruses and spyware, what else can you do to keep your computer healthy? Well, you can defragment once a month or so, if you’re a PC user. Go to Start Menu > Accessories > System Tools > Defragment. Defragmenting basically reorganizes your computer’s files. This optimizes your computer’s performance. You won’t notice any difference-your files will still be where you saved them-but your computer will know.

Just having an antivirus program is never enough. You must keep it up to date; new viruses are invented every day. Most, if not all anti-virus programs these days come with schedulers, so you can tell it to scan weekly or even daily, and also to search for updates on its own, as long as the computer is turned on.

While Macintosh computers are not vulnerable to being harmed by viruses, they can spread them to other computers. So be a kind networker and scan regularly!

Also for Mac users: are you bitter about still being chained to the Microsoft beast via programs like Word and Internet Explorer? Never fear, here are some alternative programs you can use to buck the system.

OpenOffice is an open source program that does basically everything Microsoft Office does. Writer replicates nearly all of Word’s functions, Impress is for all your PowerPoint needs, Calc takes the place of Excel, Base takes care of any database needs you might previously have been managing with Access, and there’s even more. You don’t need to be worried about compatibility issues, either; you have the option of saving in the OpenOffice format (which creates much smaller file sizes) or saving in a Microsoft format so that you can open it in Word or Excel later. While OpenOffice isn’t as powerful as Office it does serve all your basic word processing, databasing, and spreadsheeting needs. (

Firefox is a free, open-source web browser that has long been touted by creators and fans as safer and better than Internet Explorer. This may no longer be true now that Internet Explorer 7 is out, but Firefox still stands out. Its tabbed interface makes browsing in multiple windows easy. You also have the option of customizing its look. You can customize the browser itself with hundreds of extensions that let you do anything from moving back and forward through Web sites with mouse clicks (“mouse gestures”) to controlling your music player from inside the browser. A search engine bar in the corner comes with options to search Google,, eBay, and a few others, but you can customize it. (

Adium and gaim are third party chat programs that enables you to connect to the AOL Instant Messaging network, Yahoo! Instant Messenger network, Jabber, IRC, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, and more. Gaim is an open-source program with Mac and Linux versions. It logs your chats and makes them searchable (but you can disable loggin.) It has a tabbed interface, so that all your chats are conveniently in one window. Adium is specifically for OS X and tabs and logs your chats up to a specific number of lines. (,