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The (NOW VERY OLD AND OUT OF DATE) Guide
Okay, these are my pick of the crop to make your vanilla Windows installed PC into a lean, mean, gaming/browsing/working/media machine. A lot of software choice is down to the personal preference of the individual concerned, but I'll do my best here to tell you what is best for which job as impartially as I can.
Forgive me if I'm teaching you how to suck eggs
SEE THE NOTE ABOVE
As with AV, there is many to choose from but for those of you with XP and SP2 installed you don't really need anything past the firewall which was included in the service pack. It has everything required from individual program blocking to port control. If you still don't trust it (and you wouldn't be blamed if you didn't) then there are a few good ones to consider:
Sygate Personal is a great firewall with information as to what is accessing the net and when, logs allow you to trace hack attempts to the source and you can stop any particular program from contacting the network as and when you wish. The only downside is that it's a little heavy on the CPU sometimes. The main upside being that it's free.
Private Firewall is about as feature rich as you could wish for a software firewall, but costs some money. It has the best performance of the lot.
Zonealarm Pro 5 yes, I know I slated it as the "AOL of firewalls" but the pro version blocks ads and dodgy emails as well as being an able enough wall. Other than that, it gives you the same control the other two give over your programs and allows you to block and unblock stuff as much as you like.
Bit of a minefield, this one, as most people have already found their EG-viewer of choice and are dipping towards fanboi status for their personal fav. It's always good to have a play with the competition though, and here are your alternatives. They're all tabbed, which is an absolute must now.
Avant uses IE as it's engine, which makes a great deal of sense as you don't get annoying problems viewing sites with ActiveX components, Java or embedded media players. It's also the most compatible browser here, but suffers from the same security problems that hamper IE. It's fairly customisable with skins available to download.
Firefox is the current fav for most, it has a mountain of third party support with plugins for every occasion. It does suffer from one problem, which is it takes the longest of these browsers to start up, which can be annoying. Overall the most customisable and highly supported browser there currently is. Gbrowser, Googles forthcoming effort is going to be based on it.
Opera works very much the same as both the above with the fairly major difference of it having an email client. It's fairly customisable with skins and bar/button placement and a plus point over both Firefox and Avant is that it aggressively caches previous web pages instead of resorting to re-contacting the site.
P2P clients are pretty varied and your choice should be based on the network you want to be a part of so it's only fair if I comment on that aspect as well. Where you can, I always recommend getting the "Lite" version of the client involved as the proper client will inevitably install spyware programs such as Cydoor, Gator, Lop.com and Xupiter onto your computer. Which is bad. I'm only going to cover BT for the mo as there isn't much in the way of P2P networks with a legal side to them. Kazaa is riddled with virii as is iMesh. eDonkey 2000 is too slow to even count as a viable option and Exeem is just plain buggy.
Currently the toast of the town, there are two major players for this network. That's not to say that the other clients such as [link=http://www.bittorrent.com/">Mainline (the original) or Shadow's Bittornado aren't good, but they lack the functionality offered buy my picks. The only problem with this network is that the shared files have a short life span and is based on the goodwill of others. Download speeds are generally fast and the software you receive will not be riddled with virii. Here's an FAQ to cover the basics and here's a link to EG's StyleXP is only for XP and uses the native Windows XP theme service to apply its skins. By doing this, it makes it more compatible than WB. The addition of a theme picker much like WB's is included without the same level of control but with more options; as well as visual styles it also allows you to change your backgrounds, logons, bootscreens and icons, all of which are freely available from several sites such as ObjectDock is a taskbar replacement utility that emulates the functions of the Mac OS X Dock which sits at the bottom of the screen and magnifies the icons as you mouse over them. Coming in two flavours, a basic free version and a non-free tabbed version, they are highly customisable and can contain any shortcut you choose all the way to useful little widgets which display things like the local weather, system information, a clock and media player controls. As some default icons can look a little pixilated, the massive third party support offers some shiny, new
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