I recently had a colleague contact me for some computer advice. He knows I’m a computer geek and was looking for some help setting up a new Windows laptop for his kids. He was wondering which antivirus software to buy.
If you’re at all familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of Windows and run Linux almost exclusively in my house (I keep a Windows laptop around to use a book scanner). So, it may seem strange turning to a Linux user for advice for a Windows computer. But, it’s actually not that strange. Linux does so much right that it has taught me what you should do when setting up a computer, regardless of your operating system. So, here’s the advice I gave my colleague that I think would be good advice for anyone setting up a new computer for kids.
If what you want is just antivirus software, Microsoft Windows ships with antivirus protection now (Microsoft Security Essentials). If you don’t install any other software, you can make sure that you install that software. Plus, the price is hard to beat. It’s free. Also, from my perspective, it’s best for not slowing down your computer dramatically. Norton, Kaspersky, etc. all slow down your computer, which sucks. If all you want is virus/spyware protection, Microsoft Security Essentials is sufficient.
If you want additional software on the laptop to accomplish something else, that’s a different question. Since it’s for your kids, there are two types of software you could consider.
Home Internet Security
First, do you want to restrict where your kids can go online? I’m actually a proponent of simply teaching your kids good habits and not policing where they can go. That may not be your perspective. If you want to restrict where they can go, I’d suggest OpenDNS’s Family Shield (or Home). It restricts adult content and is free.
Second, there is also the concern of ransomware, which is basically if someone were to get a piece of software on your computer that then locks you out of your files. The easiest solution to this is just to install backup software like Dropbox and make sure your kids store any important files in the Dropbox folder. There is a free option that gives you 2 gigabytes. It’s generally good practice to back up all of your important files anyway (e.g., essays, homework, photos, etc.). So long as you have a backup, ransomware is basically not a problem. (See this guide for dealing with ransomware by Dropbox.)
Multiple Accounts and Administrator Accounts
You should also probably set up multiple accounts on the laptop, though, again, this is up to you and how much control you want to give your kids. Setting up a local account for your kids means they won’t be able to install software without your administrative password. If they don’t know what they are doing, this is generally a good idea.
Finally, I’m not sure how good you are with computers, but I’d also suggest making sure you have a way to revert to a completely fresh install in case your kids manage to get past the software and screw things up. Since I build my own computers and run Linux, reinstalling my operating system is something I do regularly. But for most users, the very thought of doing that is terrifying. Microsoft has made that much easier.
Do all of the above and your laptop should work fine for years. Plus, all of the above will cost you exactly $0, just some time.