Getting a new computer for Christmas or anytime, gift or not, is like buying a car with some assembly required.
You really can't just fire it up, and take off. There are a host of irritating little jobs you need to do before that new computer is truly useful
About once a year it seems, someone here gets a new computer. Since there are three of us, that's about right. Rotating your computer every three to four years isn't extravagant, especially for the two here who carry laptops out into the world--that's rough on a machine.
My son and wife truly want the power up and go experience from a new computer, so I've gotten rather used to prepping a new computer. If you are giving a new computer as a gift, perhaps my little workflow can help you.
Note : This is going to assume a Windows 7 laptop with wi-fi as an example PC.
Before you even take it out of the box, open up either a paper notebook, or if you have another computer close by, open up a Notepad or whatever your note taking software is. For me, I start of page in Evernote to capture info.
I log the Brand name , model number, serial number etc. If a Dell, I get the Service Tag number and the Express Service Code number. I copy over the specs i.e. processor, memory, hard drive size, how much hard drive is free after I first power it up, the URL to the support pages etc. I download any manuals in PDF available on their makers support pages. Scan in any receipts and maintenance agreements.
As you go through each step below, log what you do. Log any oddities or error messages you see, and the steps you take as a result of them.
Hopefully you have some sort of physical storage, be it files in a file drawer or project boxes stacked on shelves. Whatever you have, start one for this new computer. This is where you'll keep the CD's and DVD's that come with it, the owners manuals, and the other misc. things that come with a new computer that you may desperately need later.
You may have to run through some setup routines for a new Windows or Activation routines. Do it.
Check Internet Connectivity and login to your home network.
Safety first. I go to Microsoft Security Essentials and install it. Even if the computer came with security software, it is often limited time only, and then wants to charge you a subscription. Security Essentials, or AVG or Avast are free and good enough.
Run Windows Update and make your computer up to date. This adds any upgrades that came out between the time your computer was built and when you got it. That time period can be months long.
Manufacturers sell space on "your" new computer to anyone who coughs up some dough. The comupters often come with limited time offers of software. Most of which, you can get free programs that do the smae thing often better or at least good enough as the limited time software.
Dell's have so much crap on them, that a guy has actually made quite a name for himself building routines that de-crapify Dells/ Visit http://www.pcdecrapifier.com/ to download the latest version if you are prepping a Dell.
If you are prepping something other then a Dell, you can either go to the Control Panel, Programs section and delete unwanted programs, or you can just make them hard to find.
Since hard drives are so big these days, deleting applications is less important. I tend now to create a folder on the Desktop called "Favorite Programs" and in that folder another called "Former Desktop" and move any shortcuts that are on the Desktop into that folder.
I long ago abandoned using the Start menu on my PC's. Instead I create the "Favorite Programs" folder I mentioned above. In it are folders like "Office", "Video", "Audio", "Utilities" etc. Then as I install new applications, I move the startup shortcut they usually put on my desktop to the appropriate folder. Thus, I have all my Video applications grouped together and so forth.
The Start menu acts as my master list of all applications. I got frustrated with the Start Menu due to the inconsistent naming software companies used. Six months after installing, I had no memory of what a program did if it was listed by the makers name. Now, I can group like software together.
I often have a folder within "Favorite Programs" called "Information". In it are shortcuts to often used spreadsheets and so on.
It's really easy to install useful free programs for Windows 7 or XP. Just go to http://ninite.com/ and you can check off the apps you want. It downloads an installer to you and when you run it, it installs all the software for you in one shot.
Microsoft free apps that may not come on already installed can be found at : http://download.live.com/
I usually add Chrome and Firefox to supplement Internet Explorer 8. If I were doing it today, I'd make it Chrome's Dev version since it is fairly stable and supports extensions.
I put Xmarks to each of the browsers. This synchronizes bookmarks in all three of these browsers. I have to install extensions from Xmarks in all three browsers.
I usually add Skype for Voice over IP use. And Gizmo to work with Google Voice. Audacity for basic audio editing, Paint for photo editing, Picasa for photo organization. Fox it Reader to read PDF files. It tends to be faster than Adobe Reader (also free). And I add CutePDF which installs as a printer driver and lets you create PDF files from any appliation that prints.
Everyone gets Dropbox and Evernote in my family. I have written about them both many times before. Dropbox lets you sync files between your computers, share selected files with users, and backup your key files. I wrote about needing it here.
Evernote captures all the information you want. Notes, bookmarks, clips from web pages, scans of bills and othe rdocuments, photos, photos of school white boards. And it is all searchable. You can even search on words found in a photo. It has a million (almost anyway) uses. (Family Tech article on Evernote)
If you do install Evernote, my post "Your First Day with Evernote" is very useful. For a new computer, I am sure to install the web clippers for the three browsers and setup the "Print/Copy" to Evernote folders I mention in that post.
Update 12-25-2009: If you don't own Microsoft Office or want to spend the money for it, you can do almost everything Office does with the free OpenOffice. You can install it from Ninite above, or from OpenOffice's website.
Windows 7 comes with a DVD builder, but I usually add ImgBurn to give the user some extra capabilities to make CD's and DVD's.
When I was done doing all that installing, I copied the Shortcuts off the desktop into the appropriate folder inside of the "Favorite Programs" folder. That leaves just the Recycle and Favorite Programs shortcusts on the desktop.
Finally, I copy shortcuts fround in the Start Menu, Programs to the appropriate folders inside "Favorite Programs" so that all like programs are grouped together.
Make Recovery CD's
If you system does not come with Recovery CD's it probably has that as an option somewhere in the Start Menu. Be sure to do it now. When you need them, you'll need them desperately.
I tend to leave this up to the computers owner. On my system, I added gadgets for time, weather calendasr and CPU usage. Right click the desktop, and choose Gadgets to get started.
You can also add Themes or make your own. Themes are background images that cycle through and different sound schemes.
I'll also add useful bookmarks to one browser, like lists of Google services, Dropbox and Evernote web versions, support pages, etc. Xmarks synchronizes them so adding them to one browser adds them to the other two.
Lifehacker has a great summary of Windows 7 tips and tricks useful to all users.
http://lifehacker.com/5386953/lifehackers-complete-guide-to-windows-7 . I bookmark that too.
Plan and Execute a Backup Procedure
Encourage the user to have both an external drive for local backup, and to subscribe to Carbonite, Mozy or to buy more space on their Dropbox account. I talked about the need for backup in a Family Tech column.
Take those notes you made and dump them into your Evernote for your own records, and to the computer owners Evernote for their future reference. Put all CD's, DVD's, manuals etc. into the file folder and file it away (or send it with the computer).
Now, that new computer is ready to go.