This is very old information and therefore of little real value. It remains as an historical relic.
Copyright (c) 2004 Terry Gliedt
Suitable for printing
With all of the virus attacks and other ways of attacking Windows machines these days, it seems that unless you are extremely diligent, your Windows machine will become infected. I'm regularly asked by computer-naive family and friends why their Windows machine behaves so slowly or erratically. Without even needing to look, I tell them, "Your machine has been infected. 100% guaranteed. The only chance you have of fixing this is to reinstall Windows and then be very diligent to keep your machine safe."
This conversation has happened so often, I finally decided to put together a guide for those novices for whom the PC is an appliance that seldom works very well.
Realize that what follows is for the very computer naive person at home. There are a million things I might tell my friends and family about this topic, but to do so means they would never do the simplest things. So I have decided to make this as simple as I can get away with and still end up with a secure home environment.
If you think you might be infected, you may find "Who's There?" of interest.
My first advice is to not install Windows - choose something else. Buy a Mac. Install Linux.
Still with me, eh? No surprise. Windows is such a monopoly, few people can really avoid it, despite the large burden that comes with ownership.
Well, if you really must, I wrote this for you. It does not address lots of questions. It is aimed only at people I know who have little computer knowledge and who probably have a cable modem connection at home. If you use a dial-up connection, these instructions will be almost what you need.
I do not guarantee anything that follows to work. If things work for you, great. If not, don't tell me about it. Realize what follows will cause you to destroy all data on your machine. I claim it's your only hope of getting a system that works. If you're not willing to format your disk drive, don't continue.
Before proceeding, get all the data off your system that you care about. If you can, create a CD from your data. Maybe you can create a zip file of your data. Maybe you can copy the data to a ZIP drive or floppies. Perhaps you can Email the data to yourself or someone else. Somehow, find your data and copy it somewhere safe where you can restore it later. I'm glossing over lots of important work, but there is almost no chance that I or any other 'guru' can do this for you.
Finding all of your data is sometimes very hard. Windows applications are/were TERRIBLE about where they saved data. No one could reasonably find their data. XP applications often have a better default, but still there is no guarantee. There's plenty of crummy software out there. Make a backup of your data, as best you can find it and realize that you are certainly going to miss something, so just be ready for that. After we're all done, you're going to find out that something is you wish you had has been lost. It's life with computers.
My advice is to always do a 'scratch install' of Windows. Windows of all versions leave so much trash on your disk, the only safe way to know you really have purged your system of all those viruses and crap is to format the disk drive and install a clean version of Windows.
There are all sorts of versions of Windows - Win/95/98/ME/NT etc. The reality is that Windows XP is the only one you have a chance of making work. Microsoft will not provide updates for most other versions. XP is the only game in town if you want a system that will work for more than a few weeks.
The good news is that XP is the first version of Windows that actually behaves well - and this from a Windows-hater. It really is a decent system - finally. It's also far faster than most of its more recent predecessors. Even on old slow machines (as long as you have lots of memory - 256MB), it'll do adequately.
The bad news is that Microsoft has priced XP way out of line. Its list price at your computer store is usually $200. Look for a deal, perhaps from work, or a school or wherever. As a staff member at the University of Michigan I can get it for $15 (a fair price). No, I can't get one for you.
Without XP, there's no point in proceeding, in my opinion. Installing some other version of Windows is just an exercise in installing. You'll be attacked and have viruses or other crap on your system within minutes of connecting to the Net.
Windows is so prevalent, that every cracker in the world has targeted it. If you take a cleanly installed version of Windows and connect it to the Internet, it will be attacked within a few minutes (my experience is 90 seconds). As delivered, the XP on your CD is very vulnerable. It is missing dozens of vital updates.
The trick is to install and beat most of the bad guys while you apply Microsoft fixes. Then you install various virus tools and remove the crap that a buggy Windows let get installed.
Finally, once you have everything installed, you repeat this same process - regularly (at least monthly, perhaps more often). Install updates, update your virus tools. Scan your systems for stuff that got through the last time. You sure you don't want to install Linux or buy a Mac?
Read each of the following write ups and do them in this order. Here's a copy of this document that is suitable for printing. Once you start each step, complete it. However, you can stop and power off your machine after any step and return later to continue. Whatever you do, though, stay off the Net until you have completed the install of updates. The whole process from start to finish will take you at least 4 hours, likely more like 8 or more hours. Good luck, you'll need it.
You will want to read through all of these first, as there are hints and suggestions sprinkled throughout. There are probably a number of things you'll want to get (or ask questions of your local "PC guru') before actually beginning.
I personally have pretty well weaned myself from using Microsoft systems. I don't pretend to know anything about Windows. I want to know even less. If you don't know me personally, don't bother asking me questions about your Windows system, but find your own personal 'guru'.
Best of luck.