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How to control what people install and run on your company computers

I confess to being a compulsive upgrader. I love installing the latest stuff on my computer. Right now, I'm running Skype, Media Connect (to stream MP3s to my Xbox 360), Windows Messenger, Windows Desktop Search, Sharp Reader (my RSS reader of choice), a beta of Snaptune and Royal Mail SmartStamp as well as the usual anti-virus, firewall and spyware software.

Quote�Add/remove programs doesn't always get rid of everything.�End Quote

In other words, my taskbar - the line of icons at the bottom of the screen in Windows - looks like some Katamari-Damacy monster clump of randomness. Next month it will be a fresh, different monster clump.

This means I have to keep uninstalling programs. Using the Add/Remove Programs control panel is fine, but this doesn't always get rid of everything and I need more serious tools. This is a little bit technical and not recommended unless you are confident tinkering with your computer, but if you're feeling confident, here's what I use:

System Configuration Utility. This is built into Windows but you have to go to the Start menu, select Run... and then type "msconfig" to activate it. It lets me see exactly what programs and processes are being run on my computer.

Registry Mechanic. This lets me scan my registry to clear up any problems there. The registry is to Windows what a card index is to a library. It helps the operating system keep track of where everything is.


This is all very well at home - however, work is a different matter. You probably don't want your employees installing anything on their work computers. Besides the risk of inadvertently being a party to software piracy and the risk of introducing viruses, letting people install software willy-nilly can create an administrative and support nightmare. You can combat this in several ways:

Make it company policy that employees don't install unauthorised programs.

If you use a server, you can use Group Policies to lock down people's computers to make it impossible. You'll probably need the help of your IT partner to do this.

If not, you can create a user account (in the Users control panel) that restricts the user's ability to install programs. If you separate user accounts from administrator accounts then you can allow, say, your IT people to install programs.

Whatever software you have installed, it is important to keep it up to date. Updates often bring additional features and performance improvements, but they also tackle emerging security vulnerabilities. Since virus writers know about these vulnerabilities as soon as an update is released, you face an increased risk of attack if you don't get the latest version quickly.

This is easy with Microsoft Windows and Office applications because Microsoft Update does it for you automatically. Microsoft Update is an upgrade to Windows Update that also patches Office applications like Word and Excel.

If you're using recent anti-virus and anti-spyware software they should automatically keep themselves current, providing you keep paying the subscription.

Microsoft's anti-spyware software has been renamed Windows Defender and upgraded recently - if you're using it, you need to install the latest version.

Other programs work in different ways. For example, some will auto-update for minor releases but require you to manually download major releases.

It is worth doing a bit of spring cleaning every few months or so. Get rid of programs you don't use, check for upgrades for everything you do use and make sure your anti-virus and other security subscriptions are up-to-date. It's just like getting a service for your car, and it's a vital part of security protection.

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