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PC MAINTENANCE FOR BEGINNERS / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 4: Keeping your PC Updated and Running Smoothly

Oracle Java

Oracle’s Java gets no love from us. By and large it just seems like an accident waiting to happen, but as we said previously, you may be able to do 99 out of 100 things on your computer, but there’s always that one that requires Java.

Java comes with an “Update Scheduler” that automatically runs at regular intervals thus checking for, downloading, and installing updates. You can see it here in our “Startup” tab on the “Task Manager.”

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Updating Java manually is a cinch. Simply open your “Start” menu (it will be in “All Program” in Windows 7) and click “check for updates” in the Java menu.

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Alternatively, you can simply open the “Java (32-bit)” control panel from the Control Panel.

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Once open, select the “Update” tab to see your available update options. In the following example, the updater is set to notify the user before downloading any updates. This can be changed to automatically download updates, and to then notify us before installing.

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If you want to turn off automatic updates (highly not recommend), then uncheck the box next to “Check for Updates Automatically.”

What is recommend is clicking the “Advanced” button and altering your update schedule. In the following screenshot, we see that Java is set to check for updates every month on Monday at 5 a.m. It seems unlikely, no matter how bad a Monday it is, that we’ll be up at 5 a.m. so we can change this to something else, possibly more frequently, at a more productive time of day.

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Finally, to execute a manual update, click the “Update Now” button at the bottom of the Java Control Panel.

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If there are updates available, it will prompt you to update. If there aren’t, then you’re good to go (for now).

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Adobe Flash

Adobe Flash Player is arguably the most widely used browser plugin out there. So much so that it is largely indispensable, which makes it a very attractive target for exploits. We described how to manage extensions and plugins in the previous lesson so we’re not going to dwell further on that.

For the most part, browsers, particularly Google Chrome (which we recommend) are pretty good about automatically updating plugins.

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That said, if want to download the “Adobe Flash Player system plug-in” (for use with other programs such as video processing) then you will be presented with the following options.

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There’s really not a lot to think about here, you should most definitely “Allow Adobe to install updates.” Once installed, you can administer to the system Flash Player from the Control Panel.

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The Flash Player control panel is similar to the Java control panel only the update settings are on the “Advanced” tab. Click the “Change Update Settings” button and you will be able choose one of the other two options. Note, you must have administrator rights to do this.

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To execute a manual update check, click the “Check Now” button. You will be whisked to Adobe’s Flash Player page and if an update is needed, you can download and install it from there.

Adobe Reader

Finally, last, but obviously not least, is Adobe Reader. Reader, like Flash, is another (almost) indispensable utility. There are Reader alternatives out there and you’re certainly free to explore your options, but for many a user, Adobe’s offering is one of the first things (apart from another browser) that they install.

By default, Adobe places the “Adobe Reader and Acrobat Manager” into your system’s startup routine. This will automatically check for program updates whenever Windows starts. You can disable this of course, but then you will need to check for program updates manually.

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To check for program updates manually, open the Reader application and from the “Help” menu select “Check for Updates… .”

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If any updates are found, you will be able to install them, otherwise you’re good to go.

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As we mentioned, there are Reader alternatives out there. At one time Foxit Reader was one of our favorites, but it’s since become bloated with crap. If you don’t want to use Adobe Reader, then you might want to try Sumatra PDF, which is free, lightweight, and not Adobe.

Drivers

Drivers are the little bits of intermediary software that allow your hardware to work with Windows. Without drivers you wouldn’t be able to connect to the Internet or send things to your printer. When Windows 95 first debuted, drivers were something of a mess and in order to fully keep on top or your system, you’d have to manually install drivers from each manufacturer, and for any new hardware you added.

This situation didn’t actually start to improve until Windows XP, and didn’t become a no-brainer until Windows 7. Today, there’s almost nothing you need to do with Windows 8.x. In fact, we’d be surprised if you ever have to install a driver yourself again.

Furthermore, if drivers do need updating, they’ll appear in “Windows Update” under “Optional” updates.

That said, if you have a computer you want to play games on, we recommend installing the graphic card manufacturer’s recommended drivers. You’re almost certainly going to have a graphics chipset supplied by Intel, Nvidia, or AMD. The latter two release drivers for their chipsets on a regular basis so you can visit their downloads pages for more details:

AMD: http://sites.amd.com/us/game/downloads/Pages/downloads.aspx

Nvidia: http://www.nvidia.com/Download/index.aspx?lang=en-us

If you’re not sure whether you want to do this or you simply don’t care about gaming, then chances are you should just use the driver that “Windows Update” installs and you will be fine.

Born and brainwashed an Ohio State Buckeye, Matt now lives a warm, snow-free life just north of the Texas/Mexico border. He fancies himself a modern-day jack-of-all-trades; favorite conversation starters include operating systems, Android, BBQ, quantum physics, and roller skating.

  • Published 03/13/14

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