Good news! You woke up to find a shiny new computer waiting for you under the tree this year. Whether it's a Windows PC, Mac or Linux box, here's a quick starter guide to getting it running on all cylinders.
Photo remixed with help from Shandi-lee.
We've separated this little get-up-and-running guide into sections depending on whether the machine is based on Windows, Mac or Linux, so just find the section that makes sense for you and get going.
So You Just Got a New Windows Machine
Get to know Windows 7: Chances are pretty good that this is the first time a lot of people will be using Windows 7 — and even if it's not, take this opportunity to get to know Microsoft's solid new offering with our Complete Guide to Windows 7. While you're schooling yourself on Win7, you'll at the very least want to check out:
- The Master List of New Windows 7 Shortcuts: Windows 7 adds loads of great shortcuts for switching between apps, moving windows around your screen, moving them to another monitor altogether, and much more. Here's a quick-reference master list of the best new Windows 7 shortcuts.
- Windows 7's Best Underhyped Features: It's these less sexy, but very useful features, that make me think the more I use Windows 7, the less chance I'll ever use Vista or XP again.
- Set Up and Use XP Mode in Windows 7: Windows 7's new XP Mode lets you seamlessly run virtualised applications alongside your regular Windows 7 applications-so your outdated software will continue to work.
- Turn Your Windows 7 PC Into a Wireless Hotspot: Everybody's got a wireless network at home, but if you've ever wanted to get your iPod touch, iPhone or other wireless device connected, but all you've got is a wired network at work, school or elsewhere, Windows 7 makes this process trivial.
- Master Windows 7 Jump Lists to Boost Your Win7 Productivity: For those of you that haven't yet tried out Windows 7, when you right-click on a taskbar button in Windows 7, a menu slides out with recent documents and application tasks. You can even access it with the left mouse button if you choose. Here's a rundown of our favourite Jump List boosters.
- Dual-Boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu in Perfect Harmony: Windows 7 and Ubuntu, despite their opposing missions, can get along like best pals on a single computer. Here's how to set up a dual-boot system that lets you enjoy the best of both worlds in perfect harmony.
Get rid of the bloat: There's nothing like a fresh machine. It's free from an overloaded system tray, bloated application installs, and disorganised file structures, right?
Unfortunately that's not always the case. A lot of machines ship with a whole lot of pre-installed software that you didn't ask for and surely don't want. Our suggestion: Before you go nuts installing the software you really want, download Revo Uninstaller (a tool for getting rid of apps that's superior to Windows' default Add or Remove Programs tool) and get rid of all of the software that shipped with your machine that you don't want or need.
Install your favourite apps in a snap: Now that you've cleared out the crap, it's time to install the applications you really want. We're huge fans of previously mentioned Ninite, a simple utility that lets you tick off checkboxes of your favourite apps, then downloads them and installs them in the background. That means no more hunting all over the internet to find and download the apps, and no more mindless Next -> Next -> Finish clicking. If you'd like a little help finding the best apps around to fill up your Programs folder, check out the following:
- Lifehacker Pack 2009: Our List of Essential Free Windows Downloads: We feature downloads of all kinds every day at Lifehacker. Here, we've bundled all the best free downloads for new computer owners, re-installers, would-be geeks or anyone who wants to save time installing the best stuff out there. This is our 2009 Lifehacker Pack for Windows computers.
- Top 10 Tiny & Awesome Windows Utilities: It's the little things that make a Windows system great — like utilities that use less than 10MB of memory to make your life easier. Here are 10 apps that pack a lot of greatness into very little space.
- 61 Free Apps We're Most Thankful For: Here are the gobs of free software we love, say thank you to the developers, and give our computers a feast of their own.
- Top 10 Windows 7 Booster Apps Windows 7 is a big improvement over Vista, and a pretty convenient OS in general — but it's by no means perfect. These 10 downloads improve Windows 7's looks, functions, and make it easier, safer and more convenient to upgrade to.
So It's a Mac, Is It?
Dive into your Mac: Whether this is your first Mac or your first time in Snow Leopard, we've got you covered:
- Snow Leopard's Four Best Improvements (for Civilians): Most of Mac OS 10.6's changes are deep in its underpinnings for developers to put to good use. But what do the rest of us get out of Snow Leopard? Modest, but nice, improvements to the everyday Mac workflow.
Install some killer apps, make a few useful tweaks: Once you've got a better understanding of what's going on with your new computer, you're ready to go on an application installation binge and do a little tweaking.
- Lifehacker Pack 2009: Our List of Essential Free Mac Downloads We've featured countless apps of all sorts over the years, but if you just want a quick look at the best free downloads for your Mac, this post's for you. This is the 2009 Lifehacker Pack for Mac OS X.
- Secrets Updates for Snow Leopard, Still Tweaks Every Dark Corner of OS X: If you're not a big fan of using the Terminal but love hidden features in OS X, Secrets is the preference pane for you. Secrets provides a list of hidden features (and descriptions of each) that can be easily toggled on and off with a simple click of a checkbox.
- Get More Precise Font Smoothing in Snow Leopard Among the many changes in OS X 10.6 was a simplification of the font smoothing options to a yes or no toggle. If your monitor text isn't quite right, here's a quick Terminal tip to get nitty-gritty control.
- SnowChecker Determines If Your Applications Are Snow-Leopard Compatible Free application SnowChecker runs a scan of your installed applications and tells you which may have problems running in Snow Leopard.
Linux Lovers, This One's for You
An overview and a few handy Linux tweaks:
- First Look at Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala Beta Take a look at the new features in the latest major point release or Ubuntu.
- Make Compiz Run More Smoothly on Linux Desktops If you're running the Compiz window manager on your Linux system — known as "Desktop Effects" in Ubuntu — you might notice it doesn't slide windows around smoothly and causes occasional video tearing. Here's the fix.
- Dual-Boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu in Perfect Harmony Windows 7 and Ubuntu, despite their opposing missions, can get along like best pals on a single computer. Here's how to set up a dual-boot system that lets you enjoy the best of both worlds in perfect harmony.
Now let's get downloading: If you're a Linux person, you can rest assured that your system is likely running lean and mean right out of the box. (That is, without the bloat of pre-installed crapware some Windows systems start off with.) So let's get right to the downloading!
- Top 10 Ubuntu Downloads From Ubuntu tweaking to desktop customisation and productivity boosting launchers, these apps promise to seriously enhance your machine.
- Allmyapps Bulk-Installs Your Favourite Apps, Makes System Rebuilding Less Painful One of the most irritating things about reinstalling your operating system is installing all the non-OS applications you love. Allmyapps lets you select all your favourite apps and roll them into a bulk installer to make rebuilding easy.
- Top 10 Cross-Platform Apps that Run on Windows, OS X, Linux and More Whether your important data lives in the cloud, on your laptop or on a different operating system, you shouldn't have to use sub-par tools to get at it. These cross-platform apps run on your Linux machine, but will also work when you've got to move to a Windows machine for work or wherever you may end up.
Merry Christmas! Enjoy that new gear, and let us know what else has helped you get up and running in the comments.