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Workshop: Tweak Security Settings in XP and Vista

Good security doesn't have to bug you constantly. Here's how to stay safe without having to click through a warning every 30 seconds.

Switch to free antivirus: Tired of spending a bundle on annual subscriptions to antivirus software? Alwil Software offers the excellent Avast antivirus application free for home, noncommercial use. The program works with both Windows XP and Vista.

Another benefit of Avast is that the program uses very little RAM and other system resources, unlike infamous processor hogs such as Symantec's Norton AntiVirus.

UAC, begone! Turn off the single most annoying feature of Windows Vista via this option in User Accounts.
UAC, begone! Turn off the single most annoying feature of Windows Vista via this option in User Accounts.
Bounce account controls: Without a doubt, the most annoying thing about Vista is User Account Control (UAC), which causes Windows to ask you for permission before accessing various system resources. True, this setup will help to keep your PC safe, but do you really need to see yet another pop-up and click through yet another prompt before doing something as simple as changing the size of Windows' main font?

Luckily, you have an easy way to turn off UAC: Choose Start, Control Panel (or Start, Settings, Control Panel on the Classic Start menu) User Accounts, and then click Turn User Account Control on or off. At the UAC prompt, select Continue; when you move on to the next screen, uncheck Use User Account Control (UAC) to help protect your computer. Then click OK. After you restart your computer, you will no longer be bedeviled by those insistently feckless UAC prompts.

Elevate your command prompt: When you run certain commands from Vista's command prompt, you receive an error message declaring that you can't run the command because you don't have the proper administrator rights. This occurs even if you're logged in as an administrator.

To evade this limitation, you have to elevate your privileges. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories (or Start, Programs, Accessories on the Classic Start menu), right-click Command Prompt, and choose Run as Administrator. At this point the command prompt will launch, but you'll be operating in special administrator mode; you can tell by looking at the title bar, which will start with the word 'Administrator'. Bonus tip: If you want to open a command prompt without using your mouse, press <Ctrl>-<Shift>-<Enter> after you type cmd.

Turn off file-deletion prompts: UAC can be helpful should you ever inadvertently try to delete a system file. This misstep will generate two pop-ups: one from UAC, and a separate delete-file confirmation box. To retain the UAC prompt but eliminate the confirmation box, right-click the Recycle Bin, select Properties, uncheck Display delete confirmation dialog, and click OK.

From now on, no matter what file you want to delete--system files or regular files--you'll have one fewer dialog box to click through. If you try to delete a system file, however, you'll still see a UAC prompt (unless you've turned it off, as explained in the "Bounce account controls" section above).

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