The first thing I would recommend is to do your downloading through C-NET. I haven't had any problems with viruses, spy-ware, or ad-ware with anything I've downloaded through them. Of course use common sense, don't download a stuff all willy-nilly , pay attention to the staff & customer reviews, etc. But you all know that already, I'm sure.
For those of you in Minneapolis I recommend switching to Earthlink if you are currently using Time Warner High Speed. Why? Well, if you have Time Warner, I'm sure you know that they suck! But even above that, the Earthlink anti-virus software that you get is pretty decent. (For the same price you're already paying.) Combined with a couple of other small changes that I'll tell you about in just a minute, I have been blissfully problem free since installing it. If you have an older computer, it may cause it to run a slow when doing a virus scan, or updating it. I haven't had any speed issues otherwise. (Steps down off of my soap box. Sorry about that.)
If you don't have an anti-virus program/ pop up blocker already, or if the one that you have just plan old doesn't work, I love the Google Toolbar. It can be kind of a pain in the ass, doing things like blocking new windows that you want, but you can set it to always allow pop ups from specific sites, or temporarily disable it it you would like to.
If you use any sort of instant messenger you'll like Trillian. If you use more than one IM service, you'll love Trillian. It opens AOL IM, Yahoo IM, MSN IM, and ICQ. With out having to download any of them. All you need is your log in email and password for each program. You can choose an avatar, and it has an extensive list of icons. You can also set it to/ start it in 'invisible' mode, so you can see who is online, but they can't see you.
If you are not using it now, I highly, highly recommend switching your web browser to Firefox. Since many viruses are written specifically for Internet Explorer, it's more secure than IE. It's also more handy, and fun. It uses a tabbed browsing system, so you can open more than one web page in the same window. You can download different skins for it, and a lot of different extentions. Some are handy, some are just fun. I can send out a list of my favorite extentions if any one is interested. Now that I'm used to it, I don't know how I ever lived with out it. There are some programs that won't open in Firefox though. (Like Window's Media player.) You will need to use IE on occasion still, but it's well worth the occasional inconvenience of having to switch browsers.
Another program that I love is Open Office. Like MS Office, but no irritating animated paperclip, and it's free. It has a word processing program, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program, and a couple of others that I haven't checked out yet. (Drawing and math I think.) I was using Word Perfect before I found Open Office, and the difference is astounding.
I love Google's Picassa for basic photo editing. Red Eye removal, light and color adjusting, it's pretty handy with all that basic stuff.
If you are looking for a slightly more advanced editing program, try The GIMP. It's not quite Photoshop. For a price difference of $650 verses free though, it comes pretty damn close. Close enough to make me happy in fact. For those of you who are wondering about the name, GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program.)
A couple of other programs that I've found fun and/or handy -
(Yeah, I'm getting lazy and am gonna just going to put down the web site's descriptions, or else I'll never get this out.)
Google Earth. "Want to know more about a specific location? Dive right in -- Google Earth combines satellite imagery, maps and the power of Google Search to put the world's geographic information at your fingertips. View exotic locales like Maui and Paris as well as points of interest such as local restaurants, hospitals, schools, and more. Fly from space to your neighborhood. Type in an address and zoom right in. Search for schools, parks, restaurants, and hotels. Get driving directions. Tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings. Save and share your searches and favorites. Even add your own annotations." Endless hours of fun. At least for me anyway.
Writely - an on-line word processor. "Share documents instantly & collaborate real-time. Pick exactly who can access your documents. Edit your documents from anywhere. Nothing to download -- your browser is all you need. Store your documents securely online. Offsite storage plus data backup every 10 seconds." You can upload from word and many other file types, save docs in Writely, on your desktop, or publish to the web or on your blog. I've found it more useful than I thought I would.
Well, that's it for now. I hope you find this handy!