There should be an image here!Q: I had to get a new computer with Windows 7 because my old computer got so overloaded with junk programs. Any suggestions on how to avoid all the junk that seems to build up in computers these days? — Joel

A: The computer industry has evolved into a world where virtually everyone is trying to install a program that will load whenever you start your computer — generally for their purposes, not yours.

Printer manufacturers, digital camera makers, software companies, and a whole host of characters are taking advantage of the user’s trust and lack of attention to cause much of the ‘slowdown’ issue that we all experience.

The more of these programs that you allow to be installed, the quicker your fast, new computer will seem like it’s stuck in the mud.

Adding to the problem are all of the malicious software programs lurking in and around the Internet just waiting for an opportunity to sneak into your computer and silently use your computer’s resources in the background without your knowledge.

Keeping this junk from building up in the first place will be much easier (and cheaper) than having to clean it out afterwards. Unfortunately, too many users get frustrated with their old computer’s slowness because of the buildup only to make the same mistakes with the new computer and end up back in the same boat within six months of buying the new computer.

If you make the same mistakes, you will end up with the same results on your new computer.

Here’s the number one way to keep most of this junk from ever getting into your computer in the first place: PAY ATTENTION!

What I am referring to is that dizzying (by design) number of screens that come up when you’re installing a new hardware device or software program to your computer.

Most of you click on NEXT, NEXT, NEXT, I AGREE without really understanding what you just agreed to.

For example, I recently set up a new Windows 7 computer in my home and had to install the printer software for my HP multifunction printer/copier/scanner/fax.

During the installation, I was presented with two choices for the installation: Recommended or Custom (‘for advanced users’ to scare you off).

The ‘Recommended’ option tried to make it sound like it was very important that you have what they recommended in order for everything to work properly.

I always choose the ‘Custom’ option, because I am very aware of the sneaky games that these companies play. When I chose the Custom option, the next screen showed the three items that would have been installed had I chosen the Recommended option (which I call the “I Don’t Care What You Do To Me” option).

The first item was the actual printer driver software, the second was a quality assurance customer feedback program, and the third was the Yahoo! toolbar (shame on you HP)!

Two of the three items only benefit HP and add additional bloat to your computer, but they are counting on you to be asleep at the wheel. (Simply remove the checkmarks in front of unwanted junk in the future!)

Yahoo! essentially has a deal with HP to sneak its toolbar into computers via the software install process; HP is benefiting by fooling you into allowing this to happen.

In this one example, I would have ended up with two unnecessary programs. So the average user could end up with 10 or 15 superfluous programs added to their computer when installing a bunch of new software on a new computer simply by not paying attention!

HP is not the only company that is doing this (digital camera makers can be worse), which is why you should always choose the Custom or Expert option for ANYTHING you install (hardware or software, as they all play this game).

There isn’t enough room in this column to warn you about every malicious scam that can add to the problem, but above all, if you don’t need something, don’t install it.

Stay away from file sharing sites and pirated software, and don’t click on anything in an email that prompts you for more information or any site that ‘offers’ you the latest version of a program so you can access a video.

All of these folks (legit or otherwise) are counting on you not to be paying attention — so do! If you don’t understand what you are being asked during an install, cancel it until you can get someone you trust to help.

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show