There's nothing like a new computer, a blank slate where you get a chance to start over in your digital life without all the mess - no duplicate files and no useless installers hanging around, no more scattered photos and videos and documents, no more four web browsers with four different sets of bookmarks, no extra software you never really used while the launcher continued to run in the background and suck up memory.
This time (you promise yourself), things will be different. Your computer will be clean and clutter-free, organized and logical, fast and efficient. You will be on top of things: the master of your digital domain.
But it never lasts. Sooner or later you'll have files everywhere - in Downloads, in Documents, in Libraries, in Program Files, in System Files, on your Desktop, in random folders you created to organize your stuff but that only created more clutter.
It's not always your fault, either. Chances are your computer came with a bunch of software built in, like HP MediaSmart or HP Dashboard, which is confusing. When you download software it sometimes creates folders in odd places, or duplicates your files (iTunes is famous for this).
If you can't wait until your next computer to clean up your digital life then you can always start over - back up all your really important data (photos, videos, movies, games) then insert your Mac OSX and Windows 7 disk and start over. If you don't have a disk, go to www.apple.com, www.microsoft.com or www.linux.com and do a search for the right instructions.
It will probably take a day or so to get your computer back to the pristine place it was before you put your grubby fingers all over it. Once you're there, you get to start over.
Familiarize yourself with the file structure, and create the file folders you need for your personal items. Make shortcuts if your files are buried a few menus down, and collect those shortcuts into another folder that you drop onto your Start menu (Microsoft) or Finder's "Places" list.
The rest of my advice is for PC's, but a lot of it will apply to Macs and Linux users as well.
Now that you have a blank slate you're going to need software - and you'll need to decide on a standard system for handling your software, like ensuring that all installers go to Downloads, all programs go into Program Files, and all extras - e.g. your iTunes Music folder, project folders - should go to the spaces you've already designated in your file structure. Don't be shy using the Libraries tool (right click on folders and files) as another way to track your stuff.
These are the following programs I recommend you install: (I have to give some of the credit to a Redditor, Astroid0, for a few of the titles.)
Security - Immediately download Windows Security Essentials at www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/. In its second generation, every Windows 7 and Vista user should have this security software. It's incredibly easy to use, and if you get infected it often takes care of the problem for you. If you want a secondary security layer, I'd recommend Hijack This (http://free.antivirus.com/hijackthis/) to track activity, and Malwarebytes Antimalware (www.malwarebytes.org) to sniff out viruses, malware, spyware, etc. Also, if you're afraid your computer could be stolen (and laptops are an easy target), please download Prey (www.preyproject.com). It will help you recover your computer in some cases (you can even use the camera to take the thief's photo) and to hide personal information.
Maintenance - Pick up Ccleaner at Piriform.com (along with Defraggler and Speccy while you're at it), and be sure and make a donation towards this excellent company. It's worth every penny, and you won't regret a dime. Ccleaner keeps your computer clean by deleting temp files, history, etc. that clutters up your computer. You can also use it to fix your registry and uninstall software. The Ccleaner Enhancer (http://thewebatom.net/software/ccleaner-enhancer) add-on makes Ccleaner even better by applying Ccleaner to a wider range of other programs.
Defraggler reorganizes your data to speed up your computer's performance while Speccy tells you everything you need to know about your hardware - good to know if you're having troubles, if you're ordering upgrades, or if you're purchasing software and want to know if you'll meet the minimum requirements.
Other maintenance programs you should have include Soluto (www.soluto.com), which helps to figure out what software is slowing you down, and Magic Folder Gadget (do a Google search), which automatically files your data according to type (music files, photo files, documents, etc.).
Access - A lot of Windows users are jealous of the Spotlight search tool on Macs and for good reason. While Windows 7 did improve searching, you need to download Everything at www.voidtools.com, which is maybe even better than Spotlight.
Cloud - Dropbox is a must for sharing files between computers and backing up your work. If you save your stuff to Dropbox you can share it with anyone or access it from anywhere - any computer and any phone. If your computer is stolen or damaged, or you want to wipe your computer or upgrade it, your data is safe. It's free for 2GB of space, but if you have a lot of important data you can get 50GB for $100 per year. You can also use it to make simple HTML websites.
Next week: Browsers, multimedia and more.