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When it comes to building PCs for your customers, you have a couple of choices. You could preload the computers with just the bare basics. That’s what the mass-market retailers do, and they make some money from PC sales—not a lot, but some.

Or, you could preload your customers’ PCs properly so that their machines won’t fall prey to the first virus or network attack that comes along. Yes, it involves a little extra work, but it’s exactly this kind of extra effort that will have your customers coming back.

The first thing I do with any system these days is to make sure its operating system up to date. To do that I update either with a CD containing the latest patches or across the LAN from the master patch collection for that particular operating system.

The one thing I don’t do is update it over the Internet. Behind my firewall, I could certainly download the patches safely enough, but even with my 3M-bps DSL connection, life is too short and I have too many other uses for my bandwidth.

Next, I install a firewall. Yes, with XP SP2, Windows finally has a reasonable firewall, but for my money, it’s still not flexible enough for serious use. And, besides, if your customers want Windows 2000 or an older version of Windows, the SP2 firewall isn’t an option.

My default firewall pick for Windows machines is Zone Labs’ free version of ZoneAlarm. It’s easy to set up and flexible.

Better still, if your customers need more protection, you have a natural upgrade path for them starting with the commercial versions of ZoneAlarm and leading up to Zone Labs’ parent company Check Point’s enterprise-level firewall and Internet security products. For more on Zone Labs’ reseller programs, check out its reseller Web site.

Of course, if you use ZoneAlarm—or any other third-party firewalls—on XP SP2 systems, you’ll need to manually turn off SP2’s firewall.

Next, I put on anti-viral software. There’s a ton of programs out there. After more than 20 years in the business, though, I keep coming back to Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus. It just works.

While I’ve have problems over the years with some of Symantec’s other products, its flagship anti-virus software has never let me down.

Working with Symantec’s reseller program is also straightforward. You can buy directly from Symantec’s big three distributors: Ingram Micro, Tech Data and Synnex. Or, if you want to get buddy-buddy with Symantec, you can join its Symantec Partner Program.

Once you’ve installed Norton AntiVirus, you should also make sure to update it with the latest anti-viral files and set it to automatically update. These days you can’t be too careful about viruses.

Next, I drop in a copy of Spybot-S&D. This freeware spyware destroyer works well, and with spyware becoming as common as dirt, anything you can do to help your customers avoid it will be appreciated.

One final point: If you do go to this trouble, make sure your customers know about it. You have to get the word out to your potential customers that your PCs are safer than run-of-the-mill retail PCs.

Maybe your clients wouldn’t know malware from Malibu; or maybe they know as much about computing as you do. One thing they’ll all agree on, though, is that in today’s computing world, a safer computer is a better computer.

Check out’s Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer’s Weblog.

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