Many new computers should come with a version of the usual consumer warning: Some disassembly required.
No, you won't have to break out a Torx screwdriver to remove any internal components. But you probably will have to spend time uninstalling software that a theoretically helpful manufacturer loaded on the machine.
That's one way in which the welcome arrival of Microsoft's Windows 7 in 2009 hasn't eased the routine of setting up a new computer, or the need for an update of this column every year. Apple's Mac OS X Snow Leopard, meanwhile, continues to need fewer tweaks of its own.
Start where your new computer will: with a round of system-software updates. Once Win 7 or OS X detects a network connection, each should automatically fetch updates for you; if not, click the Windows Control Panel's "Check for updates" link or select OS X's Software Update program from the Apple-icon menu.
(Even before you first log in, OS X will prompt you to transfer files, settings and applications from another Mac using its fantastically helpful Migration Assistant. Microsoft's Windows Easy Transfer program won't move over programs but is still an immense time saver; you, however, might as well save that until you're done with more basic chores.)
In Windows, the first thing you're likely to see after a Windows Update prompt is a nag from an Internet-security program bundled by the PC's vendor. This software is usually a bad deal: Microsoft's free, nag-free Microsoft Security Essentials (microsoft.com/securityessentials) won't ask you to pay for a subscription after the first 30 or 90 days.
So I'd dump the included anti-virus program by clicking the Control Panel's "Uninstall a program" link-after downloading MSE's installer and disconnecting the computer from the Internet. (Keeping two anti-virus programs active at once won't keep you safer but will make computing much more of a nuisance.)
On a Mac, you only have to turn on the system firewall that Apple inexplicably left off. Open System Preferences, click its Security icon, click the Firewall tab and click its Start button.
You don't need anti-virus software on a Mac unless you're gullible and careless enough to install a strange program off the Web and then type in your system password on its request.
Both Windows and OS X require updates to some Internet plug-in software. The most important one is Adobe's Flash plug-in, which plays most Web videos and other interactive content. You can download the latest version at get.adobe.com/flashplayer; see wapo.st/aPNFLf for tips about Adobe's cumbersome installation process.
If you use Windows, you'll also need Adobe's new Reader X, a considerably more-secure version of its Portable Document Format program: get.adobe.com/reader.
Some Web plug-ins are too much trouble to keep around. Oracle's Java has few uses on home PCs, and Microsoft's Silverlight has even fewer. I'd uninstall both in Windows.
On a Mac, you can't uninstall Apple's built-in Java, but you can deactivate it in Apple's Safari browser (open its preferences window and click the Security icon); fortunately, Silverlight doesn't come preinstalled on Macs.
Then it's time to set up a backup system. In Windows, type "backup" into the Control Panel's search box or click the little flag in the bottom right of the screen (Win 7's reminder of pending system chores) to have Windows start backing up your data to a CD, DVD or an external flash or hard drive. Apple's Time Machine software is simpler but pickier, excluding CDs and DVDs as backup destinations.
In either situation, an external hard drive provides the most capacity with the least effort. Don't own one? Make that your next tech purchase.
With security and backup done, you can proceed to take back the computer. This is mostly a Windows chore, thanks to the often inept, tasteless software bundles planted by most manufacturers.
Start with easy things: Drag any unwanted desktop links or shortcuts to the Recycle Bin and hide space-wasting browser toolbars by clicking the "x" at the left end of each. Uninstall trial software and other bundleware you're sure you don't want through the Control Panel.
Now you should think about installing the programs a smarter vendor would include.
The free, open-source Mozilla Firefox browser (mozilla.com) is a great replacement for Internet Explorer, but Google's free, open-source based Chrome (google.com/chrome) is faster and updates its own Adobe Flash and PDF plug-ins automatically.