Spending the last month or so advising clients and friends about how to set up new computers and dealing with various pieces of software, whether pre-installed or those the users wanted to add, has strongly reinforced my belief that configuring a system is much harder than it should be. Part of the problem with configuring systems successfully is that a high number of applications need to be installed, including utility suites that provide dubious value because usually only one component is a high-quality tool.

Windows lacks baseline requirements for acceptable third-party system utilities. Such a baseline would help users determine whether a particular third-party utility is worth their investment. Windows Firewall is an example of a utility that provides such value. Although it's not a world-class product, Windows Firewall meets the needs of most Windows users and doesn’t require them to learn the intricacies of a third-party firewall that might give more control but just adds unneeded complexity for the average user.

The Windows AntiSpyware beta is another good example. Installed on a clean system, it does an excellent job of keeping the system free of spyware. Although it can't do all the things that third-party power tools do, especially if spyware problems exist on the machine before it’s installed, Windows AntiSpyware provides users with an easy-to-use solution that will rarely conflict with other applications.

Back in May 2005, Microsoft announced a tool designed to keep a user’s computer healthy and running optimally. The Windows OneCare system combines automated monitoring and wizard-guided assistance for existing Windows OS tools. With its antivirus and backup capabilities, Windows OneCare might be the application that provides the baseline functionality that Windows users need.

You don’t have to take my word for it: Windows OneCare has reached the public beta stage after more than 6 months of internal beta testing and is currently available. The free beta offers the ability to test-drive the software, and the managed beta program requires users to participate in the beta process by providing feedback to Microsoft. For more information, go to the Windows OneCare Live home page at http://beta.windowsonecare.com

It's unlikely that OneCare will provide world-class, best-of-breed services in all of its functions; however, from my brief experience using it, I think it's worth evaluating. At the very least, it will provide an easy-to-use way to get the basic set of services that every Windows computer should have.