Whether your reliable old PC was finally beaten down by the kids this summer, or you are springing for a new laptop for your back-to-schooler, ‘tis the season of new computers. Before you plug and play that new PC, take these steps to ensure your computer runs optimally from the beginning and to protect your investment for years to come.
Step 1: Get rid of the junk programs. Anyone who has booted up a new, off-the-shelf Windows PC can attest to the deluge of junk programs that come pre-installed to the average Dell or HP machine. Widely known as “bloatware,” these are programs that you’ll probably never use. They’re installed mainly because the computer’s manufacturer was paid to install them on your machine. They take up space, slow your system’s boot-up time and compromise performance. Not only that, but they’re really annoying – they pop up all the time, take up your bandwidth downloading updates, and are rarely useful.
The cleanest way to get rid of the junk is to wipe your hard drive and install a fresh version of Windows. It’s the pathway that most tech professionals choose. The hard part for most people, however, is that your new PC probably didn’t come with a Windows disk or even a recovery CD. Most of the functionality of your video card, USB ports and touchpad come from drivers that may or may not be included with Windows. If these functions aren’t immediately restored, you can be stuck spending hours tracking down the drivers you need.
Another option is to use a program called PC Decrapifier (http://pcdecrapifier.com/). Simply download the program and it will automatically sweep your system, identifying likely bloatware and offering you the option to confirm its removal. Continue reading
Can I disable tracking cookies? Ok, so let’s talk about cookies, no not the kind you dunk in milk and feeling guilty as hell after you’ve finished the whole bag. No, these are internet cookies, the ones that have gained a rather sinister image.
A cookie is just one or more pieces of information stored as a text file on your machine. A Web Server sends you a cookie and the browser stores it. The browser then returns the cookie to the server the next time the page is referenced.
The most common use of a cookie is to store a user ID. For example, the cookie might contain the following string: ID=4567354.
Amazon.com is one site that uses this technique. When you order a book you fill out a form with your name and address. Amazon assigns you an ID, stores your information with that ID in its database on the server, and sends the ID to your browser as a cookie. Your browser stores the ID on your Hard Disk. The next time you go to Amazon, the ID is sent back to the server. The server looks you up by your ID and customizes the Web page it sends back to you. The page might say, “Welcome back, Joe Smith”
So for the most part cookies are great, especially if you don’t want to type in a password every 30 seconds. But most of us don’t like the idea of certain types of cookies that follow us around from one web-site to another to report to advertisers on what you’re looking at. But there is a way that you can block those “third-party” cookies without getting rid of the useful kind!
For Internet Explorer, go to Control Panel > Internet Options > click the Privacy tab, and either choose a preset on the slider that blocks third-party cookies or click Advanced > checkOverride automatic cookie handling, and check Block under ‘third-party cookies’.
In Safari, go to Edit > Preferences > Privacy and set ‘Block cookies’ to From third parties and advertisers.
In Firefox, go to Firefox > Options > Privacy and select ‘Use custom settings for history from the drop-down menu. Uncheck Accept third-party cookies.
With Chrome, go to Option > Under the Hood > Content Settings and check Block third-party cookies from being set.
For any browser, we suggest the free program CCleaner. Our tech uses it for all the machines in our office and it provides an easy method to clean out your cookies, temporary files and other extraneous space-taker-uppers that your hard drive holds onto.
So there you have it, keeping the good cookies and heaving the bad ones, kind of like the best of both worlds. Got questions or comments, we would love to hear from you. Is there a question you would like us to answer, let us know, we’ll get right on it.
I’m now at the end of my Windows 7 experiment and I have to return the PC users’ suit and tie to the PC Pro cupboard and put on my blue jeans, black turtle neck jumper and New Balance trainers.
It’s been a steep learning curve for me, but not in the ways I thought it would be. I had Windows up and running with all the applications I needed to do my job much more quickly than I thought. I’d arranged my desktop, partitioned the hard drive and worked out the basics in less than a day, and that includes installing the software. Continue reading
GoDaddy customers, beware!
There is a new phishing scam making the email rounds this month. Here is an example of what to look for:
Subject: Status Alert: Your account contains more than [number] directories.
Your account contains more than [number] directories and may pose a potential performance risk to the server.
Please reduce the number of directories for your account to prevent possible account deactivation.
In order to prevent your account from being locked out we recommend that you create special tmp directory.
Or use the link below:[innocuous-looking GoDaddy link which really points to a Russian domain]
Like most IT pros, I have had plenty of friends and family members ask me to fix their PCs. Although I have always tried to help people whenever I can, I have come to the realization that with a few exceptions it is a bad idea to fix people’s PCs for free.
Don’t get the wrong idea. There are some people that I truly don’t mind helping. I would never refuse to help my wife with a computer problem, nor would I cut off my mother. Unfortunately though, the majority of those that I have helped have abused the situation. As such, this article is a list of ten reasons why I don’t recommend fixing PCs for free.
1. Future problems are your fault
When a friend or family member asks you to fix their computer, they do so because they do not know enough to fix the problem themselves. Because the person typically does not understand the cause of or the solution to the problem, they probably also are not going to understand which problems are related and which are not. As a result, anything that happens to the computer after you touch it may be perceived to be your fault. All the computer’s owner knows is that the problem did not occur until after you worked on the computer.
2. People may not respect your time
Before I stopped fixing computers for friends and family, I had a big problem with people not respecting my time. Friends would call me at all hours of the day or night and expect me to drop whatever I was doing, drive to their house, and fix their computer right then.
3. Things sometimes go wrong
The third reason why I don’t recommend fixing people’s computers for free is because if you break it, you bought it. I have never personally run into a problem with this one, but I do know someone who brought a friend’s laptop home to fix, only to have his three year old daughter knock the laptop off the table and break it.
4. People don’t value things that are free
People seem to be conditioned to accept the idea that the best things in life are those that are the most expensive. This can be a problem when it comes to fixing people’s computers for free, because your advice might be perceived as carrying no more weight than anyone else’s.
To give you a more concrete example, there is someone in my family who constantly calls me with computer questions. I try to be nice and answer the questions, but often times this person does not like the answer. In those situations this person will tell me that my brother, my aunt, or somebody else in my family with absolutely no IT experience told them the opposite of what I am telling them. Inevitably, this person ends up ignoring my advice.
5. They expect free tech support for life
When you fix someone’s computer for free and you do a good job, you can become a victim of your own success. The next time that the person needs help, they will remember what a good job you did. In the future you may be asked to assist with everything from malware removal to operating system upgrades.
6. People adopt risky habits because they are getting free tech support
This one might be my biggest pet peeve related to helping friends with their computer problems. If a friend or family member assumes that you will always be there to bail them out when they have computer problems then they have no incentive try to prevent problems from happening. As such, they might adopt risky habits or even do some things that just do not make sense.
I will give you a couple of quick examples of this one. I have one friend whose teenage son infected his computer with all sorts of malware while trying to find free adult content on the Internet. The infection was so bad that it took me all weekend to fix. I suggested to my friend that he either keep his son off of his computer, or only allow him to access the Internet through a hardened sandboxed environment. A few days later my friend told me the infection was back. After asking him a few questions, I discovered that he had given his son the admin password so that he could “download something for school.”
The other example was that I once did a hard disk replacement for a family member. I won’t bore you with the details, but the hard disk replacement was anything but smooth. There were issues with everything from BIOS compatibility to the physical case design. After spending all evening working on it, I finally got everything working. By the time that I arrived home I had a message on my voice mail from the person whose computer I had just upgraded. She said that she had let her eight-year-old son disassemble the computer because she wanted him to learn about computers, but he couldn’t figure out how to put it back together.
7. It doesn’t end with computers
Another reason why I don’t recommend doing free computer repairs for friends or family is because the job might not end with computer repairs. Once the person figures out that you are good with electronics they may have you working on other things. For instance, I once helped a neighbor recover some data off of a failed hard disk. Two weeks later he had me on the roof helping to realign his satellite dish.
8. Things can snowball
Sometimes when you fix a friend’s computer for free, the expectations of free technical support can snowball into free support for everyone. I once fixed a computer for someone in my family. When I was done, the person told me that they have a friend who is also having problems and asked if I could look at that too.
9. Your service isn’t just free, it is costing you money
For instance, you are probably spending money on gas to drive to your friend’s house. You might also end up using supplies such as blank media or printer ink. I have even had friends who expect me to supply them with the software licenses.
10. Fixing computers is too much like work
The best reason of all for not fixing friend’s computers for free might be that doing so is too much like work. If you spend all day at work fixing computer problems, do you really want to deal with the same thing when you leave the office?
What is your policy on volunteering your tech skills for friends and family?