Computer Problems

I'm often asked to fix a PC that is experiencing problems. The majority of the time, the person says that they have too many pop-ups, have programs they don't want, or are infected with a virus of some kind. I've found put together a list of items below that can help you prevent your PC from becoming a nuissance, and possibly "fix" as well. SInce the majority of the folks I help out are using some flavor of Windows, this is geared towards Windows users.

1. Use Windows Update

Keeping your operating system up to date is critical. Microsoft provides a website for downloading the latest patches and upgrades for all of their supported versions of Windows. It is absolutely critical that you visit this site often and install the updates as they become available. Microsoft even provides a tool that will alert you when new updates are available and automatically download them while you are online. These patches will protect your system from infections and keep you up to date with the latest features. The biggest drawback is that these patches can take a long time to download, especially for dial up users. When my brother-in-law received a laptop for Christmas, I updated it with all the patches, and even on our fast cable modem it took a little over an hour to get the system fully updated. For dial-up users this can take days, and can be frustrated by dropped connections. Still, you need to do this to prevent your PC from acting up.
2. Use a Firewall

Starting with Windows Me, Microsoft has built in an Internet Connection Firewall into the operating system. Unfortunately, it is disabled by default. To protect yourself from viruses and worms, I highly recommend that you turn this on. If you already have a hardware firewall, use that, but if not, the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) will save you a lot of headaches. With the ICF turned on, even if other folks on your network get infected, you have an extra level of protection that could save you. Maybe I'll post another topic on how to enable and configure the ICF.
3. Don't Indulge in Guilty Pleasures

And I'm not just talking about internet porn. If you are downloading songs from a file sharing app like Kazaa, Bear Share, LimeWire, or any of the other P2P network apps, stop. If you are downloading cracked versions of video games and software like Photoshop, stop. If you think that you are getting something for free, you aren't. The files found on the warez, crackz, passwordz, and file sharing networks are riddled with viruses. They can be embedded in the videos, music, and applications that you download. In short, if you aren't getting your files from a trusted source, don't use them. If you want music, use iTunes or Rhapsody and spend the 99 cents on a song. It's cheap, and it's guaranteed to be free of crap you don't want.
4. Use the Google Toolbar

Google provides and excellent tool for blocking pop-ups. The Google Toolbar works only for Internet Explorer, but it blocks 99% of the pop-ups on websites. It is an excellent tool, and it provides a convenient way to do a google search. I highly recommend using this tool. I've been using it for several months, and it has blocked over 1,000 pop-ups and counting.
5. Use Ad Aware

If you are getting pop-ups everywhere, even on the google and yahoo homepages, then you have some spyware installed. You shouldn't be getting any pop-ups on the Google website, and this is a tip-off that some spyware has managed to infest your browser. Ad Aware is an excellent tool for getting rid of these things. It isn't perfect, but it does manage to clear out a lot of the more heinous apps. Make sure to update the app and run it often. Especially if you ignore number 3 above.
6. Update your Virus Definitions

This only applies if you use some form of virus protection like Norton or Symantec. It is important that you keep the virus definition files current. New forms of viruses are released every day, and these companies do their best to stay on top of it. The only way to make sure that your virus protection software will continue to protect you is to keep those virus definition files up to date.
7. Ignore Spam

If you don't recognize the sender of an e-mail, don't even bother to open it. Spammers have found some pretty ingenious ways to fool you into loading software, or even just to tell them that you read your e-mail. For instance, some spammers put a very tiny picture in their e-mails. When you read your e-mail, you open the picture which tells the spammer that you just read your mail. So then they sell your address to other spammers and say , "Hey, this guy checks his mail!" That just leads to more spam, and pretty soon you have to ditch the whole account. So if something doesn't look right about an e-mail, don't open it. And if you do open something and it turns out to be bunk, don't bother "unsubscribing". Just delete it and move. And above all, never open an attachment if you weren't expecting it.

I think if you abide by this advice, you will find that you experience a lot less frustration with your PC. Some other miscellaneous stuff:

  • AOL sucks. If you use their service, I feel bad for you. Their dialups are incredibly slow, their interface is bloated, and they put you on their network "naked". Using the ICF (suggestion 2) is critical if you are using AOL. I think the going rate for an AOL dialup is $28 / month for the 56K service, which is ridiculous when you can get a 100 times faster cable modem for just $35 ($45 if you don't already have cable service). I understand the trap though. You get used to doing everything the AOL way, and it is hard to learn something else. If you haven't drunk the AOL Kool-Aid, stay away.
  • Kazaa is Spyware I'm always surprised by the number of folks that use Kazaa. Sure, you can download stolen songs, but they sure aren't free. Kazaa claims that they are not spyware, but they are. In fact, all of the P2P apps that I have seen install at least some form of spyware. You just can't get around it.

I've rambled on for a while now. I won't promise that, by following this advice, you won't ever get a virus. However I can say that I've been following this advice, and we haven't had a virus on our computers in the last three years. You can't always help it either, especially if you share a PC with the entire family. If you do, I recommend setting up one admin account and making everyone else limited users. This way you can prevent them from installing the apps that lead to all of this trouble. In any case, I hope that some of this information helps.


Jade Mason