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August 17, 2007

The "fix it" Button and tips to prevent using it.

OK, we all know that there is no magic "fix it" button when it comes to computer. (Trust me, I've built tons of them and have fixed even more, if it was there, I'd have found it). So I'm going to try and do the next best thing and offer some advice to help you find out what is causing the problem with your computer.

Restart the computer:

The first thing I always ask my clients/users to do when they are having trouble with their computer is to just restart it. whether it is the computer just acting sluggishly, a program not opening properly, a web page not loading properly, just go ahead and give the computer a restart. Restarting computers fixes so many problems it is ridiculous. It is the closest thing to a magic button there is.

The reason restarting fixes so many problems is because while you are running programs and opening files on a computer, the computer is storing them into temporary memory. If for some reason, one of these files get written incorrectly to that temporary memory or conflicts with a file that is already there, it can cause problems. Restarting the computer clears out that temporary memory.

(tech secret: having a user restart a computer does more than just clear the temporary memory on their computer. It also clears that mental block a user creates that makes them think "this computer is broken!" Once the computer reboots, the computer has done something so it changes the users mind state to again think the computer has the chance of working, and usually it does. This works especially well when users are mis-typing their passwords and refuse to believe that is the problem)

Think Back:

"But it was working earlier!" is one of the worst arguments ever made. Everything was working before it was broken, so your goal is to find out what happened at the point where the computer went from "working" to "not working". So think back. What were you doing the last time the computer was working? Did you install a new piece of software? Did you install a new piece of hardware? Did you attach any new peripheral (printers, scanners, mp3 Players, Digital Camera, etc).

If you did, uninstall them. There is a good chance that whatever you installed is causing the problem. Yes, even plugging in a simple peripheral can cause problems, because when you plug it in, your computer needs to install drivers (basically the set of instructions for your computer to use a device). These drivers sometimes can cause conflicts with other software/hardware on your computer. So the easiest way to test if this is the problem is to remove them (contact the manufacturer of the product for instruction on how to remove hardware drivers from your computer)

Tips to prevent problems:

  • Always follow the instructions that come with products you are installing. Some computer components are finicky about how you install them and doing steps out of order can cause unexpected results (and they usually aren't for the better)
  • Get some anti-virus software (especially if you use the Windows Operating System). It's not that expensive (or go with a free product like AVG) and it will help keep you computer running smoothly.
  • Make sure your software is up to date. All operating systems come with an updater, use them. (For windows users is called "windows update" or "Microsoft Update" and is located in the programs section of your start menu.) Software updates fix small bugs that you might not even notice are there but that can increase the performance of the software, they also fix critical issues that can affect the security of your computer.
  • In addition to software updates, be sure to occasionally check for Driver updates for your hardware as well. Using Microsoft Update will show most of these as well. Drivers are essentially instructions for your computer on how to use a piece of hardware. If better instructions are available, you should use them. Typically they increase stability, reliability, and occasionally will add more functionality.
  • Be smart. If you are surfing the internet and a window pops up that says "you just won a car!" don't click it. If something seems too good to be true, it typically isn't. Clicking on pop ups like this all but guarantee that you will start seeing more and more pop ups.
  • Don't download anything unless you know it is from a trusted source.
  • Be careful with Email. If you get a message from someone you have never heard of offering you something, delete it. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn't. Also, don't download attachments from people you don't know, and NEVER give out personal information about yourself. A bank or credit card company, heck NO well run company will EVER ask you for personal info (i.e. social security number, password, address, etc) via email. The reason for this is because e-mail is not a secure form of data transfer. If you get an email requesting this information (even if it looks legitimate) call the company who is requesting the info and verify with them over the phone the information they want.
  • Do basic system maintenance. Operating systems come with tools for this. Use your disk defragmenter and disk clean up utilities. These tools will help your computer run smoothly and last longer.
  • Let a professional help you if you aren't sure how to do something. Stores like Best Buy and CompUSA get a really bad rep. and personally, I don't like either of them for various reasons (there are tons of complaint boards on the net about both if you need reasons) but look for a local computer repair shop, ask friends where they have had a good experience, and take your computer there.

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