Thursday, November 12, 2015

a Past Family Tech: A few tools to get a family tech through holiday visits - December 4th, 2014

This Family Tech from 2014 is mentioned in this week's column. It has tips on performing tech support when visiting relatives over the holidays.

Did you hear anyone on your Thanksgiving visit with family say, “Hey, you are so smart with computers, can you see why my PC is running so slow?” If so, while the rest of the family visited or watched football, you slaved away over an infected PC, maybe with 15 toolbars running in Internet Explorer.

Being the family tech is a thankless job. Do one thing to help, and for years after you’ll hear things such as “I can’t find a file I downloaded. What did you do wrong when you fixed my computer?”

Whenever someone poses the question on an online forum, “What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your life?” Someone always answers, “Let my family know I know more about computers than they do.”

Maybe I can help other family techs by offering a few tools to get them through the Christmas holiday visits with family.

The first thing to do when sitting down at a sick PC is to learn something about it. Go to the Start button, and choose search. Type in “System Information.” It will give you an option to click for system information.

The report that comes up on the screen tells you a lot of information. What you are concerned with is the operating system, amount of memory and processor.

If it is an XP machine, diplomatically wash your hands of it. Explain that XP last shipped PCs in June 2008. Their PC is now at least 6 years old and maybe as old as 13. It would be far more economical to purchase a new computer, than upgrade their existing one, if that is even possible. At this point, tell them you have to limit your help to helping them choose a new computer.

If all they do is get email and web surf, nudge them in the direction of a Chromebook. With Chromebooks, you do not have to worry about backups or viruses.

If they can’t afford the $200, a minimal PC will cost, let them know where they can get free computer access, such as at the library. Trying to maintain an XP machine is soul-suckingly awful. If you must, you can run some of the processes I’ll describe later.

If it is Windows Vista PC with at least a 1ghz processor and a couple gigabytes of memory, you could help them buy a copy of Windows 8 and install it. Or, they can wait a year to see what the system requirements of Windows 10 are going to be, and then either upgrade to it if their PC allows or purchase a new machine.

If they have Windows 7 or 8, and are having problems, then there are things you can do to help.

The first thing to do is backup their files. Login as each of the accounts on the PC and use File Explorer and navigate to their c:\users folder. Right click it, and choose Properties to find out how big it is.

For most people who primarily use their computers for email and web surfing, the contents on their hard drives are usually very small. Most often, smaller than an affordable 16 or 32 gigabyte USB drive.

Buy them one of the drives, and backup the contents of their c:\users folder. You will need to login as an administrator, or login as each user on the PC and copy their c:\users\their_name folder individually.

If you do nothing else for your family member, do the following. Most likely they are not backing up anything, ever. For about $10 you can save them should things truly go south. Leave them the USB drive so they don’t worry about you being nefarious with their files, but tell them not to do anything with it. It is only for you to use when visiting.

Before you leave for your relatives, go to and download some utilities to your own USB drive. Ninite is about the only safe download site left. Get a copy of the Chrome browser, and under security, Essentials, Malwarebytes, and Spybot 2. Under Utilities, get WinDirStat.

Check to see if they have an antivirus software installed. If not, install the Microsoft Essentials you downloaded from Ninite.

Reboot the computer to Safe Mode and run a virus scan, and after a MalwareBytes run and Spybot 2 scan. These can take time, so start it fairly soon after arriving, and let them know the computer is off limits until they are done.

If things are still flaky after you run these scans, byte the bullet and do a restore.

The column mentioning this column will appear online Saturday, November 14, 2015 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will here on on this blog.

It is available before in the November 13th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, November 12th in the afternoon.

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