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Avoiding Common Problems
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Self Help

Digital House Call sees all kinds of computer problems, but these are the worst:

1. Malware (malicious software: spyware, adware, viruses, etc.)

There are thousands of Web sites with information about this type of problem... they have much more information than we can possibly include here.
However, we offer tips to prevent your computer from getting infested:

Keep your computer up-to-date.
Configure Windows XP's Automatic Updates feature, and make sure it's working.
Install -- and maintain -- a good anti-virus program. Keep it up-to-date: make sure it is updating its "virus definitions" at least once a week.
Don't waste money on "security suites" such as Norton Internet Security. If your computer is up-to-date, and you are using the Windows Firewall and a cable/DSL router, you don't need these programs; they slow down your computer, and may cause problems with some programs you need. Stick to the basics: Norton Anti-Virus, or McAfee VirusScan.

Get high-speed Internet.
A dedicated, high-speed connection to the Internet will make your computer more secure.
Why? Updating Windows, and your anti-virus software, means that your computer needs to download several large files every week.
If you are using dial-up, and are only connected to the Internet while you're checking your E-mail, these critical updates Will Not Happen... and your computer will be vulnerable.

Install a router on your high-speed Internet connection.
Do not plug your computer directly into your cable or DSL modem, unless it includes a built-in router (few cable modems do, but many DSL modems now include this function). Instead, put an inexpensive router between your computer(s) and the evils of the Internet.
This will protect your computer from "worms" (software programs that crawl the Internet on their own, looking for vulnerable computers to infect). It also allows you to connect multiple computers to your Internet connection at no additional cost... if it's a wireless router (and most new ones are), you may be able to sit in a comfortable room with your laptop and surf the Web from there.

Understand that nothing is free. (Explain this to your kids, too).
With few exceptions, there is no such thing as "free" software.
Google Search is not free, but at least they're honest about it: they display ads with your search results.
Some software that we recommend (Ad-Aware and Spybot, for example) is free for home users; they make their money selling advanced versions to corporate customers.
Other things cost you... trouble. Most so-called "free" software comes with a payload of spyware and adware. Screen savers, games, file-sharing software, Internet browser "enhancements..." all of these things WILL screw up your computer.
Sites that distribute malware are designed to attract you -- and your kids. Searching for that infamous Paris Hilton video, sound bytes from your favorite movie, or pictures of Spongebob can bring you to Web pages that will try to load spyware and adware onto your PC.

Restrict "administrator" access to your computer.
Windows XP offers two main types of computer accounts: Computer Administrator and Limited.
You (the owner of the computer) will need Administrator rights to install software and change system settings. Your account should be the only one with these rights, and it should be protected by a password the kids can't guess.
Other people using your computer should have Limited accounts. This keeps them from installing "free" software, and also keeps self-installing malware -- the type that installs itself from the "wrong" Web pages, without asking your permission -- from gaining a foothold.
Keep your children's friends off your PC, especially without supervision. Kids who are afraid to abuse their parents' computer will not hesitate to abuse yours.

Digital House Call can help you choose, set up and configure your virus protection and high-speed Internet connection. We have unmatched experience in solving -- and preventing -- malware problems.

2. Hard drive failures.

These are our most frustrating calls.
Sure, we can replace your hard disk, and reinstall your software, but we can't replace files -- documents, photos, Emails, etc. -- that were already lost before we got there.

Please, everyone reading this, take this advice:

Put them on CD's or DVD's. Please do this TODAY. If you don't know how, FIND OUT HOW.

Every hard disk in every computer will fail someday. Some of them will fail before you finish reading this page; others will last for decades... but they will ALL fail. Any file that is stored only on a hard disk is a file that will someday be lost.

Digital House Call can help you back up your data, and can show you how to keep your backups up-to-date.

3.  Integration issues.

Few computers actually stand alone. Most are connected to printers, scanners, cable modems (through a router, please!), digital cameras, and other peripherals.

When components don't work together, it can be frustrating -- or impossible -- to get support from the manufacturers. The printer support tech will blame the PC, the PC manufacturer will call it a spyware problem, and you are left without options. None of them will come to your house and actually look for the problem.

Digital House Call will come to you, track down the problems in your complex collection of components, and solve them.


Send mail to bob@digitalhousecall.net with questions or comments about this Web site.
Last modified: 10/08/05