Thanksgiving Tech-Support Recipes
Those of who are a primary source of tech support for our families know what's coming this weekend--not just a prolonged eat/nap/eat sequence, but a request, or outright plea, that you give your folks' computer a tune-up.
Debugging deep-seated software ailments is difficult enough under ideal conditions, much less when you're operating in a haze of tryptophan and pinot noir. So you have to prepare for this possibility before you head home for the holidays.
Most of the basics haven't changed from last year's version of this piece:
* Bring something to back up the data on that computer. In many cases, a 2- or 4-gigabyte USB flash drive should suffice--and you can also leave it behind for continued backup use (with the right backup software). Otherwise, pack an external hard drive.
* If your hosts only have dial-up Internet access, put the latest security updates for their computer on the drive you're bringing. If they run Windows XP, download Microsoft's Service Pack 3 update; if they run Vista, grab the Service Pack 1 installer. If they have a Mac, ask if it has an Intel or PowerPC processor and what version of OS X it runs (tell them to go to the Apple-icon menu at the top left of the screen and select "About This Mac"), then get the appropriate "combo update" download; here's Apple's latest patch for 10.4, and here's the most recent update for 10.5.
* If you've got a Windows repair job in store, also put an anti-virus program on that drive--the open-source ClamWin Portable can be run right off a flash drive, without your needing to install it first. If the anti-virus software already on that machine has expired, you'll want to put a free substitute in its place. I've recommended AVG in the past, but this company has made some of its free version upgrades hard to find. I've also heard good things about Avast and Avira--so if you've got a preference among these and other free, self-updating anti-virus programs, let me know in the comments.
* To reduce the odds of your needing to provide the same service a year from now, be prepared to upgrade a few programs on the computer as well. If it's still got Internet Explorer 6 as the default browser, it's time to upgrade that to IE 7 or Mozilla Firefox (the latter won't present such a visual shock). To see what other Windows programs need security updates, try using Secunia's free system-scanning tools.
* You should also expect to spend some time uninstalling obsolete, unnecessary programs... with your hosts' permission.
What other things should be in any T-day tech-support toolkit? Post your suggestions in the comments!
November 24, 2008; 12:58 PM ET
Categories: Computers , The business we have chosen , Tips
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