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When Bad Things Happen to Good Computers
by Reid Goldsborough

Link-Up Digital
February 1, 2007

Someone once said, “A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.” Computers themselves can also make mistakes.

Call them whatever you’d like—glitches, bugs, conflicts, crashes, or user error—computer problems can be a major headache. Reading about them, on the other hand, can be fun, particularly when they happen to others.

One of the most popular of the early columns about personal computers was Jerry Pournelle’s “Chaos Manor” in Byte magazine, in which a savvy but continually befuddled computer geek wrestled with one computer glitch after another, sharing all the minute details.

Chaos Manor is right. Byte magazine is now a Web site (www.byte.com) and Chaos Manor is now a blog (www.jerrypournelle.com), but computer glitches continue to bedevil expert computer users and beginners alike.

A new survey by computer-repair firm RESCUECOM (www.rescuecom.com) has revealed the five most common computer complaints today. If you experience one of these problems, one option is to call in a company such as RESCUECOM, which provides 24/7 on-site service. Another option is to first try to solve the problem yourself.

The most common complaint business and home computer users have today is (surprise, surprise) “problems with Windows.” Bill Gates made more than $50 billion and became the richest person on earth by promising to make computing on a PC as easy as on a Mac. But using Windows is still rife with problems.

“This year, we’re continuing to see Windows-related issues with great regularity, with an increase of 12 percent from last year and now accounting for more than 22 percent of calls to our call center,” said David A. Milman, RESCUECOM’s founder and CEO.

To be fair, not all problems that appear to be Windows-related actually turn out to be—some are caused by other programs or software drivers. Regardless, if Windows won’t start or is running poorly, the quickest do-it-yourself fix is to simply restart your PC. That often solves the problem, but if it doesn’t, check to see that all of your cables are secure.

Keeping up with Windows and antivirus updates can help prevent future problems.

The second most common complaint involves hardware problems. “We’ve also noticed a clear increase in hardware problems, attributed in part to the growing use of laptops, which are generally less stable than desktop machines,” said Milman. Nearly 30 percent of laptop users who phoned RESCUECOM’s 1-800-RESCUE7 call center experienced hardware problems, while slightly more than 15 percent of desktop users did.

With hardware, the culprit is often a peripheral that you use along with your PC, such as a printer, a digital camera, or an MP3 player. The manuals of such devices typically provide a troubleshooting guide, and taking a few minutes to look through it can quickly solve common problems such as paper jams.

Unusually slow computing is the third most common problem—a problem that can be caused by a computer virus, spyware, or a zombie attack, with the latter involving a bad guy taking partial control of your computer through the Internet to send out spam.

On a positive note, compared with last year’s survey, there was a 22-percent decrease in problems from viruses and spyware. There’s been no slowdown in attempted maliciousness, but more and more people appear to understand the importance of using a program such as Norton Internet Security (www.symantec.com) or McAfee Total Protection (www.mcafee.com) to prevent your PC from getting attacked.

The fourth most common complaint involves Internet connectivity, though here too there were relatively fewer problems than last year. A quick solution is to check all your connections, then unplug your modem, wait 30 seconds, and reconnect. If that doesn’t work, you can try reinstalling your Internet service provider software.

Problems with data backup and recovery is the fifth most common complaint. As with hardware problems, these problems affected more laptop users than desktop users, with nearly double the percentage of laptop users needing assistance here.

To prevent data loss, regularly back up important files. Solutions include using an external hard drive, a USB flash drive, or an Internet backup service.

With the demise of free tech support, more and more companies that provide third-party support no matter what product is causing the glitch have cropped up.

Yourtechonline.com is another such company. Instead of sending in a computer technician, it solves problems over the Internet (provided your connection is still working) by taking control of your keyboard and mouse and sleuthing while you watch.


Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or http://www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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