Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day
Teach him about the internet and he won't bother you for weeks
...Ancient Chinese proverb
To Err is human
For a real cock-up, you need a computer
...Ancient English proverb
Even the most dedicated technophobe should be able to take a few simple precautions which will make life easier in the event of a hardware or software failure.
Resurrecting a 'dead' computer over the phone is far easier if the user has the basic ability to start-up the machine.
A basic knowledge of the hardware and software environment also saves considerable time and expense.
Know Your PC
Before we can begin to help, it is important to identify which item of hardware or software is causing the problem.
A few moments spent organising a written inventory will most likely save hours of grief when you have a problem.
Basic information on current Windows version and internal hardware resources is available from 'System Information' by clicking:
Start/All Programs/Accessories/System Tools/System Information.
(On Windows Vista and Windows 7, just type 'System Information' in the search box above the 'Start' button).
Version information on most Windows-based applications software can be obtained by starting the application and clicking Help/About.
With external hardware, you should at least know the manufacturer and model number but do hang onto any manuals or the original specification if you can.
Many hardware problem are due to installation of the wrong software drivers so any basic information is very handy.
Usernames & Passwords
Access to Windows, applications software, internet accounts and internet sites can all be protected by passwords which is fine until you forget them.
With web-site access, there is often the facility to 'remember password' which is fine until the password list becomes corrupted or you need to set-up access again for any reason.
On Internet Service Provider accounts, confusion is often caused by having one username/password combination for the 'connection' and another to access the mail servers or mailboxes.
A great deal of time and confusion can be saved by securely tucking away neatly typed lists of your user names, passwords and other useful information such as mail server addresses.
By all means, store your usernames and passwords separately but the most important thing is that you have a means of retrieving them.
User names and passwords are often case-sensitive so a typed list will be clearer than hand-writing.
Where a lower-level of security is acceptable, it makes sense to use a common username and password which can be more-easily remembered—for example, many information-only internet sites require you to register and log-on even though there is no obvious security risk.
Often, the only way to resolve a software problem is to re-install the software which, incidentally, does not usually overwrite your data files.
Installing different versions of the same software can give rise to compatibility problems and even later versions may detect the existing software and demand the original CD to verify your legitimate ownership—so you really do need your original CDs or at least a copy of the same version.
If the software was downloaded, keep a copy of the download link and any activation code.
The whole business of software registration is becoming more-sophisticated of late so the use of anything other than your own legitimate copy is increasingly problematical.
If your PC won't start from the hard disk, it needs to be booted-up by some other means.
Traditionally, this has been done by using a floppy 'boot' or 'start-up' disk though recent PCs will generally be able to use a 'bootable' CD/DVD or even an external 'USB' drive.
Many PC manufacturers will supply a 'recovery' CD at the time of purchase or their supplied software will include the facility for creating such a CD.
An original Windows installation disk is a bootable CD and there are various methods of generating them yourself.
The wherewithal to boot-up your PC in the event of a hard-disk problem will save time and money when it happens.
At the end of the day, you can easily buy a new PC or hard-disk and reinstate your software but nothing can be done about losing your live data.
Most 'dead' computers are the result of software corruption and the data can be recovered though complete hard-disk failures do happen.
We tend to favour a complete backup of the entire disk which takes a while but is easiest to recover from in the event of a failure.
For any 'serious' PC user, regular backups are essential.
This is a blanket term covering software to combat 'viruses' and their variants (adware, spyware, etc) as well as attempts to access your computer via the internet, commonly known as 'hacking'.
With the growth of always-on internet connections, this is an increasing problem so it is essential to install Internet Security software and to keep it up-to-date by downloading the latest 'virus definitions' on a regular basis.
Both Windows XP and Windows Vista have 'firewall' software (to prevent hacking) built-in and Vista has 'Windows Defender' which seems to offer some protection from spyware but does not provide the comprehensive cover of an external Internet Security package such as those supplied by McAfee, Norton or AVG.
Windows Update/Microsoft Update
Barely a week goes by without an update to Windows or Microsoft Office software and many of these 'fixes' address newly-discovered security issues.
It is particularly important to download all 'important' updates shorlty after taking delivery of the computer as most 'new' systems are already well out of date with regard to software patches and fixes.
Have a closer look before installing 'optional' updates as many will be irrelevant to your needs.
In our experience, many software problems can be immediately solved by just downloading the latest updates—that applies to all software providers and not just Microsoft.
For some odd reason, newly-installed Windows systems are set up, by default, to dowload updates to Windows but not other Microsoft products. You can change this during the 'Windows Update' process by clicking the 'get updates for more products' link when it appears.
This changes 'Windows Update' to 'Microsoft Update' and will then scan for updates to all Microsoft software.
If you are keen on computers, you can probably learn to deal with most PC problems yourself though it is all-too-easy to while away hours at the expense of the work that you were intending to do.
If you simply want the thing to function ‘as it says on the tin’ so that you can get on with your own work, best bet is to consult a professional support service.