The Real Problems are Simple

Backup your files. No, I really mean it, backup your files.

Backup your files

Every week someone loses their family pictures or their Senior thesis. Every disk will eventually stop working. Some will stop sooner than others. Buy an external hard drive or USB flash stick and make a copy of everything you spend more than 10 minutes creating or editing. There are many options for getting storage in the cloud, although the speed of sending data out on the Internet is often much slower than reading data from the Internet and you may have caps on the amount of data you can transmit monthly. As you become more professional (or get burned a few times) you will begin to make two backup copies using either very simply file copy or two entirely different backup programs. Some backups make it easy to recover an entire failed disk, while other backups are better at recovering a single file that you accidentally damaged.

Do not assume that a backup program works unless you have restored something. Lots of people simply check that the backup appeared to work and assume they are safe. Restore the files to another disk or at least a different part of the disk and check to make sure they are all correct.


The first thing to do with a new computer is to turn on automatic updating. On the second Tuesday of each month (and occasionally at other times when something very important is discovered) Microsoft releases updates to your operating system and to Microsoft products. You can manually install updates by going to the Start menu and clicking Windows Update.

Other products (the Firefox browser or the Adobe Reader) check for updates when they start up. If a program you know that came with the computer or that you purchased or downloaded from a reliable company needs an update, you should install it. However, if you get an unsolicited popup window saying that your system or one of your programs needs an update, close it without clicking the Yes or Update button. Most of these programs have a Check For Updates option in their Help menu. If you run the program and click this option, then you know you are downloading a legitimate update.

When you open a Web browser like Firefox, you may get a popup window suggesting an update to the Browser or one of the plug-in additions you have added to it. However, any popup message that you get later on, when you visit some Web page, is either from the Web site itself or from one of the ads that the Web site displays to make money. Unfortunately, some of these ads display something that looks like an virus checking program that says your computer has problems. Then it looks like it is checking your disk and finding virus programs. Then it offers you a “free” download to fix your problems.

You should realize that no Web page can really access your disk or operating system. This entire display is imaginary. The purpose is to get you to download and install a program that does bad things to your computer. Frequently, the company will then blackmail you into paying them money for some other software that controls the bad program you have just downloaded.

Microsoft does not know who you are. They certainly don’t have your phone number. For that matter, nothing in the world connects your computer on the internet to your phone number. So when someone calls you up and says that they are technical support and they have discovered a problem on your computer, it is always a scam.

If you want anti-virus programs, buy them at Costco. No program that just pops up unexpectedly on your machine will actually make your machine run faster or remove bad programs. In almost every case, installing anything this way will make it much, much worse.

Just say No! When something pops up on your screen and tells you that your system is full of disease and offers to install something to fix it, Just say No. When an ad promises to clean your registry, or disk, or make network downloads faster, Just say No. When you are offered free porn from Eastern Europe, Just say No.

Vacuum Regularly

The enemy of a computer is heat. Computers have fans to move air around disks and metal heat sinks to cool the components, but the fans and cooling fins can become clogged with dust, dog hair, and any other gunk floating in the air. If you never open the computer, you don’t see the problem. To avoid problems, turn the machine off, unplug it, open the cover, and vacuum the screens, fans, and fins. Don’t forget the power supply. If there is a filter, clean it. If you have a dog, do this more frequently.