Commentary: Avoid common computer pit falls

July 13, 2011 

As a “computer guru,” my staff and I are often asked by clients seeking computer service if we have as many problems with our computers as they seem to experience. I often tell them that it is not that we are smarter, but because of our experience, we are able to better recognize the dangers in computing.

Here are five ways that the average user fails to protect or maintain his or her computer. If you take care of these five areas, you will avoid many of the hassles connected with computer ownership.

n Surfing without protection: Install one anti-virus on each of your computers and keep it updated daily. In our store, we recommend AVG (grisoft.com) which provides both virus and spyware protection.

There are free versions of anti-virus available online, but be sure they are reputable and that you are downloading them from a safe website. Downloading anything can invite problems onto your computer. Free versions of anti-virus can be effective but have limited functionality. We recommend you purchase at least a one-year licensed version. The purchased products tend to be more stable and more user friendly.

n Opening unsolicited communications: Never open email or accept chat requests from someone you don’t know.

There are real professionals out there trying to figure out ways to get you to open their mail, download their file or visit their website. They want to sell something, collect your contact information or simply generate as much damage as possible. Avoid these enticements at all costs. Watch for unknown instant messages, and close out uninvited pop-ups by clicking on the X in the upper right corner.

If you see that something is beginning to download that you did not intend to receive, close out your webpage or email connection in order to stop the transmission.

n Neglecting routine maintenance: Normal use can result in an accumulation of junk. If extraneous programs are starting when you power on the computer, it will start slowly and run less efficiently. Clearing out start-up items can be very helpful, but it takes a trained eye to be sure that the important files remain intact. Proceed with great care.

The “spring cleaning” of computer maintenance is an operating system reload. We recommend you do a back up and reload once a year. Understand that a reload will wipe clean your hard drive and put on a fresh copy of Windows. Any programs or files you have added will need to be reinstalled by disk or downloaded so be prepared to install those programs once a reload is completed. Banking and budgets are the first order of business but don’t forget photos, music, email, favorites, etc.

n Ignoring Updates: Do not ignore legitimate updates that occasionally pop up on your screen. Critical operating system updates for Windows 7, Vista and XP are most important. You also will get update notifications for common programs like Adobe, Flash and Java. Usually, these can run in the background as you work, so go ahead and let them run. These will keep your system running smoothly and can address security concerns that have been identified by the vendor.

n Failing to secure your wireless network: It is still common to find unsecured wireless networks in today’s homes. Wireless routers offer several security options, with varying degrees of protection. Open wireless is an open invitation for hackers to penetrate your computer and steal your information. Contact your local computer professional for advice on securing your network.

Keeping up with these critical needs will really help your system to run as it should. And before you know it, you will become the “computer guru” of your neighborhood.

Michael Shaffer, owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277.

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