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Prep your computer for holiday guests

As the wind begins to blow up north, we prepare our guest rooms for friends and family escaping the cold. Better prepare your computer as well. While many folks bring their own laptop, there is often someone who would like to check e-mail or pass the time, and it doesn’t hurt to offer your computer. Usually.

Our computer service is often very busy in January, presumably because computers have been challenged in December to meet the needs of various houseguests. Many times systems will do just fine, especially if a good anti-virus is in place, and if the computer is up-to-date. However, an older system or one that is not prepared for extensive Web-surfing might not weather the storm so well.

The first order of business is to be sure that valuable files are backed up properly. Simply by saving files to a CD or flashdrive, you protect yourself from potential loss. Photos would only need to be backed up once. Files that are updated frequently must be backed up on a regular basis. Extremely important file back-ups should be stored in a secure location.

If you fear that your computer will be too slow for a more hip crowd, a memory (RAM) upgrade is easy, fast and relatively inexpensive. Increasing the RAM does not affect your files, and can be done in just a few minutes. A good computer service will install the RAM for free and guarantee it with their own install.

Thirdly, be sure that your anti-virus is installed, updated and is completing regular scans. If you don’t have an anti-virus, you should install one before allowing guests to get online. You may have safe practices online that don’t invite trouble, but your houseguests may not. Simply by going to the most heavily used sites online, surfers are exposed to viruses and adware. Hackers who want to maximize their viral impact chose Web sites that host the most traffic.

If you want to install an anti-virus yourself, we recommend AVG Free ( ). Be very careful, as there are fake Web sites that supply you with problems instead of solutions. From this AVG site they also sell their professional version, which is superior to AVG Free, but it’s not free. You may have to scroll down to select the free product, and then scroll down again to say, “Yes, I’m sure I want the free version.” AVG Free can be downloaded from this site, and should only take a short time.

In order to keep unwanted users from utilizing your wireless access, create a secure password for use at log-in. The firewall available through Windows or through your Internet provider should be used to block invasive malware from access to your system.

Taking these steps before your guests arrive may save you money in the long run. While most of these steps can be completed without cost, if you lack the expertise, a technician can help for a reasonable fee. Preparing the computer may very well be less expensive than dealing with issues after your guests have gone.

Patty Harshbarger, the owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at