A large fraction of the population now uses a computer at home.
Unfortunately, large numbers of these home users do not seem to
understand that a computer is a high-maintenance device that demands
much more routine care than the usual household appliances. Also, many
home users are unwilling or unable to spend the time and effort
required to learn some elementary knowledge about how computers
function. There is no question that many ordinary home PC users would
benefit greatly from just a modicum of basic knowledge on the subject
but I also know from experience that there is a lot of inertia and
considerable reluctance to learn that basic knowledge.
shame because I have encountered many instances where a PC user tells
me about a problem that could have been fixed in 10 or 15 minutes with
a little basic knowledge. Instead he or she loses many days waiting for
a friend or relative to fix it or spends a fair amount of money for a
technician. (Or in some cases even buys a new computer.) What I will
try to do in this article is to outline the basic things that I think
would be of use to all PC users whatever their technical background.
True, you could go through life and never need any of this stuff. On
the other hand, a little preparation might just save you from a peck of
Updating anti-virus protection
computers nowadays come with an anti-virus program. However, many
people fail to keep their database of virus definitions updated. All
the major anti-virus programs come with an update feature that should
be used regularly. Having to update daily is now routine since new
malware appears constantly.(Note that anti-virus programs actually
protect against a variety of malware, not just viruses.) Unfortunately,
the major companies no longer provide unlimited updates but have
started charging after one year's (or even less) usage.
Updating anti-spyware protection
days, anti-virus programs are insufficient to guard against all
malware. Anti-spyware programs are also needed and like anti-virus
programs must be updated regularly. For freeware in this area, also go
to Tech Support Alert.
Those who can afford the annual expense of a subscription should
consider a security suites from one of the major companies. See the
links at Safety on the Internet.
Preparing for disaster
hard drive failure is not all that uncommon. If it occurs, everything
that is on the drive is lost (unless you resort to an expensive
recovery service). Also, if you do get a virus, a lot of your disk may
be wiped out. Or, in a variety of other ways, files may be corrupted or
lost. Botched software installations, system crashes, or just plain
carelessness can lose valuable data. Thus, backups are essential.
Ideally, the whole system should be backed up to some external storage
device. At a minimum, all files such as passwords, favorite places,
address books, financial and tax records, important documents and
correspondence (including e-mail), and any other personal data that has
more than transitory value should be backed up to some place other than
your hard drive.
There are a variety of strategies for regular backup. I prefer an external USB drive and one of the imaging programs like Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image. However, since many PC users will balk at anything that isn't as simple as possible, I have also written an article on some minimum backup procedures. Those who are willing to invest in a more complete strategy can read this article for detailed ideas. I do not personally care for it but Windows XP comes with software for backup. I have described its use on another page.
Using System Restore
It does not replace a regular backup procedure but the Windows XP accessory System Restore is a valuable tool that can remedy many common problems. All PC users should learn how to use it and its use is described on a separate page. There is also a Macromedia Flash tutorial on a sister site.
Making sure that your hard drives are healthy is an important part of maintenance. The Windows tool Chkdsk should be run periodically to check file and folder structures as well as the disk sectors. Its use is described here.
XP does not seem to need defragmenting as often as previous Windows
systems but regular maintenance should still include running the system
tool Disk Defragmenter. It use is described on this page. and a tutorial is at this link.
certain amount of file housekeeping will help your system to be more
efficient and stable. Windows programs use a lot of temporary files,
which can accumulate at an alarming rate. In particular, the folders
Temporary Internet Files and certain Temp folders can really build up. Keeping these and some other system folders clean is discussed on this page. Making use of the Windows system tool Disk Cleanup is described here.