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senior-in-front-of-pcAre you tech support for your parents, grandparents, spouse, children, other family members, or even friends? Do you receive frantic calls because they’ve installed malware or somehow managed to break their computer and they need you to fix it? This can be extremely obnoxious — not to mention time-consuming. If you’re tech support, here are some tips to make it harder for your users to break their PCs.

These tips aren’t all completely fool-proof, but they will help you make your users’ computers more newbie-proof. Once you’ve got everything set up right, your users will hopefully leave you alone so you can get on with your life and have more precious free time.

Buy an iPad, Android tablet, Chromebook, or Mac

What do your relatives actually do with their computers? Do they actually need Windows, or do they just use their computer for Facebook, email, and general web browsing?

If they don’t need Windows, you may be able to save a lot of trouble by having them use another type of computer instead. These other types of computing devices aren’t vulnerable to the Windows malware and other terrible Windows software scattered around the Internet, so you’re much less likely to hear that their computer has become infected or they’ve installed some terrible toolbar that slows everything down.

  • iPad: Less-demanding users that just use their computers for general web usage may be happier with an iPad than a typical computer.
  • Chromebook: Chromebooks are physical laptops, but they boot fast and only run Chrome. Even better, they’re cheap — the Samsung Chromebook Samsung Chromebook Series 3 Review and Giveaway Samsung Chromebook Series 3 Review and Giveaway People today are constantly on the move and connected to the Internet, doing anything from creating presentations to checking emails to chatting with friends to playing games. People use all sorts of devices to accomplish... Read More is only $250. If they really don’t need Windows software, this may be a smart choice.
  • Android tablet: Android tablets are another option — they’re often cheaper than iPads if your relatives would prefer a touch-based tablet instead of the Chromebook’s typical laptop form factor.
  • Mac: Macs are on the expensive side compared to Windows laptops and are complex in their own way. While Macs aren’t completely immune to malware, they aren’t vulnerable to all the Windows malware in the wild. If your relatives need Microsoft Office, it’s available for Mac, too.

samsung google chromebook series 3 review

Install Linux

If you already have an existing PC and don’t want to buy new hardware, you may want to consider installing Ubuntu or another Linux distribution on your relatives’ computer. Like the other systems above, Ubuntu isn’t vulnerable to Windows malware and the other terrible software floating around the web. Both Chrome and Firefox run on Ubuntu, so using an Ubuntu system is a great way to turn a Windows PC into a more locked-down environment that’s harder to damage.

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Of course, if your users require Windows software, this will be out of the question.

ubuntu complaints

Remove Admin Rights

If you are using a Windows computer, you may want to set up your relatives with a limited, standard user account. They won’t be able to install many types of software that could potentially damage their computer. Keep your own account with administrator rights and you’ll be able to perform any software installations or settings tweaks they’ll need.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword — if your relatives frequently want to install new software or change settings requiring administrator access, they’ll be contacting you and asking for your help.

Use the User Accounts control panel to make your relatives’ account a Standard account, while creating a separate Administrator account for yourself.

standard-vs-administrator-account-in-windows

Set Up Remote Access

Whatever you do, you’ll probably want to get remote-access software set up ahead of time. This will allow you to easily access the computer over the Internet so you can perform maintenance tasks and help with any problems that should occur. It’s much easier to set this up ahead of time than to try and walk your relatives through giving you access over the phone when you need to access their computer.

There are many remote access solutions you can use. TeamViewer Provide Remote Assistance And Host Meetings Using TeamViewer 7 Provide Remote Assistance And Host Meetings Using TeamViewer 7 As the internet becomes more evolved, more tools pop up to help each other out and spread information. There are quite a few products out there that make long distance presentations easy, while others can... Read More is one of the most popular. Soluto Be A Super-Geek With Soluto's New Version: An In-Depth Look [& Invites] Be A Super-Geek With Soluto's New Version: An In-Depth Look [& Invites] Let’s face it, if you are reading this, you’re a geek. People come to you for tech help, whether you like it or not. It could be family, friends, or maybe your significant other. Whether... Read More , which has built-in administration features that allow you to view information about the remote system in a simple console, is another solid solution.

remote pc assistance

Secure The PC

Before you leave your relatives alone with a Windows PC, be sure it’s good and secure.

update windows apps

Explain PC Safety

We’re focusing a lot on technical solutions here, but there’s also the old-fashioned solution: Sit your relatives down and explain what they need to know for safe PC use. Explain how to tell whether a download is safe How To Do Your Research Before You Download Free Software How To Do Your Research Before You Download Free Software Before downloading a free program, you should be sure it's trustworthy. Determining whether a download is safe is a basic skill, but one everyone needs -- particularly on Windows. Use these tips to ensure you... Read More and what types of files are dangerous. Let them know that they shouldn’t download pirated applications from shady websites or install screensavers from pop-up adds. Inform them that they shouldn’t click web ads that say “Your computer has a virus!” and download the software, which may possibly give their computer a virus.

This isn’t fool-proof and, unfortunately, some people just aren’t willing to learn. Still, it’s certainly worth a try.

As a bonus, explaining the basics will help prevent your relatives from falling for an email scam and sending money to Nigeria Do Nigerian Scam Emails Hide A Terrible Secret? [Opinion] Do Nigerian Scam Emails Hide A Terrible Secret? [Opinion] Another day, another spam email drops into my inbox, somehow working its way around the Windows Live spam filter that does such a good job of protecting my eyes from all of the other unsolicited... Read More — something that you can’t configure their software to prevent.

Restore Windows From a Snapshot on Boot

Hotels, libraries, and Internet cafes sometimes maintain public PCs. To ensure these PCs aren’t tampered with, they often use software that restores the computer’s operating system at boot. In other words, any changes made to the computer’s operating system can be erased instantly by simply rebooting the PC. Every restart brings you back to the snapshot.

Deep Freeze is a popular paid software application used for this, but there are free alternatives like Steadier State and Reboot Restore Rx. Set up the computer and then install the software — you can now restore Windows just by rebooting. It’s the ultimate way to ensure a computer doesn’t become infected with malware over time, but you will have to disable the software when you want to update it and make system changes.

Do you have any other tips for ensuring you don’t have to fix your relatives’ computers? Leave a comment and share them?

Image Credit: Senior Man in Front of a PC via Shutterstock

  1. adrian mores
    June 25, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Just install Web of Trust plugin. so that they will know what websites to visit or not depending on the color of the WoT icon.

  2. Larry Green
    June 14, 2013 at 3:08 am

    I am like many of you, it seems as if you help to fix their computer once and then they continually destroy it and never learn.
    I have tried to change their habits and to instruct them on the proper and safe use- to no avail, on multiple units (mostly repeat offenders with no consideration given for my time) I have given them an account with no admin privileges, this seems to work somewhat.
    I use Team viewer and when onboard- use Spybot Search and Destroy and and also Adaware
    They may not be the newest or best- yet for those that I recover for, it seems to fit the bill..

  3. Mike
    June 13, 2013 at 2:56 am

    The main problem with any of those solutions is that it then leads to calls on how to use those devices. The main problem with tech support calls from family is simple usage instructions; it's rarely an actual troubleshooting issue (and yes, I'm talking about Windows, OSX, Android, and iOS here).

  4. Eric Williams
    June 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Other than Java and Adobe Reader, are there any other dangerous programs that everyone traditionally has that can be uninstalled?

  5. Ricky Splinter
    June 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    or just use deepfreze save it to a state with porgrams they want and alow anti virus update's and win updataes and it will fix it self evey time its shut down

    • a computer tech
      June 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      I prefer Deep Freeze myself, have used it a half dozen times. Once set up, is headache free for those who never should use computers :-) hehee.. and me too

      • Ricky Splinter
        June 13, 2013 at 7:33 am

        i need to do that again im just lazy to do it on my system but i do evey thing in sandboxie or a VM these days

  6. Dhruv Sangvikar
    June 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    I always suggest ubuntu. Most of my relatives (read aunts and similar) only use web apps like gmail facebook and some browsing. So viruses are not a threat. Also most of the needs are fulfilled by equivalent counterparts. Even games can be setup using Wine easily.

  7. Qba Konecki
    June 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    It's impossible in my family. They never learn...

    • Govertz J
      June 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      Mine too

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      June 12, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Especially because they know you'll be there for them. Oh well, family is family.

  8. Eric S
    June 11, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I have Team viewer installed on my mother in laws pc, log in once a month or so run reg scrup xp, Ccleaner and Spybot. Keeps it running like a top!!

  9. Eric S
    June 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I have Teamviewer installed on my mother in laws pc. I log into it like once a month run Ccleaner, Malware bytes, and Reg scrub (she has xp). Even though she lives a mile away it makes it so much easier to multi-task!!

  10. Terry M
    June 11, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Also, create an account on OpenDNS (it's free) and set the router or individual computers to use their servers in the DNS settings. Malware related sites are blocked and you can tweak the settings so that other sites are blocked as well, making a family friendly network.
    http://www.opendns.com/business-solutions/premium-dns/benefits/

  11. Harvey Victor Spector
    June 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Remote Access definitely a good tip!. As for restoring from the snapshot, I have been using the freeware- Reboot Restore Rx. However, there is also paid alternative called RollBack Rx which I find much more efficient than Deep Freeze due to its flexibility in updating and multi-snapshot capability and scheduling options. Another good point that you have mentioned is disabling add-ons or options that are not needed, especially the recent Java bug. Once again great job -makeuseof.

  12. jkendal
    June 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I respectfully disagree with your chapter on Linux. Ubuntu is no longer the go-to distro - the latest version of Mint (Olivia) is currently rated one of the best trouble-free Operating Systems in existence - right out of the box. And you can run quite a number of Windows software on it using Wine. It is definitely worth checking out before spending hundreds of dollars on Apple products - Linux Mint is free.

    • dragonmouth
      June 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      I'm sorry but Mint is nothing more than Ubuntu with a paint job. For a rock-solid Linux distro you should go with either Debian (Wheezy) or the latest SimplyMEPIS. They both may not be as cutting edge as Ubuntu/Mint but, by that token, they are more trouble free.

      • themainliner
        June 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

        That depends on your usage...your mileage may vary. Mint has given me no issues over the last three years.

      • themainliner
        June 11, 2013 at 1:49 pm

        Honestly, I was getting very tired of rebuilding my partner's PC every three months or so (genuinely I was doing about four times a year). No ammount of sensible advice on downloading and installing software or visiting untrusted website seemed to prevent the browser hijackings, the virus, the installation of malware and spyware.

        Out of frustration more than anything I experimented and install Linux Mint. Now I expected teething problems...inability to even find and launch applications. Problems with creating "desktop icons" to launching most used applications. Issues running World of Warcraft ont he Wine API. General new user transition issues from Windows to Linux.

        The most surprising thing was working away expecting to deliver massive amounts of hand holding during the next days and weeks and having to do precisely NOTHING. Occassional she asks for a particular kind of application and I help here pick one from the Software Manager and use my credentials to install it. The support overhead has diminished to almost nothing.

        Her PC has never been more reliable and does everything she wants from it. She has no problem using it, managing files, creating documents, access webmail and Internet websites, or gaming. I hope me experience is instructive (your mileage may vary).

        • Lisa Santika Onggrid
          June 12, 2013 at 4:35 pm

          Who still insist Linux is exclusively for geeks should read experiences like this.
          Congrats for you!

  13. Morne v
    June 11, 2013 at 8:56 am

    How can I cap or restrict another user on my Wifi ?

  14. Leland Whitlock
    June 11, 2013 at 4:43 am

    Remote access is always job 1 no matter what the computer. Team Viewer is my current favorite though I use whatever works. I especially like the tablets for the less technically inclined.

  15. Paul Prakash J
    June 11, 2013 at 4:39 am

    Setting up remote access would be good one, so that you don't have to travel all the way when they start reporting problems.

    Also setup some system cleaner like 'CCleaner' because one of the complaint over time is that the system is getting slow.

    Settingup an 'auto backup' functionality would be good too.

  16. Shane Harris
    June 11, 2013 at 2:39 am

    The easiest way for my to prevent damage on "loved one's" computers is to stop them from going near them lol. They never listen to my safety tips.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      June 12, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      True. I still do it (playing techie) to my closest friends and family members because they're nice enough, but none of them actually hear what I say.
      Stop installing every random piece of software begging for your attention.
      >I'm curious. It seems useful.
      I told you you don't need these toolbars.
      >You can remove them in no time, right?
      You know the rest.

  17. Kevin S
    June 11, 2013 at 2:39 am

    This is a great Article, It caught my eye because I am that IT guy in the family and I get random calls of family needing urgent help to fix their PC. Just found it awesome I could see myself in this nice article.
    Also wanted to say another great piece of software I use which is like Steadier State, its called Reboot Restore rx, essentially its a freeware to restore on reboot software., any changes the user makes, the computer gets rollback upon restart. Hope somone else can use this info :)

  18. Johann
    June 11, 2013 at 1:52 am

    Install as many apps as possible via Ninite and keep the installer (even include apps that may already be installed when getting the installer).

    Scheduled this to run (as admin) to keep everything up-to-date in the background. With that and Windows update in place a lot of maintenance is automated.

    • ken
      June 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

      Can you telll me how you schedule it automatically

      • Merlin
        June 11, 2013 at 8:18 pm

        You can simply use the build in Windoze, provided that you are running Windoze of course, task scheduler.
        Have it run the task every x days or every sunday or so.

  19. Tom Six
    June 11, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Very helpful tips!

  20. donkeyrock
    June 11, 2013 at 12:42 am

    I didn't know about the snapshot on boot. Nice.

  21. ReadandShare
    June 11, 2013 at 12:30 am

    Education and training and all that? Sure.

    But the single best way is to install "remote access". Things always happen. :)

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