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Are 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 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.
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.
Of course, if your users require Windows software, this will be out of the question.
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.
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 is one of the most popular. Soluto, which has built-in administration features that allow you to view information about the remote system in a simple console, is another solid solution.
Secure The PC
Before you leave your relatives alone with a Windows PC, be sure it’s good and secure.
- Enable Automatic Updates: Enable automatic installation of Windows updates to keep Windows secure. Also ensure that automatic updates are enabled in their web browser and other software, particularly browser plug-ins like Flash, Adobe Reader, and Java.
- Use an Antivirus: Ensure an antivirus is installed an running. You can use the free Microsoft Security Essentials — now included with Windows 8 and known as Windows Defender.
- Activate a Firewall: You don’t need to install a third-party firewall, but you should ensure the Windows Firewall is enabled.
- Reduce Their Attack Surface: If they don’t need Java, you should uninstall it. If they don’t need Adobe Reader, you should also uninstall it and use the PDF support built into Chrome or Firefox. Browser plug-ins are a frequent target of attack.
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 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 — 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