The Technical Friend's Essential Maintenance Checklist for Non-Technical Friend's Windows Computer
I visited a friend today and noticed their computer. Of course I did, that's what we do. It was, as are all non-technical computer friends' computers, a 3 year old gray Dell mini tower with a 17" flat screen. In fact, these are the ONLY computers that non-technical computer friends own, you know.
I was there to visit, but I'm genetically incapable of NOT doing a system's check on an old PC. "How can these people LIVE like this?"
If you are reading this blog, you have been in this very situation. Perhaps your wife is waiting in the car to go home even after a lovely dinner with your couple friends and you'll be there in "5 minutes" but you're actually hypnotized by the defragmenter, trying to influence the hard disk head's pixel indicator with your mind. Which sector is next...damn! Immovable!
It's a dance, what we do to our friend's computers, isn't it. It's a dance we done a thousand times, but one that is comforting in its steps. Not surprised, nothing unknown, just maintenance. We've said one day we'll write a script, one day we'll create the ultimate batch file to do all this, but until then, click, download, install, update, rinse, repeat.
- RAM RAM RAM - I've got sticks of the stuff. Today my neighbor had a 512meg machine that was just sad to look at. I've said before, a machine with too little RAM is a three legged dog. You know he's gonna get where he's going but it's hard to watch. I had a couple of gigs of PC-5300 in the car for some reason and I just added it and got them up to 2gigs. Minds were blown.
- WEI: Window Experience Index - I've gotten into the habit of pressing 'WindowsKey+PauseBreak' on any new Windows Machine to take a look at the Windows Experience Index. It's the number that will tell you, reasonably and quickly, how much your friend's old computer sucks. The top score is currently a 7.9. Usually these machines are 3s and 4s. The important part is the the score is the lowest scoring component. The best part is that most of these low scoring components are cheap. $50 for some RAM, $50 for a new HD, $50 for a decent Video Card. Update the crappiest part. Again, chances are you have better hardware lying around in your junk drawer than does Non-Technical Friend.
- Update Drivers - Non-Technical Friend always has a piece of hardware that doesn't work correctly, usually a printer, sometimes an All-In-One scanner/printer/fax. Almost always getting the right drivers solves it. Help them out.
- Windows Update AND Microsoft Update - They usually haven't set Windows Update to automatically install updates at 3am, and they never have clicked "Yes" to get updates for other Microsoft products. (You have to opt-in.) Visit http://www.microsoftupdate.com on machines before Windows 7 and run the Windows Update applet on Windows 7 and setup updates for Microsoft products (Office, etc. as well as Windows.) Make sure they've got the latest Service Packs for Windows and Office.
- Anti-Virus - When I visited my friend today I was surprised to see that they had Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware software installed. Always a refreshing surprise. However, they had several installed, and they were fighting. They had AVG, Windows Defender, PC Optimizer, SpyBot, and two other playfully named "anti-spyware" applications as well as four browsers toolbars. I uninstalled the whole lot and installed Microsoft Security Essentials. It's simple, lightweight, solid and free. It's also free on up to 10 PCs for Businesses.
- Uninstall anything evil - If you want to get a quick look at what's on a machine and uninstall LOTS quickly, look no further than NirSoft's My Uninstaller (download). Remove Toolbars (they think they need them and they never do and won't miss them), and anything that looks like it might destabilize their system. I check out toolbars, add-ins, etc.
- By the way, everything that NirSoft does is pure gold. Love him and appreciate him.
- Update Stuff that can't Update Itself - I usually install FoxIt Reader or at least update Adobe Acrobat and Flash. I updated their Firefox 3.6 (!) to Firefox 6 and installed IE9.
- Backups or at least DropBox - I always ask "Is your stuff backed up" and they always say "I have been meaning too" or "On my thumb drive last month." I should start charging folks to install DropBox. In this case, I thought about Mozy but my friend really just needed some documents backed up so now they've got DropBox with 2GB free. Windows Live Mesh is another decent option if they are Hotmail/Live Messenger users. Regardless, for goodness sake, get their data to the cloud!
- Tell them about Security - Wanna freak them out? Ask your friend for the last four digits of their social security number (or national id) then hit the Start Menu and search for it. You'll almost always find Excel files, Word documents or PDFs with their super-private information. I've often found scans of their actual id cards. This trick also works with their credit cards. Teach your friends to not keep personal information on their machines.
- Teach them about History - Avoid looking at Non-Technical Friend's browser history or searching Google for anything that starts with "a", "p" or "s." You don't need to know Non-Technical Friend that well. Perhaps come up with an excuse to teach them about Private Browsing or "Incognito" if you're cool like that.
- Teach them about Passwords - Explain how passwords work to your friends. Suggest they use pass phrases, add complex characters, stop saving their passwords in the browsers. If they are cool with it, clear their passwords in their browsers and suggest a password manager.
- Cleaning - Explain to them the importance of cleaning (or burning) their 10 year old keyboard. Computer keyboards are dirtier than toilets. That's a fact I just made up and I'm totally sure it's true. Get that biomatter off your keyboard and mouse. You wouldn't lick your keyboard but you'll type it on for hours then touch your face. You nasty.
- Blow the Dust out of their System - It's just the right thing to do. Seriously, keep a bunch of Cans of Air Dusters in your car. I do. Get out the vacuum at your friends house, give them proper warning that it's gonna get NASTY up in here and open up their computer. Chances are this is the first time it's ever been open. It's probably got that "there's a weird sound in the back" groan that's indicative of dust in the power supply. I can't tell you how many times I've just jammed a pencil in there just to get a computer to SHUT UP.
- Defrag - Of course Windows has its own defragmentation program but I love the MUCH better Auslogics Disk Defrag
- Startup Programs - Get AutoRuns (or RegEdit to HKLM\Software\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run) and clean up all the random stuff that's starting up but they've forgotten why. If they are slightly technical, suggest Soluto for fixing their startup issues.
- Tidy Up - Non-Technical Friend typically has some toolbar - perhaps an Explorer Folder or something - pinned off to the far left side of their screen and isn't sure how it got there or how to get rid of it. Clean up these things.
- Crap Cleaner - It used to be called Crap Cleaner but now it's tamely known as CCleaner and it's the only "cleaner" I trust. I also run Disk Cleanup (as Administrator) that comes with Windows.
- Resolution - Non-Technical Friend always has a 17" LCD with a native resolution of 1280x1024 but runs their system at 1024x768 and never understands why everything looks blurry. Save them.
- Join.me - Show them how Join.me works and explain that their Technical-Friend-Who-Isn't-You can help them in the future remotely to tidy up and do routine bits and bobs without needing to come over.
Finally, give them a hug and tell them it's OK. What are your favorite maintenance tasks while visiting Non-Technical Friend, Dear Reader?