4 computer questions that I cannot answer

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As the owner of a computer repair business, I spend my days solving computer problems for my clients. That often means removing viruses, but it also includes fixing things that no longer seem to be working properly, getting software set up correctly, getting a printer to work, those kinds of things. But there are a few questions I get from clients that just don’t have an answer.



Maybe a better way to say it is that I cannot answer without some more clarification. A lot of what I do is interpreting what the client is telling me is happening, and trying to determine what is actually happening. So I drill down and ask questions, and eventually we come up with a solution. These are things I hear all the time.

Question #1: My computer won’t do anything

computer questionsI know, that’s not actually a question. But when someone says that, they are in fact presenting it as if to ask “What’s wrong with my computer, since it won’t do anything?”

To clarify, my response is: “So when you push the power button, you don’t see anything at all happen on the screen, and you don’t hear any fans or other noises, and you don’t see any lights come on?”

And in most cases, the customer replies, “Oh, well, it does turn on, but then I can’t get it to do anything after that.” So we’ve determined the computer actually is “doing something”, just maybe not what it “should” be doing.

The funny thing is, in a lot of cases we determine that the computer does in fact turn on, it goes through the initial BIOS function, it loads Windows, it connects to the wifi signal, and it loads the other software such as the antivirus, etc. But when the client clicks to open a website, the web browser shows “page cannot be found”. That I can deal with – but it’s a huge difference from “my computer won’t do anything”.


Question #2: My AOL doesn’t work

computer questionsYes, another one that’s really not a question. For this one, I have to really bite my tongue to avoid coming back with a snarky response such as, “Yes, that’s because it’s AOL” or something similar. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m not a fan of AOL. In fact, I despise it on many different levels.┬áBut I usually avoid getting into that debate, because most people that use AOL are going to keep using AOL in spite of my attempts to convert them to something better.

The sad thing is, if the AOL software is screwing up, there really isn’t a lot you can do other than uninstalling it and reinstalling it. In some cases, it’s an issue with Windows or some other software that’s conflicting with AOL so it might be able to be resolved that way. But AOL is a free service (even though they make millions from the unknowing people that continue to pay for it monthly), so they don’t really offer a legitimate “tech support” service to help you figure out why their program isn’t working properly.

And if you go online looking for help with your AOL software, there’s a good chance you’ll end up talking to a scammer who will point out all kinds of “problems” with your computer, then ask you for your credit card # in order to fix those “problems” (which don’t really exist).


Question #3: What’s the best free antivirus?

antivirusThis is a tough one. I am well aware that the customer is really saying, “I don’t want to pay for it, but I know I need to have some kind of protection installed.” And since most people don’t expect to get infected anyway, they might not place a very high priority on how good the software is that’s protecting their computer.

There are a couple of issues with this question.

First, many of the “free” antiviruses available now are actually purveyors of malware. It’s ironic, but the program you install to keep crap off your computer… puts crap on your computer. Because they make money from it.

Second, if I named a particular program that may be better than the others, it might come across that I am somehow “endorsing” it. Even if I include all kinds of disclaimers with it, the bottom line is that if they use that freebie antivirus and then they get infected with a virus (or several), the thing they’ll remember is, “Well, you’re the one that recommended it.” So I in fact do NOT recommend any free antivirus because none of them are sufficient to protect your computer against the wide array of threats in circulation now. If you want to keep your computer safe, you will need to purchase something.


Question #4: I keep getting an error message

error messageThis one actually might be the most frustrating, for both me and for my client.

For the client, it’s maddening because this stupid error message keeps popping up on their screen and they don’t know what it is, what it means, or what they should do with it. The easiest thing is to just close it and if nothing blows up they can just continue with what they were doing. But then it comes back – maybe 5 days later, maybe 5 minutes later, or maybe just every time they turn on their computer.

For me, the frustration is when I ask the client, “What does the error message say?” and they can’t tell me. They just see it and click it away each time, so the actual message being displayed is an unknown until it comes up again and they can write it down or take a screenshot. Without knowing what the message is, diagnosis and repair are impossible.

And the only thing worse than that is when the customer says, “Yes, it’s frustrating because it’s been popping up on my screen now for several weeks (or sometimes months)”. If something just started happening, there are some resolutions available that can be fairly simple (such as system restore). If an error message continues to show up for an extended period of time, those easy resolutions are no longer an option and the repair becomes more involved (and usually more expensive).

So when you see an error message, write down the text (or take a screenshot) and let me know as soon as possible.

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Jon McKeone
July 16th, 2015

Answer to #3 is abandon Windows and move to Linux of some sort. Last I heard folks who write viruses target only Windows machines. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Scott Johnson
July 16th, 2015

Linux is a solution for a small percentage of the population, but for most people it’s not. Linux viruses are not common but they do exist.