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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Social Networks And Security Settings (And You)

It should go without saying (by now, I hope) that social networks are a great way to keep in touch (or reconnect with) friends of old, new, and in between.  It has been my experience that sites like MySpace and Facebook are excellent tools to share ideas (whether similar or otherwise) with friends, family members, and even local news stations are getting in on this great tool.  There are, however, drawbacks to having such an open-book lifestyle.  Some of the more common drawbacks are the increasing demands of employers to invade personal lives, intrude on people's personal business, and even use that information against their own employees.

One of the more serious threats, notwithstanding businesses who wish to use social networks as their own personal "big-brother", is the reality that there are individuals who seek to destroy personal lives for their own personal gain.  One such practice has been the increasing presence of scams that appear to be genuine, but in truth are designed to elude you into a false sense of "doing the right thing."  Other practices are quite common that include getting you to provide your information in hopes of "hacking" your social network account, and post messages, videos, links, and photos that are pornographic in nature, or just simply ruin your good name.

It's worth noting that aside from my own personal experiences using such sites, I've watched news tips and reports on Facebook, MySpace, etc, and have found that while some of their tips are genuinely good, a lot of it is designed to scare you into seclusion.  While it is true that many of us fear that someone may one day steal our identity with something as simple as using a No. 2 pencil (this is not new, by the way), we can however, take some steps to minimize a potential threat, or even neutralize an existing one.  On that note, it should be completely clear that if you're not using common sense, you shouldn't be on any social network sites, and should be sticking with good ol' email.  Better yet, stick to the regular snail mail.

On a related note, social networking sites can cause problems within a family, and usually dealing with children and/or pre-teens/teens.  If you are a parent, there are some tips that may prove helpful while only minimally encroaching your child's privacy.  It should go without saying that there are potentially hundreds of threats that children face daily while using the internet, the least of which has almost nothing to do with acts of a sexual nature.  I emphasize "almost", because it's not necessarily what predators are after.  I'll probably cover this more in an opinion blog later down the road, but the best defense for any parent against this would be to "TALK TO YOUR KIDS!"  My best advice is to be an active listener, and be reasonable.

So, how does one protect themselves against the seemingly endless array of online threats when using social networking sites like Facebook?  What steps are practiced widely?  As a computer tech, I can say with certainty that there is no simple solution, but there are simple steps that anyone with a brain can do to minimize those threats.

(One final note before getting into the details, if you're that concerned over being safe, it's probably an exaggeration, but my advice would be to shut down your PC, stay indoors, and lock your doors, and windows up nice and tight)

Since some social network sites are different in how your account interacts with others, I'm going to base my observations from using Facebook.  If you are having difficulty with the social network site of your choice, please refer to that site's help or frequently asked questions page for more information.

Some steps you can do:

1) Settings - Whether it's privacy settings or the account settings, this can do a multitude of tasks designed to protect you.  First and foremost, unless you are like me and you know exactly who you are interacting with, you'll probably want to limit the information that people can see.  On Facebook, there are ways to set the privacy level of most given sections of your profile to either "Everyone", "Only Friends", "Friends of Friends", and "Customize".  There's also an option where you can selectively block people from accessing certain information, or block them from your profile completely.  This is also true for the photo albums and their respective settings.  You'll want to lock out anyone who might find your night of passion with a hot date objectionable.

2) Wall/Status Posting - Obviously there are some things that don't need to be communicated over the internet, such as "I'm going to take a huge dump!"  That's probably something you want to keep inside your head, rather than share with the world.  There will, however, be some grey areas about what's acceptable to post, and what should never be posted.  While everyone should agree that posting something like "I hate my fucking boss" is just not acceptable, especially when someone, say a co-worker, sees that, and decides to play the politics game, which can land a person in trouble very quickly, and quite possibly fired.  A huge debate is going on about that, and while I agree that we have rights to free speech, it can however damage an employers' reputation, no matter how warranted it may be.  Maybe that person feels he or she is being mistreated at work, or treated unfairly, or perhaps they deserve the unfair treatment for their poor performance.  Whatever the reason may be, posts like this should never circulate on a scale that rivals even the best phone chains.  An obvious post like "got a date with a hot blonde from the mall" after calling in sick would be VERY inappropriate, especially if that person is friends with an assistant manager or something like that.  The key here is to use your best judgment, use logic, and above all, use common sense.

3) Usernames and Passwords - This is perhaps a most understated point, and couldn't ever be stated enough.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER let anyone know your username and password... On ANYTHING!  Not even a close friend, not a co-worker, not even your most trusted computer technician should know YOUR username and YOUR password.  Statistically speaking, some 85% of social network users use their personal email address, and the same password to access said email account as their login for Facebook.  If anyone knows this information, even by accident, it could mean trouble for the victim.  My best personal advice is either to never give out your information (which is the top advice of ALL computer techs), or if anyone in your circle of trust needs to know that information, set up a separate email account and password specifically for Facebook.  This is good for two reasons.  One, you can minimize the damage by immediately changing your associated email address on Facebook, and two, if you cannot change it (usually because it's been changed by the "suspect" who has your login information), this lets you deactivate the email account, so that the suspect in question can't change anything else, and therefore will be stuck with an account that can't be closed due to the email no longer active.  (This has happened to me with an old MySpace account)

4) Applications - Applications can be a lot of fun, and can be even more fun when shared with friends who have similar interests.  Though there are some apps that shouldn't be shared for the same reason some statuses shouldn't be as well.  Do yourself a favor.  If you are really going to add that funny application that has some mature content to it, make sure you don't post anything that someone in your family might see.  Remember what I said in my previous blog about "if grandma shouldn't see it"?  Same is true for applications on social network sites.

5) Fan Pages - This can be both good and bad.  I'll start with the bad first.  Once again, if family members see that you are a fan of "porn", that might cause some problems, so it's probably best to avoid the obvious material that is objectionable to some.  Similarly, there are sometimes fan pages to TV shows and movies, which are harmless in nature, but can spark sharp differences between friends, family members, and sometimes leads to severed communications.  Just like applications, this can be good though in the sense that you can share similar interests with friends and family.

6) Links - Setting up links for people in your friends list to review can be a good way to get your ideas posted, and have a resource to back those ideas up.  Some links are well-intentioned, but can have devastating effects.  It goes without saying that a posted link about sex might get some friends' attention, but it might also get unwanted attention from family members who have children who view YOUR page.  Once again, if grandma shouldn't see it, your kids shouldn't either.

7) Comments - This is one of those lovely topics that seem to bite people in the ass more times than I'm sure anyone cares to admit.  Comments are very powerful, and sometimes can have a lasting, but unwanted result. I'm talking about comments that are, at times, objectionable to some individuals.  Honestly, I couldn't care less who reads my comments, but over time I've been selective in what comments are visible on my profile.  Nevertheless, some comments should remain as inside thoughts in your head.  I've seen some pretty nasty comments that include racist remarks, political bigotry, and even some content that includes acts of a sexual (and grossly peculiar) nature.  This has led me to believe that a person's comments can sometimes reflect what a person is really thinking and feeling, but would probably not say in a face-to-face meeting with a person offline.  Although, this is not necessarily true, it once again comes to the point that if grandma shouldn't see it, your family, and even more-so, your employer shouldn't see it either.  Posting something like "Oh man, I want to just take off her clothes, rip her panties off and bang her every which way but loose" is probably going to get a lot of male friends' attention, but will certainly turn off a lot of women, and even more so, they'll drop you like a bad habit.

8) Groups - No matter if you're using social network sites, or sites like Yahoo that utilize "groups", they can be fun, sometimes informative, and even provide valuable information about a product, service, idea, or just a fun online get-together with friends who have similar interests.  Just like the aforementioned sections, groups can also be bad when friends, family, and even employers might put you in a negative light depending on what groups you belong to.  Groups can also provide insight into what a person likes, dislikes, and in some cases, tell a prospective employer why they should NOT hire you.  Again, do yourself a favor.  If you are applying for jobs, DO NOT give employers your personal email address.  Instead, give them an email that has been specifically set up to receive employer applications, and one that can't be searched for on social network sites.

9) Friends/Family - Okay, this one is another one of the grey areas that people are a little hot (like my friend John Brown might say) about.  Certainly, social network sites are fun and useful when it comes to connecting with current friends, reconnecting with old friends, and even connect with family members that are hundreds or thousands of miles away.  However, they can also be hurtful if there are clashes between friends you know from column A, and those from column B, as well as family members.  I've been extremely fortunate that most of my friends know me well enough, and most are of the same type of personality, that there is rarely a moment where clashes occur.  That being said, clashes can often occur where there is a strong difference of opinion on both sides of an argument.  I think that it's a great thing to be able to share ideas openly, but there is a point where some ideas, no matter how well-intentioned, can be hurtful, even if that wasn't the intention of the originating post.  Does this mean you need to ask if you can share your thought?  No, but a word of advice.  Use your brain, it's there for a reason.  Knowing who might benefit from an idea, or benefit from some new way of looking at an idea can be helpful to everyone on your friends list.  Better yet, instead of mass posting it to the world about your idea, send it to a few individual friends or family members and get their thoughts about it.

10) Profile Information - There isn't much to discuss here.  You can provide as much or as little information as you want, but a good rule of thumb would be to limit what you expose of yourself to others.  Again, this goes back to the privacy and account settings mentioned earlier.  I've heard of stories where a suspect got a victim's name, address, and phone number just by looking it up on Facebook.  However, what that story DOES NOT include is that person was probably careless with their settings and was showing it to EVERYONE.  I can't stress this enough, but I'm a strong advocate of COMMON SENSE!  There's an old phrase that says "Use it or lose it"  My twist on that is, you should "USE YOUR BRAIN" or "LOSE YOUR PERSONAL LIFE", because it can and will be exposed if you are not careful.

A final word on social network sites, if you are new to using such sites, my advice is to get to know the settings.  Play around with them, and see what works for you.  Often times, I get people who come up to me and ask where a setting is, and after guiding them to that setting, they forget it quickly.  Practice makes perfect, and if you visit the settings page regularly on your favorite social network of choice, you should be able to navigate your way into using the security settings that are provided by the developers.  Use them wisely, but again, use common sense, it does work!

On my next blog, we'll get more into the opinions side of social networks, starting with parenting.  I'd like to ask my readers that if there is a point you'd like for me to make in my next blog, I want to know about it.  Send me your ideas to either my Facebook inbox, or email me at!

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Passwords and You

In today's world, passwords are on almost everything.  Online Journal sites, email, forums, message boards, and even chat rooms are sometimes password protected.  Back when I was growing up, if I didn't want someone to see something I've written on my computer (this was back in the day of "IBM-PC clones), I came up with passwords that no one in my family could ever venture to guess, but if I wanted to get into something of theirs, the passwords were quite easy to figure out.  The purpose of my blog today is to focus on passwords, and what you can do to minimize the possibility of your account being hacked into.  One piece of information that I'd like to point out is that even the strongest password encryption is no match for the most sophisticated trojan virus.  Keep your anti-virus definitions up-to-date and have the latest security updates and service packs installed.  If you have trouble with this, please refer to your computer manufacturer for help.

So you might ask what makes a good password?  What can make your password even better than what it is now?  After reviewing a lot of information on various sites, and drawing from my own experience, here are (what I think) some good guidelines to go by for creating a password that is highly improbable to break or hack:

1) Use the KISS method - Keep It Short And Simple.  In other words, creating a password that has 35 characters in it is NOT going to be easy to remember.  Usually a password containing 6-10 characters should be sufficient enough.

2) Use both numbers and letters (alphanumeric) - I can't stress this enough.  Using both letters and numbers in your password decreases the possibility of your password being hacked.  A good example that I like to draw upon is when I used to watch Star Trek (TNG or DS9) and whenever a character calls the computer for protected information and uses their name and some military phonetic pronunciation of an alphabet letter with a number, e.g. "Picard 47 Alpha Tango" (one of my favorites)  In this case, I would use Picard47AT.  Again, just an example.  I don't know who in their right mind would use that exact password to begin with, but you get the idea.

3) Don't Use Common Words - Words like bank, bird, flower, dog, or even children's names should never be used as passwords.  First, they are easy passwords, and second, given time someone can and will figure it out.  Also, avoid using the dictionary.  Like my first suggestion, using the dictionary may not only end with you being frustrated that you can't remember your password, but now you'll have to go through an entire letter in the dictionary just to find it.

4) Rotate Your Passwords - This is sort of a personal suggestion.  At any given time I have at least 5 passwords that I can use to replace a hacked one.  I used to keep a list, but they're all in my head now.  Well, most of them anyway.  The point is, a good idea will be to keep a list of passwords somewhere safe, secure, and readily accessible.  Creating 5 unique passwords should be sufficient enough, and rotate them every 3-6 months.  Most employers who set up authenticated access usually require this step, anyway.  So do yourself a favor and have a primary password in mind, and have at least 4 alternates.  One quick note on this, I've worked for employers where after changing your password at the required interval, you cannot go back to your original password until at least 6 different passwords have been used.  In this instance, I had to get creative with my password generating process.

5) Get Creative - If you've created your passwords list, and you've run out of them in a short amount of time (believe it or not, this has happened to some folks), then it's time to use a bit of imagination in creating your next password.  In my experience, I've used the military phonetic alphabet full name, say "delta" and then a number from something in my 30 years of life like part of a phone number (either the first 3 digits, or the last 4 without area code), and area code, or even a zip code that only I've been to and no one else would figure it out.  For example, sometimes I'll go with a password like "charlie702", or even better would be "tango89107".

6) Use capital letters and special symbols - Some sites require this step, and even some employers.  While I admit that this adds a little more security in your password, I would recommend against it.  Too many times have I used this type of password, and almost every time I forget to put in the symbol or capital letter.  It goes without saying that I've even locked myself out of accounts because of this security step.  But if it is required, just make sure to add a mental note of the special requirement.  Write it down if you have to, but if you do, make sure to keep it stored somewhere safe and secure where no one else will find it.

I'd like to end this with a few quick tips to go by.  First, never assume that someone needs your account information, including your password, for anything.  In the wrong hands, someone can really have a devastating effect on your life just by knowing how to gain access to sites that you visit frequently, and with your information.  Avoid at all costs giving ANYONE (even a friend or a family member) your login information for anything.  Second, never assume that just because you have a strong password means you are invulnerable.  Always make sure you have installed the latest updates to your operating system, especially security updates, and also make sure you have both a firewall and an anti-virus program installed.  Lastly, some articles I've read suggest you use a password manager to help you with password-protected sites and managing your login information that way.  This is both good and bad, and for many reasons on both.  Personally, I'd recommend against using any such program, especially if your computer is shared with others.

One final piece of advice to close this blog.  If you do share your computer with others, I recommend that you ALWAYS log out of sites and programs that you use or go to, even restart the computer if you have to, clean your internet cache and your browser cookies regularly.  This prevents anyone from accessing your information after you've finished using the computer system.  Also, never assume that you've been logged out completely from any visited site.  Your friend might be respectful and log you out as a courtesy, but someone else may want to prod and poke around in your personal affairs.  Putting it mildly, if you don't want friends or family to see what kind of porn you're into, either stay out of it completely, or make damn sure you've logged out and that your login information is not shared with ANYONE outside your brain.

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Troubleshooting Errors On Your PC

I will wager a bet that at some point we've all run into some sort of error on a PC or a MAC.  Errors are inevitable, annoying, and they interfere with what we are doing on our computer system.  Back in the day, the first thing most people would do is reach for the phone and dial the phone number to technical support, and have the person on the other end walk us through a seemingly endless array of tasks to narrow down the problem to find a solution.  In today's world, we are a little more responsive to errors, and with the availability of the internet we can look up a solution to almost 95% of problems that occur.  Depending on your level of expertise, these solutions can be relatively easy to very complex to the point where only an advanced user should be performing the resolution.  There are some tips, though, that can be done by anyone of any usage level to eliminate some key suspects in a situation where an error comes up.

Once more, I have to caution the reader that this information is strictly guideline only.  If you feel your error or problem is much too complex, please contact your system administrator, or go to your local computer repair outlet where a certified and trained computer technical professional can assist you.

As I said, most errors have a commonality to them, and most can be resolved with a few simple tricks.  Listed below are some general tips that I think are the best possible tricks short of taking your computer in for a more thorough examination.  Again, they are just general guidelines.

1) Document the Error - It should go without saying that if you encounter an error that you are unfamiliar with (and even if you are), you should definitely write it down, including all error numbers and codes as well as what you were doing when the error occurred.  This can help you narrow the possibilities down to a minimum and work from there.  The most frequent complaint of techs is the lack of documentation with an error, especially what transpired prior to and during the problem.  Please do us techs a favor and give us as much detail as possible related to the error or problem.  No, we don't need your life story, and no, we don't need to get into how new your computer is, and how much you paid for it.  All we need are some basic items of information such as your Operating System, installed RAM, the program you are using, and what error occurred and what happened before and during that problem.  If it involves porn, come clean and get it over with.  We've heard it all, trust me!

2) COLD BOOT - This should be your first and last troubleshooting technique when it comes to error troubleshooting.  One of my former technical supervisors had a small, but clear message on his emails that he sent out regularly to other techs, which said "If all else fails, COLD BOOT!".  That seemed to always stick, and 65-80% of the time, this trick worked.  Doing a proper shutdown of Windows (or whatever your OS is) is key, and once properly shutdown (if the computer doesn't turn off automatically), you should definitely power down everything on your computer.  After 30 seconds, it should be turned back on until everything has booted successfully, including any background programs.  Once up and running, try performing the task you were doing when the error occurred.  If you are able to proceed, then there is no further need to troubleshoot.

3) Background Applications/Programs - Turning these off may either provide a temporary solution, or resolve the problem altogether.  But, if you're like me, and want these background programs to come on, then you'll want to systematically, and methodically, turn off each program until you've found the culprit that conflicts with what you are doing.  After identifying the cause, there are two things you can do.  Either turn it off for good so that it doesn't interfere with what you are doing, or contact the provider of that other program to see if there is a fix or some other solution.  My personal advice would be to do the former since background programs aren't really that necessary, and just clutter up memory.

4) Websites - Often a program vendor has a website that you can go to, and some even have user forums where you can chat with others who may have experienced the same error or problem.  Forums often provide a rare opportunity to share knowledge to other users, and is a great way to earn friends.  A word of caution though.  Those same forums also have users who are simply there to belittle others for what they do not know.  I've had the unfortunality of going to one such forum where my question had been met with ridicule from a few inconsiderate individuals with nothing better to do than to troll forums and be jerks.  This avenue often offers patches for programs and applications that can solve a lot of frustration.  Check to see if your application has a website that you can check to see if there's a new update to your program version.

Finally, if you've exhausted all other avenues, it's time to call technical support and be guided through some other procedures.  A tech support agent will most likely walk you through steps that you may or may not have done before.  If this happens, please do us techs another favor and don't get all bent out of shape about it.  We're just doing our jobs, and would appreciate a level of respect during the phone call.  Just let us do what we do, and we'll get you the quickest possible resolution.

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Anti-virus Software and You

Okay, so we all know by now (one would hope) to have a good, solid anti-virus program installed on your computer, whether you use a MAC (heaven forbid!  Just kidding!) or a PC.  If anyone has taken the time to read up on reports throughout the tech world, you'll know that hundreds of viruses are created every day that can have devastating impacts on your computer, and your wallet.  As a computer tech, I know the risks involved not having in place a software program to protect my PC, so I make sure to have one installed and active at all times.

Some people have asked me repeatedly what good antivirus programs they should use.  Naturally, I tell them what I use, and people seem to go with it.  Is that enough, though?  Are you asking the right questions to your computer technician when it comes to your computer?  The average person will settle for something that is "out-of-the-way" at a reasonable cost, and does its own updating on its virus definitions/database.  For the advanced users, like myself, we tend to go with products that allow for more control, flexibility, and above all reliability.  If the antivirus program doesn't detect things that could harm our computer, we don't want it.  That's numero uno on our list!

There are many good programs to use out there on the web. Some are free to use, and some have a try-then-buy string attached. Whatever you decide on using, there are some good ideas to keep in mind before using a new antivirus program, or switching your existing program for another.  What I'd like to do is go over some brief points to consider.  Please keep in mind these are guidelines.

1) Price - I'm sure most of us will agree that price is usually at the top of anyone's list.  Obviously, we'd all like our software to be free, but free isn't always effective.  After shopping online and in stores, I've found that most antivirus programs are between $25-$50 depending on where you shop.  Some of them are really reasonable, and offer relatively good protection.  There are a few that, even after purchasing, you have to purchase a separate subscription to get updates.  So it's up to you how far you are willing to go to protect your computer.

2) Features - A lot of programs offering antivirus protection also offer many side-benefits such as anti-spyware, malware protection, etc.  Some are packaged as a suite of security products that include a firewall, parental controls, and it just goes on.  This is where you should write down what your computer needs and compare those needs to what features are offered.  Obviously, if you are single and have no kids, you really don't need parental controls, unless you're that much of a control-freak that you have to control your own movements. 

3) Reviews - These can be both good and bad.  It should be noted that not all reviews are created equal, so do your own research, and read carefully what these reviews tell you.  Maybe what one person experienced won't apply to you, or maybe it will.  It's almost like movie reviews.  Sometimes, critics will rave about a movie that you absolutely hated, but give poor marks to a movie you simply loved, and would see again and again.  My advice is to never go off of reviews alone, even professional reviews.  In my view, reviews are just biased ways of altering the public's perception of a product, regardless of the intent.  I've even read some that go as far as to bash a program-maker, i.e. McAfee, Norton, Microsoft, Avast, etc.  I know, they don't go and outright bash those companies, but if you read carefully the reviews, it can be more obvious than a turd in a punch-bowl.

4) Simplicity or Complexity - This is sort of related to number two.  Do you want a simple program to just locate, quarantine and destroy unsanitary files, or do you enjoy fiddling with settings like an amateur advanced user?  For some, a simple yet effective program is all they need for their computer's protection needs.  Others want a more advanced, fully-featured, complex program where they can actually manipulate how the program behaves when a virus or other potentially harmful file is found.

I could go on and on about some of the other guidelines, but these are the four core ideas.  When asking a tech to give you a recommended product, make sure they know what you use your computer for.  An obvious thing would be to avoid telling the tech how much you love internet porn!  Yes, believe it or not, I've heard that one unfortunately.  Also, let the tech know if you have children who will be accessing the computer as well, since this could mean the difference between your computer running smoothly, and the kids downloading something... errr... not-so-safe.

Just a little note from me (the author), I've used many different antivirus programs over the years, and one thing that I can say is that there's always going to be an anti-virus program that seems bigger, better, and more advanced than the last, but remember that all good things do come to an end.  I can't begin to count how many times I've had to switch my anti-virus program because it became outdated very quickly.

Again, don't just go off of what the tech tells you.  Do your own research, and find out what program is best for you.  Remember that cheap isn't always a good deal, and all the fancy features aren't for everyone.  My best advice would be to talk with tech friends who have experience with such dilemmas, and ask them what their best anti-virus experience was. 

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Email and You

With all of the wonderful adventures one can have while browsing on the internet, it's important for all of us to have that one piece of communication that exists which allows us all to connect to each other in a rather personal way.  We're going to discuss the topic of email, its rules, etiquette, and some general practices that can keep you and your computer safe.  Some of the following may seem like common-sense items, but overall they are worth repeating.  However, you are ultimately responsible for the email that you open, read, and write (which eventually you'll send out).

Over and over, I hear it all of the time.  "Don't open this email, or your computer will explode!"  I can't help, but laugh my freaking ass off when I hear that.  Unless your computer is rigged like in the movie "Live Free or Die Hard", your computer WILL NOT explode from an email, or from a virus, or from any other source other than some C4 with a remote detonator.  Okay, so I exaggerated that, but the point is the same.  I get emails all of the time from family members claiming there is an email that is going around that, if opened, will download a virus that copies everything on your hard drive and sends the contents to the FBI, then erases your drive to the point of being useless.  Again, exaggeration!  While some of it may be funny, it is always prudent to be careful. 

Though, a chief complaint among techs is the ever popular (and at times, annoying) practice of chain-letteremail messages.  I'm sure most of us have been victim of, or at some point the originator of, such emails.  These annoying pieces of email can clog an inbox quicker than a FOX News Commentator's voicemail.  The following are just some guidelines, tips, and general etiquette rules for email.  Whether you follow them or not is up to you, but I assure you that your friends and family will thank you for following such practices.

Etiquette Guidelines:

1) Keep it "G" rated (or at most PG-13) - My general rule of thumb is that if it can't be broadcast on TV in some form or another (cable TV, over-the-air stations, etc), it shouldn't be sent in an email, especially to people that might easily be offended.  Likewise, if you are sending an email to a friend or family members' work email account, it's probably best not to include explicit material.  I've known friends who have been terminated not because of what they did, but rather what their friends or family members sent to them in email.  Again, if grandma shouldn't see it, it's not a good idea to forward.

2) Pictures in Email - This is kind of tied in with number one.  Obviously, it's never a good idea to send mature material to people who might otherwise find it objectionable.  In other words, that hot and steamy weekend with that hot date at the lodge over the weekend shouldn't be viewed by your co-workers at the office.  Remember, if grandma isn't going to like it, it's always good to assume no one else will, either!

3) Keep it Short and Simple - I think I speak for every tech out there when I say we don't particularly like getting emails that require our long-term attention.  Email is meant as an excellent substitute for snail mail, but not always.  Remember that email is almost instantaneous, and with that said, you can email your contacts with as much or as little as you want.  There is no need to fit your entire life-story into an email.  Writing an email is like having a short, but casual conversation in person, only you have a rather short delay. 

4) Grammatically Proper - One of the main things I hear about all of the time is that people get upset over an email, and 95% of the time is because their friend or relative has used a term that has been misinterpreted, and often because of either poor grammar or vocabulary.  This is especially true when doing job searches.  Always, and I mean ALWAYS, use proper grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary, even in email.  Yes, it is meant as a means of long-distance communication, but it's not like email has a word limit.  It's not like the old AOL days where you had to type everything in code.  It's easy to interpret something the wrong way with a given word, phrase, or how it's been punctuated.  Take time in writing that paragraph for your resume, or that email to a long-time friend.  I know your emails aren't being graded, but a lot of how you punctuate, use proper grammar, and good vocabulary can be a window into your life.  Unless your friends and family know how to read your "code", it's probably best to write in the same manner as you did in high school or college for a report on whatever subject you were assigned.

5) Reply to ? - We've all heard the jokes, and we've all heard the stories I'm sure.  When sending an email, make sure you are sending it to the appropriate addresses, and make sure you are not clicking on the "Reply to All" button when it's not intended.  One of the more popular stories I've heard involved a guy who was getting married, and had gotten an email from an old ex-girlfriend, who had sent it to him and all of his buddies.  What the email said I don't know, but what I do remember hearing is that the guy had clicked REPLY ALL, and typed something really raunchy, then sent it off thinking it was only going to be seen by his ex-girlfriend.  Well, it wasn't just sent to her, it was sent to several of his buddies, one of whom was his bride-to-be's brother, and was also his boss.  Needless to say, the wedding was called off, he was fired, and he never heard from his ex-girlfriend again.  The moral of the story should be obvious.

Now on to the general tips and guidelines.  Again, some of these should be obvious!

1) Email Warnings - I'm sure a good number of us all have received one of these at lease once per day or week.  Usually the emails come from family members (or friends) asking everyone to "watch out" for an elusive and deceptive email with some creepy subject line and accompanying message body.  Sometimes these can be helpful alerts, but often I find them to be useless since a lot of it is just common sense practice that should be utilized often.  For example, one of the more recent emails that I got was entitled "Fw: PLEASE READ THIS!!! Urgent e-mail!", and it talked about an email that contained a video (or video link) featuring Osama Bin Laden being hanged, and that upon opening this email or video link that it would download a potentially hazardous computer virus onto your computer, and destroys all data on your primary hard disk.  I filed it away, because it was from family, and I did read some of it, but to be honest, I ignored it for two reasons.  First, I know by common sense and logic that Osama Bin Laden has not been captured (that we know of), and two, when I checked out (did my research) on this particular email, I found out that it had been years ago that this email had gone around.  Most major anti-virus software makers have probably found a fix to prevent this type of attack, and if they hadn't after five years, something would definitely be very wrong.  So, moral of the story is: "USE YOUR BRAIN!"

2) Propaganda and other Topics - Once again, we are visiting the infamous work-safe email topic.  This is yet another reason why I've never given out my work email address to anyone outside of work.  I've known friends who have received emails from family members (and other friends) referencing religious and political themed ideas at their work email address.  Some of it was harmless, but in the eyes of the employer, that material is an offense that almost certainly warrants termination.  Some employers tolerate to a degree, but most won't.  We (us techs) have a term for such emails.  They're called "NWS" or "Not Work Safe".  This includes any email that talks about religious ideas, political garbage, and other more serious topics such as racism in any form, sexuality (including pornography), as well as emails that refer to a family members' sexual orientation in a way that is demeaning and hurtful.  My personal recommendation is to just not post such topics in an email without adding to the subject line "NWS" that way we'll know you're sending material not suitable for viewing at work.  Even better yet is to not send it to your family member or buddy's work email address in the first place.  On the flip side of that, folks, a work environment is NOT the place to view your personal email accounts.  I've personally had the unfortunality of watching a friend at work being escorted out, because that person decided to view something on his personal email account that wasn't "G" rated.  Employers can be very strict when it comes to that kind of thing. 

3) Keep It Separated - I know I'll probably sound a little redundant here, but it's worth reiterating.  When using email, it is ALWAYS best to keep your professional and personal lives SEPARATED.  When I think of the phrase "What goes on in Vegas, STAYS in Vegas!" is not necessarily true if the person in question is careless.  Most of us I'm sure want to have some sense of privacy, and employers aren't necessarily firing people for what they do at home, it's when their home (personal) life interferes with their job.  An employer could care less what you do in your own home, but if it's communicated to the wrong person, say a co-worker who has "morality" issues, that person may decide to report you to your boss, even if you've done nothing wrong or illegal.  These are the kinds of people who play the politics game, and it can get ugly FAST!  Not to mention that there could be a possible termination, and possible legal trouble as well.  Do everyone (including yourself and your loved ones) a favor, and keep your personal lives out of work, and your work lives out of your personal life. 

4) Not A Laughing Matter - This is one of those areas about email that can be tricky.  A lot of what I receive from family members and friends tend to be harmless fun with jokes, funny stories, quirky messages, etc.  However, there's a lot that can be sent that not everyone finds particularly enjoyable.  For instance, I receive a lot of emails that contain stories that, at the end, have a funny, but sexual tone to it.  While I might find this material enjoyable, someone else may not.  Also, just a side note, it's worth mentioning that if you are a parent, it's best not to let your children under 14 view any of your email messages, unless it's an email from Grandma or Grandpa specifically addressed to them.   Again, thinking back to the idea "if Grandma shouldn't see it".

Caution Recommended
Many of us at some point or another get emails that talk about our children, grandchildren, or other relatives, and while it may seem harmless and innocent in nature, it can be viewed as exploitation.  Obviously, there shouldn't be a video email from a relative that shows that person offering marijuana to their 5-yr old son, and in fact, that shouldn't be happening in the first place, period.  However, as we all know, some government agencies like to aggressively seek incidents that are questionable at best.  There was a story on the news not long ago about a couple who was charged with child neglect and exploitation after they had inadvertently sent an email to some random individual that contained a picture of their 6-yr old daughter in a rather strange, but cute position (fully clothed, mind you).  I don't remember the details of the story, but ultimately charges were dropped, because of the questionable practices of Child Services in that county/state.  The moral here is that while your photos of your kid acting funny and childish may seem innocent to you, others might not.  So it's very important to always check, double check, and then check again the email addresses you are sending to.

Some Final Thoughts
There may be some of this that you may perceive as patronage, and that is up to you to think that.  However, I am strongly advocating the use of common sense and logic when using email.  It's far better to be prudent about using your email account than to be careless and get in trouble for it.  Be wise and careful when sending email, and be mindful of the people who send (or receive) messages.  While I agree that we all shouldn't have to censor ourselves with email, it's become almost a necessity when there are very sensitive individuals who get offended easily, even by a polite "Hello" email message.  The best practice by far that I've found effective is to screen everyone's emails, and even screen my own, or better yet, not send them at all.

Have a comment? Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog? Email me at And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer. :) Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Troubleshooting Your Internet Headaches (Part 3: Email)

Many of us are familiar with the difficulty of getting our precious email messages.  Whether you have gotten an error, or the email message was cut off, or perhaps embedded pictures didn't load, it's all frustrating, and there's a good chance that you had similar difficulties like those at some point in your internet browsing experience.  I, too, had experiences of extreme difficulty in getting my email to open properly.  However, like previous blogs of mine have mentioned, if you are willing to have patience, and a cool-headed approach to the problem, you will be able to overcome most obstacles in this area.

There are many different interfaces to read, write, and send your email to your friends and loved ones.  like Hotmail, Yahoo, even Gmail.  And then there are those of us who prefer having a software client email program like Outlook, Outlook Express, AOL, and others.  Many times do I get the familiar question "Why can't I open my email?"  Well, the reason can be many depending on how you are accessing your email whether through a web-based service like Hotmail, Yahoo, even Gmail, or through a more traditional client software program like Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, or even AOL's own software program.  Whatever interface you use, it's important to know how to approach each type.  First, if it's a web-based service email like Hotmail, Yahoo, etc, you'll want to follow standard internet troubleshooting as covered by my two previous blogs on this topic, Part 1, and Part 2.  And second, if you are using an email client program, you'll want to read on further about what tips to consider when dealing with a problem accessing your email.

1) Settings - Commonly, the problem lies with settings in an email client program.  Just like a web browser, if the settings are too high, you're going to have problems, but you don't the security settings too low either.  Also, making sure you have the SMTP and POP3 fields properly configured is another trick.  If these aren't set EXACTLY as they should be, you're not going to get far with your emails. On rare occasion, these settings can change, so always check with your ISP or your email provider to make sure your settings aren't in need of tuning.

2) Firewalls - Yep, these can be full of problems on their own, but add an email client to the mix, and you can bet you'll run into some issues.  The best advice on this is to make sure your firewall is configured to allow your email client to connect with both inbound and outbound connections, and since most POP3 email setups use ports 110 and 25, there shouldn't be much of a problem, unless you are using Gmail in your client program, which the ports are 995 and 465.  If ever your client program stops processing inbound (or outbound) messages, this is a good place to start.

3) Your Internet Connection - I know, pretty obvious, right?  Remember what I said about the obvious, sometimes it's overlooked, because it is obvious.  Always check to make sure your internet connection is active.  If it's not, do the internet troubleshooting as described in Part One, and if still unsuccessful, it may be time to contact your ISP for more assistance.

4) REBOOT! - Again, always let this be your FIRST and LAST step.  Sometimes, it can be the client program itself that is not working, and a simple restart, or a cold boot can resolve the issue. Never underestimate the power of the reboot/cold boot process.

5) Anti-Virus - It is true that these programs can be helpful in either cleaning an infected file or computer system, or even prevent one.  However, in my experience, I have found that sometimes (not often, though) programs like these can cause more issues with email than what they solve.  Additionally, an email that doesn't show through means two things, one is that the email might be infected with a virus, and your Anti-Virus software won't allow it to be viewed, or two is that the settings for the Anti-Virus are so sensitive that any file is considered a virus, even if it's a false positive.  Always be sure you are using the latest Anti-virus definitions and updates, and if you are still having problems, try resetting the software back to defaults.  If still unsuccessful, there may be a problem with the email message itself.

Programs like AOL have their own internal mechanisms for retrieving email, chatting, and internet browsing.  If your standard internet troubleshooting hasn't worked, it may become necessary to call the technical support line.  There's not a lot I can tell you about programs like these where your email isn't showing, except that there are ways to resolve the problem, but none are generally available since AOL is proprietary software (meaning no "one size fits all" troubleshooting method can be applied).  Furthermore, AOL technical support reps usually know about tricks that can be used on the software that most other techs do not know about.

Have a comment?  Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog?  Email me at  And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer.  :)  Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Troubleshooting Your Internet Headaches (Part 2: Internet Browsers)

Have you ever come across a situation where a website or a page on the web doesn't load like it should?  Do you frequently ask (to anyone and no one in particular) "Why is this page not loading?" or you get the page to load, but pictures, text, and other aspects are missing from the page?  Ever wonder why a page might take seemingly forever to load, even though you've visited that site many times before with little to no difficulty?  If you have tried my tips from the previous blog and are still calling technical support constantly, you'll want to read further to see if any of it applies to you.

There have been many occasions where I've been asked to help a friend or a family member in getting their web pages to load properly, or to print something successfully.  Many times, it is something really simple, and often overlooked, even by a lot of techs.    The following are just some of the many useful tricks that we techs use in our arsenal of troubleshooting an internet problem, and more specifically websites, pages, and other internet sites.  You're going to hear this a lot from me, but please do not attempt to perform these tips if you are unsure of how to do so safely.  Always ask for assistance from a trained technical and professional source if you have any sort of doubt.  While some of these tips are simple, it's still a good idea to use your best judgment.

It is worth mentioning that I use both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox internet browsers, but for the purposes of this blog, I am going to use Microsoft Internet Explorer as a basis for my examples.  Please refer to your browsers help file for information on your browsers' equivalents.  These tips can be helpful when dealing with issues connecting to a website, page, or trying to print a page from the internet.

1) Temporary Internet Files (or cache) - This is set up by your browser as a place to briefly store files related to your internet browsing on your hard drive, usually in a folder already set up by the browser when it was installed.  It will store things like pictures, text, and other graphics files that are used by web pages.  The reason the short-term storage exists is for the sole purpose that the website or page can access the graphics and text from a local source rather than being downloaded every single time you visit that page.  Deleting these files will help clear up the storage.  Remember, this is only temporary storage, and as such, it will only use the amount of space you specify.  Even more restrictive is the fact that once that space limit is reached, it will go no further in downloading the files to your temp storage.  Deleting these files have a plus and a negative consequence.  The plus side is that the site or page you were attempting to connect to may finally be accessible.  However, sites that you may have visited before may need to re-download the files necessary for view from a local source, which can take time, depending on your internet connection speed.  To delete these files on Internet Explorer v6 and up, go to Tools, then click Internet Options.  In the General tab, there should be a middle section entitled "Browsing History" or something similar.  This section will have two buttons (three on some versions) that say "Delete..." and "Settings".  The settings will allow you to specify the location of the folder on your hard drive where these files are stored, and will let you allot the limit which these files can be saved, usually in MB (that's MegaBytes, not Megabits or Mb!).  Some programs are available to help you delete these files automatically, and on a set schedule so you don't have to remind yourself to do it.  I recommend deleting these files at least once every other week, or on a weekly basis.  As for the settings, this is up to you, but remember my original blog about general tips with this particular subject.  The larger the limit, the more time it will take to load.  Setting your browser's internet cache to "Every Visit to the Page" is also very helpful.

2) Browser Settings - I know, this is probably another one of those tips that gets repeated on every site's FAQ page or troubleshooting section.  Though, it is true, browser settings can either help or hurt a situation depending on what settings are enabled.  Some of the common settings are Java, JavaScript, Cookies, ActiveX, and SSL (Secure Socket Layer, and no, I don't know what that means in detail).  Make sure these settings are enabled to view most web pages.  Again, the default settings are generally recommended, and will allow you to view most websites without a problem.  If you are using custom settings, and having some difficulty loading internet websites, web pages, etc, it may become necessary to reset your browser's settings to default, and try again.  Security settings can also play a big part.  For Internet Explorer users, this is on the Security tab under Tools, Internet Options.  Again, if the security setting is too high, it will not let you view web pages unless you have put them under the Trusted Section.  Likewise, a site in the "Restricted Sites" section will not be accessible, or at the least most of the site will be restricted.

3) Your Internet Connection - Sometimes general internet troubleshooting is the answer.  Often times, when I'm having a problem with a specific web site, page, or something else, I'll perform troubleshooting as though my internet connection was not working like it was supposed to.  Refer to my last blog about general internet troubleshooting tips.

4) Firewalls, Routers, and Proxy Servers - Although unlikely, sometimes a firewall or a router can be the source of your trouble when viewing a website or page.  Again, like your browser itself, if the settings are custom set too high, or too low, you may eventually run into problems.  For the most part, the default settings will be enough.  Most routers have a built-in function to allow you to block access to specific websites, or websites with certain keywords.  Refer to your router documentation for information on how to access these settings.  Firewalls are not necessarily the problem, since all they do is direct traffic (inbound and outbound connections) on your local computer.  Hardware firewalls are sometimes an issue, but honestly I am not familiar with how they operate, so it's best to refer to the manufacturer, your documentation, etc for help on determining if your hardware firewall is a possible issue.  Proxy servers are a lot like firewalls, except that they are usually the business equivalent of parental control programs.  They can direct traffic, but also limit what sites can be viewed, what sites are restricted (mostly to specific users), and what sites are absolutely off limits!  For this reason, proxy servers SHOULD NOT be tampered with.

5) RESTART! - I know, it's an overused tip, but important, and relevant nonetheless.  I don't necessarily mean restart your computer, but that too is an option that I would recommend.  What I mean is to restart your internet browser.  On occasion, I have had to restart my internet browser in order to view a particular web page.  I'm not entirely sure as to why, but I think it may have to do with the cookies being used for that particular web page, or it could be that the files (graphics, text, etc) needed to be downloaded again.  Whatever the reason may be, it's still a good idea to restart.

6) Your ISP - Although rare, it has been confirmed that there are ISPs (Internet Service Providers) who block specific websites for various reasons.  Some are obvious, like known hacker websites, or it could be the threat of a virus-infected page.  Even more rare is to come across an ISP that has blocked a site for content reasons.  Still, if this is the case, you may or may not be able to view the page, and there's not much you can do about it, either.  If you're looking for a tip here, there is none to be told.  All I can say is that if there is a website that, despite your best efforts, can't be viewed on your computer, try a different computer, and if still unsuccessful, try a different computer on a different ISP. 

7) Have You Updated Your Browser Lately? -  Some websites require that you have the latest version of your browser in order to access the website you are trying to view.  In some cases, your browser may not be compatible at all to view the page content.  So you have two options depending on your situation, and what the website you are viewing requires.  Your first option is to upgrade your browser to its latest version.  Some of the popular ones are Microsoft/Windows Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, & Safari (MAC users).  A second option is to use an alternate browser.  My personal recommendation is to have at least two internet browsers installed on your computer.  One for general viewing, and the other for specific websites that you enjoy to visit.  This way, no matter what, you have a compatible browser to use for viewing any web page.

8) Cookies - This is related to an earlier point about browser settings.  Specifically, a site may not be loading or running like normal, because of a problem with its downloaded cookie (the little file that contains instructions for a specific site or page, including your preferences on said sites, login info, etc).  Deleting all cookies is probably not a good idea, so instead try to locate the specific cookie that contains information about the site you are having difficulty with.  If still unsuccessful, then I would suggest deleting them all, in case there may be a conflict of some sort.  A word of caution, if you do delete either the single cookie file, or all of them, you will lose pertinent data related to your website visits.

There are probably more tips that I can go into, but I won't simply for the reason that those tips can impact your computer's ability to communicate with an internet service, and vice-versa.  Always seek the advice of a trained service professional who has the tools, resources, and experience to guide you through more complex tips that I am not able to discuss here. 

I know this blog has been shorter than my others, but I am confident this is all you need in order to maintain your internet connection.  On a related note, there should never be a situation where you would need to reinstall your internet browser.  As long as you follow the tips and tricks that I provide, you should have very little (if any) difficulty in viewing any website, page, or other service on the world wide web.

Have a comment?  Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog?  Email me at  And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer.  :)  Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Troubleshooting Your Internet Headaches (Part 1: General)

"My internet is slow!" "Facebook won't load!" "Why won't my email come up?" "It just won't work anymore!"  Do these sound familiar?  Whether you're a tech support representative, or an average user like the rest of humanity, you'll be quite familiar with phrases like that.  Adding to that is the irritation of trying to fix it without any help, and the problem is either still there, or has been made worse by something done wrong.  A good example is when a tech tries their best to explain how to fix an internet-related problem to an average consumer, and instead of following the techs instructions carefully, the consumer becomes agitated, clicks on something OTHER than what they were told, and now their email is gone.  I know I'm probably exaggerating, but the idea is the same.  Most consumers are much more comfortable to follow the instructions of family and friends than we are at following the directions of a technician that we have asked for help, and why is that?  I'll probably cover that in another blog, but my point is that when we take a tech for granted, we lose sight of the real problem at hand, and we become know-it-alls who don't know the answer.  Ironic, I know, but true in almost every sense.

My favorite example is when I worked as a technical support specialist in a call center, and received the kind of call every tech out there dreads to receive.  I'm talking about the so-called "Systems Administrators", "Network Admins", "Computer Technicians", and of course my favorite, the "Company Owner" who happens to be a jack of all trades!  These people are generally rude, abrasive, and very abusive to a tech support agent over the phone.  Whether they are simply of that personality, or it's because they are lacking something else, these people annoy the hell out of techs everywhere.  They will go on and on about what certification they hold (sometimes more than one), and will insult the tech at every opportunity, ignoring the fact that they are the ones who called for help.  Fear not, though, because a tech will find just the right moment to make even the most "educated" Network Admin feel stupid with a resolution that is so simple in its implementation.

The phone call I received was no different.  I had received a phone call from a supposed "System Admin", and for the first 3 minutes of the phone call, he berated me up and down, left and right, and called me everything but a white-boy.  He was absolutely PISSED!  What his issue was, I can't remember, and I don't care to.  I remember it had to do with an error of some kind that had to do with his internet connection.  Anyway, he demanded to speak to a supervisor, told me I didn't know anything (of course, he laced it all with much more colorful metaphors), and was generally insulting to myself and every other tech in the building.  After calming him down a bit, I got him to accept a little bit of help from me.  I told him that I would help him as best I could, and if I couldn't do so in 10 minutes, I would be happy to transfer him to a supervisor for whatever assistance they could provide.  Reluctantly, he accepted.  It didn't even take 10 minutes when I had him use a simple networking technique (I couldn't tell ya what it was that I had him do, because I don't remember), and the error was resolved.  Not only did he become apologetic to no end, but he still wanted to speak to a supervisor, and for a different reason altogether, but just before that was the moment of clarity.  The "ah HA!" moment if you will, where the guy was just dumbfounded, stupefied, and above all, speechless.

Internet troubles can be frustrating, especially when you are unsure of how to resolve the problem on your own, or even who to ask for help.  First, you need to have patience when approaching this very broad issue.  Not always will an issue be quick to resolve, and not always with a simple measure.  Keep in mind that a simple solution can still have frustrating consequences if not done correctly.  Second, never be afraid to say "I don't know what to do!"  Too many times have I come across someone (male and female) who simply is at their wits end trying to fix an internet problem, and then that person becomes quite agitated when they do not know the answer.  Admitting to yourself that it's time to ask for help is not an end, but a beginning.  This doesn't mean you have accepted defeat, you've only changed how you are approaching a problem.  Remember to look at my previous blog and read about tips to reduce the anxiety over asking for help, and to get some ideas on where to go, who to ask, and how.  These tips are life-savers!  Lastly, expect the unexpected.  I know that's a hugely overused cliche, but in the case of troubleshooting anything related to computers, and especially internet connection issues, it rings true to finding resolutions that seem out of the ordinary.  One quick note to mention.  When it comes to troubleshooting computers and the related issues, NOTHING is ever ordinary in solving a problem!

Because of the complexity and broad scope of this area of computer troubleshooting, I am going to do this topic in parts.  Mainly for the reason that there are steps different from one another for each part to this topic.  In this segment, I will try to go over some of the more basic techniques.  I will assume that most of us, by now anyway, should be using a broadband connection.  Also, I will attempt to cover some dial-up troubleshooting techniques as well, but only briefly since it's not as widely used as it once was with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AOL, Earthlink, Netzero, Juno, etc.  Once more, it is worth mentioning that I am only providing these tips as a guideline, and are not intended to substitute professional advice and assistance from a trained source.

Let's go over some of the dial-up techniques first, shall we?
(**NOTE** Again, I am going off my personal use of Windows-based operating systems, so always check to see what your operating system equivalents might be)

1) Modem Functionality - 80-90% of all dial-up related problems occur from a single source, the dial-up modem itself.  You need to verify if the modem is the source of the issue.  The first thing to do is to establish that the modem itself is communicating with Windows.  This means that the communication between the software driver, and the modem (whether internal or external) exists to begin with.  To do that, you must go to Control Panel, then go to Modems (for XP users, this will be titled "Phone and Modem Options"), click on your modem (this will be the modem tab in XP), and click Properties.  In the properties of the modem, there should be a tab that says "Diagnostics" depending on your Windows version, you should see either your modem listed, or you will see both the COM port and the modem listed.  Either way, this is what you select and click either "Query Modem" or "More Info".  This is important, because what this test will do is confirm that the modem can be communicated with through its driver in Windows, and it will indicate that the modem can be initialized using the driver.  If the modem can't be initialized or communicated with (and this will be apparent when you do this test), it's safe to assume that the modem may not be working at all, and a replacement will be necessary.  You may want to verify the modem driver in Windows has been installed properly, or you may have to reinstall or update the driver.  This can also resolve many issues related to dial-up modem errors.

2) Hyperterminal - Another useful test is Hyperterminal.  This is a built-in program in Windows that allows you to test whether your modem can successfully dial a phone number, and connect to it via the "computer handshake" (Not sure if that is a proper term, but it's something that has stuck with me since my dad first said it).  It's always best to do this test after you've successfully determined that the modem is communicating properly with Windows, and that the modem can be initialized successfully through its software driver.  There are two parts to this test.  The first, and most obvious, is the dialing phase.  Can your modem successfully initialize and dial out to another modem on another computer?  You'll know right away if it cannot dial.  The second is the connection phase.  Do you hear the ever-famous "handshake" noise or is it quiet?  Being quiet doesn't necessarily mean trouble, since it could simply mean that the modem speaker is off.  Remember the modem properties screen?  You may want to check if the modem speaker is turned on and turned up through that prompt before attempting this test.  After the handshake, you should get a listing of various commands or even a message.  If the commands or the message comes back garbled, there is a possibility that the modem (either on your end, or the other) has a problem decoding the messages it is receiving.  It is recommended that you try at least three different numbers in Hyperterminal before assuming that it's a problem with your modem.

3) Different Access Numbers - Every dial-up ISP that I've ever used has almost always had, at the least, three different numbers to which I could use as access numbers.  Many of the popular dial-up providers I've used always had local numbers to use, since calling long-distance at the time was rather expensive.  Today, this is not a typical problem anymore.  If you are having trouble with connecting to your ISP, try a different number to access.  If all of the alternate numbers fail, you may want to contact your ISP and ask if there is a toll-free alternative phone number to use as an access number, at least temporarily.  On rare occasion, I've had to use a phone number that was long distance, but this was only to determine if my local access numbers were inoperable.

4) Power to the Modem - I know it sounds corny, but true nonetheless.  Techs everywhere agree that the most overlooked troubleshooting techniques are usually the most obvious.  So, don't be surprised if you call and get a tech who answers, and during the call at some point, that tech will ask you "Is your modem turned on?"  I put this at #4, but really it should be at the top.  I bring this up only after the other tests, because let's face it, we all forget at some point to look for the obvious.  Hopefully, this will get you to perform this technique first and foremost.  Too many times have I run into a situation where someone using an external modem forgot to make sure it was plugged in, and turned on.  And it's not isolated to internet/modem problems, this can be any peripheral device, or even the computer itself for that matter.  I can't stress the point enough.  ALWAYS check to make sure the device you are using is plugged in to a power outlet (if applicable), turned on, and ready to be used.  You will save yourself a lot of aggravation by doing this simple task. 

5) New Replacement - If you've done everything else, and your modem still can't connect, it may be time to start thinking about replacing your dial-up modem.  There are some considerations to take in, but this can be a good way to determine if your modem is truly defective in some odd fashion.  External modems are relatively easy to replace, and in some cases, cheaper in the long run.  Internal modems are a little more involved, but generally easy as well.  After replacing your modem, if it becomes necessary, always perform some of the tests above like Hyperterminal, the modem query in Windows, etc to ascertain that your new modem is working and functioning in a way that is consistent with your old, defective modem.

6) Dialing Rules! - Yet another overlooked troubleshooting step is the dialing rules.  It's another obvious step that should never be underestimated.  In some areas, especially in the United States, a locality or region might require someone to dial an area code first.  This is known as 10-digit dialing.  For example, in my area, we have to dial in this format xxx-555-1212.  Also, unless you are using a dedicated phone line on your dial-up connection, you should make sure your modem is configured to dial call waiting before dialing the actual access number.  Most telephone providers require the use of *70 to turn call waiting off.  Although, I will admit, that wasn't always helpful during my time using dial-up providers.  Even turning call waiting off, I still got "bumped" from the internet quite frequently.  Another note to mention is that some places, like businesses and other office buildings, often use a phone system that requires you to use *9 prefix to get an outside line.  Make sure before you begin modifying the dialing rules in Windows.  This can be found in the Modem Properties area, or sometimes in the Dial-Up Networking window of the connection you are using, depending on what version of Windows you have.

7) Phone Line Extras - Some telephone lines have other features that are not standard, and can disrupt a dial-up connection.  The more popular, and frustrating, feature of dial-up users is the voicemail provided by the local phone company.  This is simply an inbox for messages that are stored by the phone company rather than your answering machine.  This is especially problematic when you receive a voice message on this service, because what happens is that your dial tone starts to beep, indicating that you have messages.  Dial-up modems are incapable of recognizing this beeping dial-tone as a dial-able tone.  Therefore, you will get an error with this.  Also, although it's not thoroughly documented, and most techs are unsure of why, but using a fax machine on the same phone line as your dial-up connection can also cause issues to arise.  Again, using a dedicated phone line will reduce this problem greatly.  If you have to have your fax machine on the same phone line, your best bet is to alternately switch from one to the other depending on what you need to use.  The most accepted reason that I've been told for not using the same phone line as the fax is that the fax machine continually is beeping on the phone line.  This means that the fax machine is constantly waiting for a fax signal to come in, so that it can be ready at a moment's notice to process the incoming message. 

8) Dead Phone Line - Too many stories to tell, and not enough time.  If you have tried everything else, try the obvious.  Connect a regular phone (preferably a corded telephone, and one that is NOT battery operated) to the phone line and try to make a phone call.  If you cannot, there's a problem with the phone line itself, and of course, the modem has to terminate the attempt to connect.  Also, make sure that your phone line is dedicated.  I know I've said this before in this blog, but it's worth repeating again and again.  If someone picks up the phone while you are connected, your modem will interpret that as an interruption (which it is), and will terminate the connection abruptly.  The same is true if someone is already on the phone line talking to a friend, relative, or placing some kind of order (pizza, anyone?), and the modem will interpret the absence of a dial tone for a dead phone line.

9) Reboot - This should always be tried FIRST and LAST in your efforts to troubleshoot and repair a problem with your dial-up connection.  If you are using an external modem, your first order of business should be to reboot the modem itself by powering it down, waiting 30 seconds to a minute, power it back on and wait for the initial power-up sequence to complete before trying it again.  If still unsuccessful, try rebooting the computer alongside rebooting the modem, and for the same amount of time.  Stories are abound with consumers who have tried everything above, with little to no success, and upon a reboot of either the modem, computer, or both in some cases, the issue is resolved successfully.  In the case of rebooting both your computer and your modem (external), always turn the modem on FIRST, then the computer.  This way we will know if the modem itself can power on, and do it's own initial power-on diagnostic sequence (the lights that go on sequentially).

During my time as a technical support representative, I found other steps that can be attempted when dealing with a dial-up problem, but I chose to omit them since they were procedures not known to the general public, and for good reason.  Doing the extra steps that I know can cause more problems than they solve.  It's best to perform the omitted steps with the guidance of a trained technical support professional to reduce the chance of something going horribly wrong.

Broadband users are a special breed.  They enjoy the wonderful benefit of not having to deal with dial-up problems, frustrations, and headaches, as well as enjoying the faster speeds to load webpages, download files, and all done without the use of an ISP provider's software program.  However, they too will encounter problems similar to dial-up, but not quite.  While each broadband internet provider is different with how the connection is achieved, most techs will agree that simple techniques can resolve 80-90% of connectivity problems.  Like the dial-up measures, I will attempt to cover some of the techniques used by techs to troubleshoot, diagnose, and resolve broadband internet issues.  The following tips are presented with the assumption that you have a modem or other broadband device directly connected to your computer, and NOT through a Router or Hub.

1) REBOOT! - Just like the dial-up methods of troubleshooting, your FIRST and LAST resort should always be to reboot.  My standard procedure is to restart through Windows doing the proper shutdown sequence first.  In other words, I'm not just pressing the power button on the computer!  That would be bad and in so many ways!  A proper sequence to shut down is to go to Start, then either Turn Off Computer or Shutdown and select Restart.  Again, DO NOT press the power button at this point.  Usually this takes less than a minute before the computer restarts, and brings you back to the Windows Logon screen or desktop screen.  If this doesn't resolve your issue, try what's called a "COLD BOOT" procedure.  This is where you actually do turn off the computer using the same steps as the restart, only you select "Shut Down the Computer" or "Turn Off" (for XP and newer users).  Although, most computers today will shut off automatically, so you may not need to do anything else, but for the older computers, you may have to wait until you see something that says "It is safe to turn off your computer" and then you may, at this point, use the power button.  Never assume that a computer is completely shut off.  To that end, always turn the computer off from it's "master switch" in the back (if your computer is pre-2002), and unplug the power cord (the thick black one).

2) Broadband modem - Whether you are using DSL, Cable, T1, or something much different, it's safe to assume that you will be using some kind of device that allows you to rid yourself of using a dial-up connection, and connect to the internet with blazing speeds that dwarfs dial-up any day of the week!  However, there are times when these devices need to be reset.  The procedure for doing a modem/device reset is simple, yet very effective in resolving a good portion of connection issues with broadband internet services.  To power your device off, unplug the power cord from behind the device, wait about a minute or so, then plug the power cord back in.  After the initial power-on sequence, you should try connecting to the internet again.  If not, it is always recommend to do a full shutdown of both the device, and the computer.  When turning the computer and the device back on, make sure to do the device first, THEN the computer AFTER the device has gone through the initial power-up sequence.  On a related note, this gets a tad more complicated when you add a router or hub to the mix, so I will cover that in another blog.  If you can now connect, your issue has been resolved.  If not, proceed to the following tips.

3) Software - Yes, I know, broadband users don't necessarily have to install new software to use their connection (unless directed by the broadband ISP).  However, software still plays a big part in how we connect to the internet, whether by dial-up modem or by a broadband internet device/service.  In the case of broadband, though, the software used is mostly already installed on your computer.  Each version of Windows is slightly different, but relatively the same, while Linux, Macintosh, and other fine operating systems have much different ways to set up the equivalents.  While I don't know anything about other operating systems other than Windows, it's safe to assume that some software is widely used and accepted as a standard.  There will be two parts to this tip.  One is for the widely used (and popular) use of network cable (aka Cat5, RJ-45, or Ethernet), and the other is the slightly used USB part.
  • Network Cable - Most ISPs will have you using a device that have you using your computers network card or built-in port to use their internet hardware on your computer.  This means that you must have the driver properly installed for your network card or onboard port (remember, these are a part of the motherboard, and not an expansion card as some older computers were built).  Sometimes, though not often, a user might have to reinstall the driver for their network adapter.  This can be achieved through the Device Manager in the System Properties of the Control Panel.  Also, this is where you can manually update your network adapter's driver.  Another piece of software that is usually installed with the network adapter driver are the protocols themselves like TCP/IP.  Without this software, your computer wouldn't connect to the internet at all, regardless if you are using dial-up or broadband.  On Windows 9x systems, you will want to right-click Network Neighborhood and go to Properties.  This will allow you to view the network adapter, and the protocols and client software installed.  Usually you will have the name of your network adapter (usually either the dial-up modem adapter, the network adapter, or both), TCP/IP and Client for Microsoft Networks.  On Windows 2k, you see Network and Dial-Up Connections from going to Start, then Control Panel.  Windows XP has Network Connections under the same area, but can be accessed through Control Panel directly, and Windows Vista calls it Network and Sharing Center.  Each one can allow you to verify that your broadband device has a corresponding network connection set up.  Most often this will be labeled "Local Area Connection" and will have subtext that lists your network adapter.  When you right click these and go to Properties, you will see a listing of the protocols installed there.  Again, you should see Client for Microsoft Networks, TCP/IP, etc.  Wireless and Broadband connection listings are only different in name, but everything else is relatively the same.  Reinstalling these protocols will often resolve problems with your internet service connection, but I would only recommend re-installation of these protocols if nothing else works. 
  • USB Port Cable - Some devices that allow you to use broadband internet service also have a USB port if your computer has no network adapter (onboard or otherwise).  If you are going to use this type of connection to your computer, all the same principles of a dial-up modem software driver, and networking configurations will apply.  In other words, check if the driver has been installed, check the cable, and check if proper protocols are installed.  There's little else that I can tell you about USB broadband internet devices, except that you should expect little difficulty in their use.  
4) Reset and Restart - Just like restarting (or cold booting) a computer system, there are times when only the software needs to be reset.  Most techs will have you do one of two things, or both depending on the person who answers your call for help.  First, they will have you cold boot everything.  Expect to have to do this often when calling technical support.  It will be their first and last troubleshooting step, regardless of what you have done.  Second, they will have you use what is called the IP Configuration tool.  While I don't fully understand what specifically happens using this tool, I do know that this is similar to a cold boot of a system without the Cold Boot process, and more precisely it will refresh your network adapter driver and TCP/IP.  This does not mean that your TCP/IP settings have been reset, nor have they been modified in any way.  Think of it like the old Nintendo game systems (the old 8-bit system).  At a certain point, if the game was frozen, a lot of us (including myself) used that reset button on the front to get the system unstuck.  The same is true for the network adapter as well.  Sometimes it will just simply get stuck, and IP Configuration can release it from being stuck.  To use this tool, go to Start, Run, and on Win9x systems you want to type `winipcfg' and press Enter, or on Win2k and newer, you will want to use `cmd' which will bring up a DOS command prompt.  From there, you will want to type "IPCONFIG" and press enter.  This should give you basic information about your adapter including IP address, subnet mask, gateway address, etc.  Both versions of the IP Configuration tool, you have to "release" the adapter, and then about 15-20 seconds after, you have to "renew" the adapter as well.  On Windows 9x, your network adapter card (not the dial-up modem) should be what's currently selected, so if it's not, make sure to use the drop-down menu at the top and click your network adapter (usually Linksys 10/100, Cisco, Realtek, or something similar).  On Windows 2k and up, the tool will only reset the primary adapter, which in most cases will be the LAN/Network driver.

5) Other Considerations - While I won't go into much detail about it here in this first part, I want to touch briefly on the use of firewalls, proxy servers, and other security programs.  I'm not going to explain what each of those are in this blog, but if you want to know, post an email to me and I'll do a blog to specifically explain them.  What I can say is that these items can either help or hurt your connection.  Specifically, I want to talk about firewalls.  Firewalls are designed specifically to keep inbound connections OUT for the most part, and only allow the programs designed for internet connectivity to use outbound connections.  This can also include your network adapter, and its related software.  An analogy would be like an airport, and just like an airport, you have lots of airplanes coming in, and going out.  Well, a firewall is like both a control tower and boarding gates, and will allow some airplanes to land, and refuse others.  It can also allow or deny passengers to board a plane based on their assigned permissions from the user.  If the settings are set too high, your computer won't be able to connect to anything on the internet, regardless of what you do.  If the settings are too low, your computer is vulnerable, and prone to security threats.  The default settings usually will allow you to connect, but will allow the firewall to "learn" what programs are allowed to fly, and what inbound connections can "land".

6) Network Routers And Hubs - Using a Router or a network hub, wired or wireless, can be useful when you want to allow more than one computer in your home or place of business to connect to the internet.   However, problems can occur with either one.  A hub will simply allow your computer to share resources with another computer including internet connections, folders, files, and even printer resources.  There is one flaw with using a regular network hub, and that is when you do want to connect another computer using the same internet connection as your primary computer, you have to contact your ISP and obtain a 2nd IP address, which usually will cost an extra fee a month (usually anywhere between $5-$7/mo depending on your provider.  A router will allow you to not only connect multiple computers to the same internet connection without paying for a 2nd IP, it will also function as a network hub for resource sharing.  When troubleshooting, always try to remove the hub or router from the equation.  Connect your broadband device in directly to your computer first.  If your device allows your computer to connect to the internet, then your router or hub might be the problem.  I can't go into specific details on what that might be, since each router and hub are different in the way that their interfaces (if applicable) are accessed, but I can provide one simple trick that may or may not help.  Two words: POWER CYCLE.  Just like cold booting your computer or broadband device, try doing the same for your router or hub.  I would advise to power down the computer first, then unplug the power from the router or hub, and LAST to be turned off (power cord and all) should be the broadband device.  When turning them all back on, do the reverse.  Turn the broadband device on first and wait for the power-on initialization, then do the same for the router or hub, and then turn the computer back on last.  One quick way to know for sure if your router is the problem is to try accessing its user interface.  Usually it's an IP address such as (or something close to that).  If you can access your router's setup page, then there's a good chance your router just needs a firmware update.  Firmware updates are like software drivers, but they are embedded within the hardware.  Most manufacturers of devices that use firmware also provide updates to that firmware that may or may not resolve your issue.  Even if you don't have a connectivity problem, ALWAYS make sure your device whether it's the broadband modem or your router is up to date with the latest firmware available. 

Just like other troubleshooting tips, there are some methods not known to the general public, and should be done under the guidance of a trained technical support professional.  If these general tips haven't helped you, it's time to call so that you don't take out your frustrations on something or someone important.  Remember to take a break once in a while, and try to write down anything that you think might be helpful when calling technical support.

Have a comment?  Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog?  Email me at  And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer.  :)  Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Upgrading Your Operating System

So, the other day I thought to myself, "WOW!  Windows Vista sucks ass!"  I was trying to install software drivers for my cousin's new Cricket Broadband modem.  That completely sucked ass, but what was worse was that it took so long on her computer, which runs Windows Vista.  On an XP computer, as demonstrated by the representative at a Cricket Corporate office in Wheat Ridge, CO, it went and installed seamlessly (and quickly).  No problems, and we were connected right away, but NOOOOOooooo, Windows Vista had to be a pain in the ass.

Well, this got me thinking, is anyone ever ready to upgrade to a new operating system version, whether by Microsoft or another company?  When I look back on how many times I've upgraded to a new version of Windows, which were frustrating at times, I found that there were some good reasons to upgrade, and some not-so-good reasons.  Whether good or bad, the reasons usually were based on new features, improvisation on existing features, or laced with enhancements to that are supposed to make the experience that much more enjoyable.  At the time of doing these "wonderful" upgrades, I thought I was improving my computer performance, and at the same time, I was learning a new operating system.  The latter was true, but not the performance.  A lot of times, it suffered greatly.

Some people might ask, "So, what do I gain out of upgrading my computer's operating system?"  There are a lot of pros and cons to upgrading your operating system.  I want to go over some of the pros (the positive side) of upgrading your operating system first.

1) Newer Features - Sometimes an upgrade to the latest operating system will allow you to do something that you couldn't before.  An excellent example was when Microsoft went to Windows 95 from Windows 3.x.  A lot of users were pretty skeptical, and some rejected upgrading up to two years after it had been available on the market.  One of the main, and most popular, features that Windows 95 offered was a more streamlined user interface (start button, program menu, control panel, etc) which allowed the user to access programs much more efficiently, and without so much clutter to go through (i.e. program groups).

2) Upgraded Drivers - Another sticking point of upgrading has been the idea that when you upgrade, certain drivers are updated as well.  Although this didn't happen from Windows 3.x to 95, it did once Windows 98 came along, and even better was Windows 98 Second Edition (Win98SE for short).  Drivers for things like your mouse, keyboard, and in some cases, your sound and video card were updated with the latest (but very basic) software.  Then Windows XP came along, and all of that changed drastically.  Instead of just worrying about basics like your keyboard, mouse, and sound drivers, it also carried with it some common drivers for networking, video, sound, modem, and USB drivers (which have since become very popular in almost all peripheral devices).  Even webcams, and other drivers were now available with Windows XP, and in a lot cases, no further install was necessary, except on rare occasion where the driver CD had to be used.

3) Greater Flexibility - With each new operating system upgrade came the greater flexibility of creating multiple users on one computer system.  Although Windows 95 through Millenium Edition didn't offer much in the way of user authentication, Windows NT through 2000 did, and then Windows XP was designed as a hybrid of Windows 9x/Me and Windows NT/2k.  Since XP, a computer administrator (aka "Owner" on XP Home Edition, and I think Media Center Edition as well) could create multiple user accounts, and set their access level accordingly.  Almost all versions of Windows since XP have now incorporated a "Guest" account where someone other than the household users could log in, and have basic access to most programs.  All guest accounts (except when the administrator does something crazy and allows it) are restricted from installing and modifying programs.  This is especially useful when parents want to limit their children's activity on the computer system.  New operating systems have also meant more control on what programs are available to users.  In the case of Windows-based operating systems since XP, an Administrator/Owner can restrict what programs are available to "Limited" and/or Guest accounts, even block them as necessary.

4) Support for Compatible New Products - An upgrade to a new operating system can be frustrating, but imagine for a moment if we never got past using Windows 95.  Although patches are available, support would not exist for products using FireWire, USB, HDMI ports, DVI, etc.  And the support Windows 95 would have for those kinds of ports would be severely limited.  In fact, some of the older versions of operating systems didn't start widespread support of some of these ports until early 2001 when it became clear that USB and FireWire were not going away as some might have hoped.  A study done years ago confirmed that USB is now the most commonly used port in use today (whether on PC or MAC) versus the much older parallel and serial ports.  It's not limited to USB, FireWire or any other type of port that operating systems expand their support of new products.  It can also be for hardware upgrading reasons, including hard disk capacity upgrading, memory, CDROM/DVDROM drives, etc.  Sometimes, an operating system upgrade will allow you to use a newer product than its predecessor would have.

5) Support for newer software - It's a well known fact that in order to use some of the latest software like games, productivity software, and some security programs, you have to be running a compatible operating system with the latest security updates and service packs.  Some software programs, like one I used to do technical support for, simply won't install based on the operating system installed.  Some hardware products are like that, too, where the device or peripheral simply won't work unless you install an upgrade for the operating system, or in some cases, the device or peripheral will work, but have limited capabilities. 

Those points, in my view, are the pros to upgrading your operating system to the latest and greatest version.  There might be more reasons to upgrade, but those are the common incentives to do so.  Now, I give you the cons.

1) Too much hassle - Although most operating system upgrades are fairly easy to do, problems can arise that make even the simplest of upgrades very frustrating, and time-consuming.  There's also the problem of having to purchase a hardware upgrade such as memory or a new hard drive, because the OS upgrade requires it, or you have simply run out of room. 

2) Incompatible Software/Hardware - While most upgrades can be done with existing hardware, there might be an issue or two with what is called "legacy" hardware or software.  In other words, products and software that are considered "old" and out-dated.  A problem like this came up for me when I upgraded from Win2k to WinXP and found that my Realplayer software was not going to work on XP (this was years ago, by the way).  After downloading the new version, it worked.  However, not all solutions will work the same way.  You'll either have to contact the manufacturer or provider for help, or simply abandon the upgrade until a patch or update can resolve the conflict.  Another great example was when I had done another upgrade on a different computer system of mine, and this time it was a fresh, clean install of Windows XP, and when all was said and done, my secondary CDROM was deemed unusable by XP.  I was NOT a happy camper, but at the very least it forced me to do a hardware swap.

3) Intimidating New Interface - This has happened more times than I care to admit.  Imagine using Windows 95 your whole computer-driven life, and all of a sudden you are using Windows Vista.  Talk about throwing you off your whole game, right?  I mean, you spent how many years learning a new interface (from Win3.x to Win95, and now Vista), and now you have to learn where programs and utilities are located in this new version that you are unfamiliar with!  Well, it can be a little bit like that, or sometimes, much more intimidating.  A lot of users refuse to upgrade simply for this reason alone.

4) New Problems and Other Fun Adventures - Yep, we all know it's happened, and on more than one occasion.  The stories are endless with my tech support brothers and sisters.  I've even been there a few times myself, doing an upgrade, and all-of-a-sudden it brings up the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH!!! Yeah, pretty frightening, especially when you're as clueless as I was when this message came up.  Or worse yet, you get through the entire installation, and when you go to open a program, your entire computer crashes.  Any new software, including Operating Systems have always been prone to bugs, new types of hacker attacks, vulnerabilities, critical errors, conflicts with software or hardware, and an abundance of new security threats.

5) Useless Features - Again, I've been there myself.  I've got my computer upgraded, and found a feature that looks cool, but it is ultimately useless in practice for the home environment.  This is especially true when you've done like me and bought Windows XP Professional and found all sorts of new security features, but haven't found a way to incorporate them into your use of a computer system.  Some features have proved to be fairly useless in nature.  In Windows Vista, they have a capability where you can monitor your children's online activity, and even put in protocols to limit activity.  For parents, that might be a useful item, but for me, it's just not practical in use.

6) Support Options - In recent years, consumers still on an old and outdated operating system are being shut out of support by the companies that make them.  Microsoft has been one company in particular that has been methodically ending support for older operating systems.  Most OS makers do not charge for updates, patches, etc for their software when applying them from a web-based service, but if support for an OS version is ending, that option may not be available. So, if you still have Windows 98, and run into a situation where your problem would warrant going to Microsoft Update, you might not be able to get the fix that you need.  Even calling technical support for an OS may not be an option either.  Sure, there might be someone out there willing to post a fix or patch, but as more and more people upgrade, that option may soon fade, too. 

Of course, there might be more negative considerations for upgrading an operating system, but those are pretty much the core ideas.  While this next list is not exclusive, it is a good basis to use as a sounding board, maybe with a friend, or just some items to think about when trying to determine if an upgrade to your operating system is weighing on your mind.

A) Cost - Most of us techs can agree that operating system software (whether full version or upgrade-only versions) is expensive.  It can be difficult to justify spending a couple hundred dollars for an upgrade to your OS, and even more so will it be just as hard to validate the idea of upgrading hardware to suit the new OS upgrade.

B) Benefits and Disadvantages - If you have to, write your own list of pros and cons from upgrading your operating system.  Look over its features, capabilities, and other points of interest to determine if this will be a worthwhile expenditure or if you will be wasting dollars on a product you might not even need.  There are some consumers who will buy an upgrade to an OS simply for the fact that it's new, or that the new upgrade will allow them to use the program that they've been waiting to use, but couldn't with the old operating system.

C) Learning Curve - This has been covered earlier, but a lot of consumers who upgrade their PC's OS have reported that the newer version is simply too hard to learn or that they cannot find certain tools, programs, etc on new OS.  A great idea to this is to simply use a friend's computer that has the new OS version.  See how you like it, try a few programs, tools, and other features to get a feel for what you are upgrading to.  My personal recommendation is to try a new OS version for at least a whole day or two, and in some cases up to a week, before you begin to consider upgrading your PC to the new OS version.  If you have to, try to borrow a laptop from a friend or a family member so that you can get familiar with the new OS version as much as possible.

D) Experiences - Some of the gossip about new operating system versions have originated mostly from user-generated opinions, rather than expert advice and professional reviews.  Although, choosing to upgrade your OS version is a lot like picking out a suitable physician or an auto mechanic, and just like that kind of decision, you have to do your homework and research the facts yourself.  Don't just go off what you hear from family, friends, etc.  The bigger complaints that I've seen and read about new OS versions is that there is a problem with a hardware device or peripheral, or a software program won't work, because of some sort of error, or incompatibility issue.  Majority of the time, some believe that a problem simply exists for no reason, and that there is no solution for sole reason it's a new OS version.  In my ever so humble and little opinion (for what it's worth), a good way to research is to look for forums that talk about the problem or issue.  See what other users have experienced, and what might be a suitable solution to the same problem.  On the contrary, you may not even have to worry about the problem that others face with the new OS.  For instance, user A reports that their new OS upgrade isn't allowing them to use XYZ camera, because of an error, but you don't use XYZ camera, you use ABC Camera, or you may not even be using a camera at all.

To recap, this list is NOT exclusive.  There may be other ideas to consider when trying to decide if you need to upgrade your OS version.  Personally, I'd advise to look beyond the obvious and take a fresh look at what is motivating you to upgrade.  Maybe talk with a friend or a family member to see what their motivations were to upgrade.  Try to look at the overall value of what OS you will be upgrading to, and then Focus on what needs and wants it will satisfy in both the short- and long-term.

Have a subject to discuss about computers, or computer related questions?  Email me @  I'll do my best to discuss the topic as thoroughly as possible (and as my experience and education allows) on my next blog.  Hope you've enjoyed this article.  Have a great day!