Over the past 10 years, the computer has become our whole lives. It holds all your music, all your vacation photos, all your school papers, all your financials, etc. Unlike most other possessions, your computer is not replaceable. If your car gets washed away in a flood, you get a check from the insurance company and purchase yourself something shiny and new. If, however, you get a virus or your tech support nerd makes one false move, you’re up the proverbial creek. All your vacation photos, tax documents, and favorite albums are blown to the wind.
I’ll show you how to protect yourself, because NOBODY SHOULD HAVE TO BE A MECHANIC JUST TO DRIVE A CAR, and such is my belief with computers. So, with this book, I’m going to show you in PLAIN ENGLISH how to clean up Windows XP, remove malware, backup your files, and take back your life. I’ll shine a spotlight on some of the more sinister programs out there that claim to help you out while causing trouble, too. Sure, some brands of computers and sofware are pretty reliable, but I don’t trust any computer 100% (not even my beloved MacBook)!
On a final note, I once bought a book called “Word Processing on the Kaypro” as a joke for some friends. I bought it in 2008, and it was about a computer from the early 1980s, so I figured it’d be great for a laugh. (They always commented on how their Kaypro still worked reliably- both as a doorstop and a stepstool!) However, when I opened the book, I was pleasantly surprised at how well-written it was! It did a great job of explaining the then-emerging computer concepts (such as the difference between a word processor and a typewriter) and used florid, interesting language to keep readers interested instead of bored or intimidated. I hope I can be just as engaging.
* This is just another challenge. Challenges shouldn’t be frustrating- they are simply opportunities to strengthen yourself and your skill set.
* Don’t worry about ruining your whole computer by clicking the wrong thing! Computers no longer use “computer language” – almost every message you’ll see is in plain English, and any important activity has 10 pop-ups asking you if you’re sure you want to do it.
* At times, this book may seem to be a big pile of Microsoft- (and Adobe- and Real- and Kodak- etc.) bashing. Yes, there are a lot of great people at these firms, some of whom are my friends. On the other hand, my job here is to protect you. Some software is technically unstable, some use questionable methodologies to get you to use their software, and some are just downright pointless. Hopefully this will serve as some constructive criticism for those software developers. (For an excellent, easy-to-read, and funny look at poor software design and unnecessary annoyances, check out “Why Software Sucks” by David Platt.)
On that note… let’s begin.
“It takes 15 minutes to power up!”
You’re not alone. Millions of people fire up their $1,000 computers to be “welcomed” by the gruesome circus of pop-ups, banner ads, unwanted programs, unknown errors, and questionable software forcing itself all over the place, taunting them, antagonizing them, insulting their intelligence. In the past 10 years or so, I think I’ve fixed every butcher, baker, and candlestick maker’s computer in my city. Ya know, it’s one thing if I were doing this as a service for the illiterate or disadvantaged, but the majority of my clients are doctors, lawyers, or executives! Something’s wrong here, and that’s software design.
Every large organization spends millions of dollars each year for tech support teams that carry pagers around with them 24/7 in case its web site goes down, but what do you have? Almost every Windows computer I see has some sort of problem with it, and don’t take my word for it- Chy.com reports that there are now over 100,000 known viruses for Windows, and that number goes up daily.
I define Malware as any destructive, malicious, or otherwise unwanted piece of software that uses your computer’s resources (processing horsepower) in detrimental ways.
Examples: Conflicker, Melissa, BlasterWorm
Destructive computer programs that spread from computer to computer, with the sole intent of causing as much damage as possible (erasing data, perpetuating itself, etc.). These are usually written by “hackers” who live in their parents’ basements and want to grab attention, and figure the easiest way to do it is by creating software that destroys enough stuff that it’ll become newsworthy.
Examples: HP Shopping Assistant, Gator, any “Toolbar”
Spyware is software that tracks all of your movements and purchasing behavior on the Internet and then reports it back to a shady marketing research firm. Toolbars specifically hijack your Web browser and monitor pages you’re on and try to sell things to/monitor/rob you in some way. Even safer ones from eBay or your AntiVirus provider are resource hogs.
Examples: RealPlayer, SaveNow
AdWare is software that gets onto your computer (usually piggybacks onto carrier software that you install yourself) and wastes your computer’s resources displaying pop-up advertisements incessantly. They’re supremely annoying but fairly easy to pluck out.
Legitimate (but destructive) Programs
Examples: Kodak EasyShare, Norton Internet Security, Norton 360
Yes, few blogs purporting to be legitimate ones go on a bashing spree, but I’ve seen way too many people’s computers destroyed thanks to horribly designed legitimate software. EasyShare doesn’t contain any adware/spyware, but it loooves starting up every time you turn on the computer (even if you only want to use it monthly or yearly), slowing everything down and causing random crashes. Norton Internet Security has a tendency to be over-protective, confusing parents so much, they can’t even do what they want on their own damn computer. It also slows many systems down to the point of being unusable.
Then there’s Norton 360. Not only does it slow down your computer and annoy you CONSTANTLY (isn’t that what viruses do???), but it actually bullies you to do tasks it deems necessary, such as backing up (backing up what? it’s not clear). One of my clients pointed out that it even goes so far as to RANDOMLY EJECT your cd-rom drive tray, so you can potentially snap it off, during the bullying process. Conclusion: If you EVER see Norton 360 installed on a computer, REMOVE IT IMMEDIATELY.
Examples: AntiVirus 2009
Scareware, as PC world calls it, is software that POSES as Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, or anti-whatever, but is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. These usually come into your computer via webpage Pop-Ups that look just like Windows error messages, but clicking either Yes or No invites the software in. It keeps throwing errors and tray icon balloons until you pay it, at which point it presumably invites more viruses onto your computer and the cycle starts again. This type of software is known to cause random bluescreens, play random audio clips from the news (a la Poltergeist!), and badger you endlessly with fake warnings. NEVER, EVER, PAY THESE PEOPLE! I sometimes refer to it as HostageWare because it holds your computer hostage, promising to give it back when you pay it to “remove Windows errors!” The worst part is, these babies are NEAR-IMPOSSIBLE to remove. CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.
Examples: Internet Explorer and Outlook Express
These are legitimate programs that are chock full of security holes. For a while there, it seemed like a new “exploit” was found for these programs every day. They’re still unsafe and should NOT be used by ANYONE. I’m going to show you how to replace them with Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird, respectively.
In my experience, Internet Explorer is extremely susceptible to hijacking, where a virus will force you to visit any webpage it wants you to see, and there’s nothing you can do about it. More recent versions are full of paranoid scanners, filters, and questions about whether you think the site is safe for IE to visit… but alas, not much safer at heart.
Worse yet, I had a client who used Outlook Express, and wouldn’t listen to me until the day Outlook let a Worm go through her address book and mail pornographic viruses to everyone she knew!
Examples: Kazaa, The Weather Channel Desktop, and Digsby
Carriers are legitimate software programs that are made available free of charge because they’re piggybacked with adware. If you EVER consider installing music piracy software such as Kazaa, discover how much spyware it comes with and you’ll change your mind quickly. I could understand some others, but THE WEATHER CHANNEL? Come on guys, you have no excuse.
Now that we know more about what we’re dealing with, Part II will show us how to clean it up.
Stop Calling the Computer Guy! (Part II)
Hi folks, in order to celebrate the upcoming release of Part II, here’s a little video depicting Norton AntiVirus’ behavior in the professional world… Enjoy!
Here it is folks… The moment you’ve been waiting for… Click here to continue to Part II.