The holidays are the time we gather together with our relatives for food, family, and tech support questions. If you know even a little bit about computers — or you’re just the type of person who uses a computer more than your relatives — you may be pelted with questions and requests.
Don’t Get Sucked In!
Try not to take any huge projects on when you are sharing with family during the holidays. As a geek, it can be tempting to look at someone’s computer system or setup and think you can make it work so much better with a few hours of work. But you don’t want to be sucked into such huge projects! Take it from me, I’ve been there.
It helps to say “I don’t know” if you don’t feel like spending hours fixing a problem or explaining something. As we all know, many problems can be solved simply by plugging them into Google and doing some reading, so you might try gently suggesting that approach. Or you can be the person plugging them into Google, reading the answers and getting the credit for being “good with computers!”
Have You Tried Rebooting?
Yes, “have you tried turning it off and on again?” has become a running joke, as in this series of clips from The IT Crowd. But it’s become a running joke because it actually works, and it’s a good first response to practically any problem. Ask your relative to restart their hardware and then check to see if it still has the problem.
In the past, I’ve sometimes tried in vain to troubleshoot an issue, only to fix it eventually by simply rebooting. Rebooting is the first thing to do. Importantly, this isn’t just for computers. Try this to fix problems with smartphones, tablets, game consoles and various other devices.
Have You Tried Restarting the Router?
Internet or Wi-Fi problems can often be fixed by restarting the router, or modem — they may be the same device. If they aren’t, reboot both of them. This is a simple process: Find the router and/or modem, unplug its power cable, then plug it back in 10 seconds later. The devices will reboot, reconnect to the Internet, then hopefully fix any Internet or WI-Fi problems. Restarting your modem might take a few minutes, so be patient if your Internet connection doesn’t come back immediately.
If this problem happens regularly, advise your relatives to try resetting the devices whenever they encounter the problem.
Have You Cleaned Your System?
if you end up sitting down in front of a relative’s laptop or PC and are expected to tune it up, follow the same security tips I’ve recommended. Install Windows Updates and enable automatic updates. Ensure a modern browser is installed and set to automatically update itself — no ancient versions of Internet Explorer! And check for nasty, outdated browser plug-ins and ensure they’re removed or set to automatically update.
If they’re hurting for disk space or have a horrifically cluttered system, you may also want to give Disk Cleanup a quick run. It’s a built-in tool that will let you free up some space.
If they don’t have an antivirus program — or they just have some ancient trial antivirus program that came with their PC and isn’t receiving updates — install the free Microsoft Security Essentials application, which won’t nag them. On Windows 8, this same application is built-in and named “Windows Defender.”
Did You Install Anti-virus Protection?
Ah, the infected Windows system — here’s the worst thing you could potentially encounter at Thanksgiving. You could try using antivirus software to clean it up, and that might help. But the best way to clean up a horrifically infected or corrupted Windows system is to start over from scratch.
If your relatives have a Windows 8 or 8.1 system, you can perform a “Refresh” to reset Windows to its default state without wiping any personal files. Your relatives will have to reinstall their favorite programs, though.
if they have Windows 7 or an older version of Windows, use their computer’s factory reset partition to restore Windows to its default state. But back up any important files before you do this.
If you’re dealing with something that isn’t quite malware — an annoying Ask Toolbar cluttering up their browser, for example — head to the Control Panel and try to uninstall it from there. Fixing an infected system is one of the most annoying projects you can take on, of course.
Just Try to Relax!
This was exhausting even to write. It brought back memories of years past, spending hours fixing relatives’ computers for them only to see those computers succumb to the same problems again. Maybe a better solution is trying to educate your relatives if they have serious problems with malware or other issues.
For me, the real solution was to accept that you’ll never fix your relatives’ computers completely. Even if you get everything spiffy and perfect, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually come back and see the same problems again. Accept that and you’ll feel less concerned about fixing problems when you see your relatives. Of course, giving their stuff a quick reboot wouldn’t hurt.