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Computer Maintenance 101

If you use a computer or if you are thinking of using a computer, there are a few very important issues you need to consider in order to keep your computer working the way you want it to...

Firewalls: One of those fancy computer buzzwords you often hear, but what are they? Well, here's an easy explanation: Having a connection to the internet is like leaving your front door wide open, allowing anybody to walk into your home. The most common forms of intrusion are automated programs written by bad people. These programs search the internet for unprotected computers and attempt to get personal information or activate harmful viruses. A firewall acts as a security guard, standing at your open front door, allowing only those with authorization to enter.

You may have heard the terms "software firewall" and "router". Either a software firewall or certain routers can protect your computer from outside threats. Software firewalls can be appropriate for single, personal machines. However, they can also be quite difficult to configure and often end up harassing the user with frequent prompts that are not always easily understood. They have also been known to slow your computer down and conflict with other applications. A router is a less-complicated piece of external hardware that can serve the same purpose of protecting your computer from unwanted intrusions. The router stands separate from your computer and no software installation is required.

Recommendation: Linksys Router ... and call us for advice on how to properly hook it up (sometimes additional steps are required with some internet providers like Telus)

Antivirus Software: Routers and firewalls may protect against outside intruders, but it does not protect against the viruses that you unknowingly bring in to your computer yourself - through e-mails, disks, or things that you download off the internet. For this, you need virus detection software. Be sure that you configure your antivirus software to automatically check and install updates. You should also do a full system scan once per week.

Recommendation: Norton AntiVirus or McAfee VirusScan

Backups: Of course, the best method of security for your computer is to keep regular backups of your valuable data. This way, no matter what tragedy occurs, you can always restore your important information. Most new computers have the ability to write to a CD and this often is the most affordable and secure way to store your backup data. You should backup your data everyday and always have a relatively recent backup stored off site. If you office burns down you don't want your backup CDs to all burn too! The frequency that you take a CD with backup data home is dependent on your level of risk tolerance - ie. How many days worth of data do you want to re-enter if you have revert to a backup?

Recommendation: CD burner, DVD burner, Zip Drive or External Hardrive and store backups off site!

Windows Update: One very often neglected but crucial part of having a smooth running computer is to regularly update your Windows operating system with the free updates provided by Microsoft. If you have an internet connection, simply press your "Start" button and then find and press the Windows Update icon. Choose Express Install and Microsoft will check what updates you need.

Recommendation: Run Windows Update and accept strongly recommended/critical updates.

Prevention of Pop-Up windows: Even a basic router will prevent some types of pop-up windows. However, if you find you are still plagued with windows opening without your request, then we recommend you download the free Google Tool Bar, which has many features including a decent pop-up blocker. If you still have problems, then you can consider downloading and running another free program called "Ad-Aware". This program attempts to detect and uninstall pop-up launchers that you may have inadvertently downloaded.

Recommendation: Google Tool Bar and Ad-Aware.

E-Mail Precautions: Avoid unsolicited e-mails with attachments. Ensure that your AntiVirus program is configured to automatically detect viruses in e-mail attachments. It is also a good idea not to preview your emails in MS Outlook or Express. That is, do not have the content of the e-mail automatically displayed to you when the email is selected. To find instructions on how to turn this feature off, go to the Help menu and search for "preview pane".

Surf Carefully: Do not use your business computer to download entertainment music or videos. When surfing the Internet, browse only topics and websites of a reputable nature.

You've blocked all outside intruders, you've protected yourself against viruses that you unknowingly let in, and you can gracefully recover from any problems that cause you to lose your data. So our final recommendation is to use a "newer" well-built computer from a reputable company... but that is another article in and of itself :o)

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