MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

Summary:According to TheOatMeal.com, Printers were sent from Hell to Make Us Miserable. I'll raise him one -- so is doing PC tech support for your family.

According to TheOatMeal.com, Printers were sent from Hell to Make Us Miserable. I'll raise him one -- so is doing routine PC tech support for your family.

Recently a popular web cartoonist, Matthew Inman, who posts at his site TheOatMeal.com, released a funny "Printers were Sent from Hell" cartoon which echoes many of my thoughts about modern printers.

I share his hatred for modern PC printers, because they've become so much more complicated than they used to be. Inman's cartoon is funny, only because so much of it is true. But it's not just printers that suck, it's doing PC support for your family that sucks, period.

Some of my most popular articles on Tech Broiler have been about experiences dealing with my In-Laws.

My Mother-in-Law is actually a very competent and careful computing user, so supporting her is actually not much of a problem in and of itself. She has a few special needs, such as the ability to log into her Real Estate Multiple Listings Service (MLS) over a browser connection and also has to be able to scan and print from a Multifunction Printing Device (MFD).

Things definitely improved when I moved her from Windows Vista to Windows 7, and after exchanging her awful Hewlett-Packard MFD for an Epson Workforce 600.

At least I thought they improved. She was fine for about a year. No problems, just the occasional "How do I do this" question. No biggie. No need for 3 to 4 hour visits doing OS refreshes, patching, problem resolution, et cetera.

So last week I get a call from my Mother In Law. It was bad.

Mom: "So, I let your (74-year old) Father-in-Law on my business laptop in my office because he was upstairs and didn't want to go downstairs and use his computer. And now my account is locked out, and I can only log on as him, and the printer isn't working anymore, I can't see the icon for it when I choose Print."

I went through the usual remote diagnostics. Her Windows 7 account, which had Administrator equivalency, was locked out. Obviously, she let my Father-in-Law on as her account, and he somehow managed to mangle everything. The main Administrator account was locked out as well. This was not good.

Me: "Sh17! I'm going to have to come over and fix it. There's nothing I can do remotely."

I believe there are certain types of people which should never be let near a Windows computer, or probably ANY kind of computer or technological device. It's almost as if they are emanating some mystical energy force that manages to break things.

They have an impressive ability to essentially destroy a perfectly working system by virtue of their computing habits alone, refuse to listen when you tell them not to do certain things, and refuse to remember how to do things properly when they ask you how to do them. They don't read the docs and they have no intention of ever reading them, because YOU are around to baby them every time they need it.

You may have told them 100 times over the course of 10 years how to attach a file in an email, or how to copy a file from one directory to another, but you always keep having to tell them these same basic things, over and over again. They simply refuse to learn.

Of course, despite the fact they remain utterly dependent on you for PC help, they naturally think they know better than you, and they've always done things their way, and they're not about to start listening to you now either.

My 74 year-old Father-in-Law, a former securities trader and chemical engineer, is one of those people. And as he gets older, his computer-destroying powers increase in strength. Kind of like a Jewish computer-killing Yoda, where his computer-destroying Midi-chlorian count is now at its apex.

I'm happy to say that he's finally achieved Grand Master Computer Killing Sith Lord status.

When I got there on Saturday morning I literally tried everything to bring this Windows 7 laptop back from the dead. F8 on bootup to restore to previous state yielded no improvement. Auto-repair yielded no improvement. Not looking good.

I had also forgotten to create a Password reset USB key when I made my initial visit to the machine about two years ago after weeks after my Mother-in-Law received it from Lenovo. An unfortunate oversight on my part, but I had never expected her Administrator account to be completely locked out either.

If there were other known methods of recovering the Administrator account I didn't feel like researching them at the time, because I knew that it would probably only take me two to three hours to offload her essential data stored in her locked out user profile, re-format the hard disk and re-install Windows 7 with her important programs. And if the computer was this messed up after two years of use, it probably needed a refresh.

Armed with a System Rescue USB stick I had prepared the night before, I booted into a Linux recovery environment, mounted the NTFS partitions, and copied all her data from her profile and other key directories out to an external USB drive. That took a whole 30 minutes.

Then I did a complete re-format of the system and re-installed Windows. Another hour.

Then I brought the system up to current patch levels and installed all her laptop support drivers from Lenovo. Another hour.

Then I installed her Epson printer drivers. Fortunately, the unit was wireless and was already joined to the WPA2 network, but it was still annoying. I'll have to give it to Epson though, their driver package was only 50MB, not the hundreds of megabytes I've seen from other vendors. This process of downloading the driver, installing it, and making sure everything was working took another 20 minutes.

Re-installing all of her apps, anti-malware programs, and setting up customized desktop icons, et cetera? Another hour.

Total time commitment to getting Mom's computer back to the way it was before? Four Hours. Four hours I will never, ever get back. This time, I created a new "Administrator2" account with a password only I knew, and set Mom's account to be a regular user.

Also Read: On Windows Blogging and Technical Competence

And while I've instructed my Mother-in-Law to ban Lord Bob, the PC Destroyer of the Sith from her business laptop, If my Father-in-Law ever touches that machine again and attempts to get elevated privileges, he's blocked.

My Father-in-Law, who is getting increasingly cranky and obstinate in his later years, claims to have "Done nothing" to mom's PC. Right. This is the same guy who's PC gets continually screwed up several times a year, despite every attempt of mine to secure his system.

Maybe Apple is right. Maybe people like these really do need to Get a Mac. But I bet he'd figure out how to mess one of those up too. I can't blame Windows for pure user stupidity and self-destructive behavior.

What people like my Father-in-Law need are appliances, like the iPad. Hell, I'd buy my Father-in-Law an iPad for $500.00 for Father's Day just to not have to deal with his issues anymore, except that the screen is too small and he'd probably drop it face down on solid concrete and shatter it into a million pieces.

What my Father-in-law really needs is a desktop or a laptop version of an iPad, with a real keyboard and a bigger screen and a mouse. A totally locked-down environment that just plain works.

I believe such a thing will exist in a few years, but it doesn't exist today. Could I give him Ubuntu Linux in the time being? I might, the next time someone goes wrong with his Windows 7 laptop. It was tried before, and it worked, a few years ago, at least for the six months in which that system lived before it literally burned out and had to be replaced.

As I said, he kills things. But I'm not sure even Ubuntu is user-friendly enough or resilient enough for him yet, or if he'll be able to use it by the time it's ready.

And yes, I considered migrating my Mother-in-Law to Linux, she could theoretically do it, as I tested her MLS in Chrome and it works perfectly.

Her Epson Workforce 600 mostly works on Ubuntu out of the box -- indeed, you can print to it with the Open Printer drivers in Ubuntu 10.04. I have the very same MFD at home, and as a Linux LPD device, it works just fine.

However, the network scanner capability of that MFD appears not to work at all, at least not without a proprietary software program called VueScan from some boutique software outfit known as Hamrick. Yeah, well I'm not shelling out 40 bucks for what amounts to a 'friggin driver.

As Inman says, Printers are Hell. But family tech support is much, much worse. Have you killed a few hours recently cleaning up after a PC mess created by a family member? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.