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

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

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

TOPICS: Hardware

According to, 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, 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.

Topic: Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • Several years ago I took the position I would no longer

    offer any assistance with windows PC. Friends and family looking for support would have to move to the Mac (preferably with Linksys router, specific ISP, Samsung MFP).

    Apart from the odd hardware failure (typically HDD) the only calls I continue to receive are those who decided, against my advice, to stick with windows. They don't get any support. Life is again good.
    Richard Flude
    • Tough problems require tough measures

      Why do people (even if relatives) think they have the right to go against the advice you give them by sticking with windows and then ruin your week-end fixing their windows machine?

      That's abuse, just say NO, people must learn to live with the consequences of their poor judgment.
      OS Reload
    • I'm sure you did, Richard

      Though I found an easier way

      I have managed to move most or my relqatives to Windows 7, and to be totally honest, not a tech issue to deal with. I even convinced a few to stay away from Macs, which made life simply a pleasure because now I don't have to tell them, "go to an Apple store because you're dealing with Macs now, the most locked down system you can buy.
      • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

        @Pliny the Elder. You really know how to chum the waters, Pliny! Grin.<br><br>Sent from my iPad while watching the final Lost episode. By the way, it will be revealed that Jacob used a white iMac while The Man In Black used a black Dell desktop PC ... Or maybe not!<br>Regards to all Losties, <br>Mike
      • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

        @Pliny the Elder
        Please post a list of "ways the mac is locked down."
  • Re: MIL and Ubuntu

    You'll have to remember to disable 'sudo' on whatever computer he uses.
    • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.


      Just remove his account from the sudoers list.
      • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.


        Um, or never put it there in the first place?
  • Easier ways to kill yourself

    I know, since I've been doing these kinds of thankless tasks for roughly 20 years now. At least I get paid for my troubles, outside of family. Not everyone does.<br><br>You would have thought the pre plug and pray days were living hell by comparison. Think again.<br><br>Most have <b>-NO-</b> idea how good the Maytag Repairman had it. <img border="0" src=""> Trust me.
  • Karma!

    Your FIL is just acting out on the grudge he is holding from you winning all the arguments over the years.

    I'm not saying he's trying to break things, just that I'm pretty sure he doesn't mind the inconvenience he's causing when his tinkering goes South.
  • Remind me again

    Why you don't just set up the operating system (whichever) as a client VM? At least that way you could reset to a reliable good state in no time (and probably by remote.)
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

      @Yagotta B. Kidding Tough to do on a 2GB ram laptop.
      • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

        @jperlow I suggest putting him on ChromeOS the moment it comes out. Signed top to bottom. Self-healing. Tell him "You don't need anything but the web" and be done with it.
      • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

        Better idea. 2 hdds. One small one for OS, drivers, programs, the other larger one for data. Works brilliantly. :P And image the OS when you install it, the drivers, update, etc.

        Then when it dies, you just format the OS drive, "install" the image, do minor updates and done.

        Reinstalling the entire OS, updating drivers from scratch.. It gets old after a while. -.-
  • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

    Jason, can we play what if for a moment? I have a MacBook with an external HD used in conjunction with Apple's Time Machine automatic backup app. I feel fairly confident that if I hosed my MacBook HD, I could replace my HD contents (either with a new HD or a reinstall) in short order.<br><br>Does Win7 have something as easy as Time Machine? (I really don't know) or is this Apple feature something Linux has and could be used by you in the future?<br>Mike
    • Sure, if you buy a Windows Home Server

      @kenosha7777: But personally I got that off of the marketing material, how it works is beyond me. Never bought a Windows Home Server, so how the process works I haven't clue.
      • RE: MFD Printers are Hell, and so is Family PC Tech Support.

        @JM1981 And @ye. Thanks, guys. I have friends and relatives that use Windows. I'll pass your recommendations on to them.
    • I would recommend Windows Home Server

      For a little bit more than the cost of an external hard disk Windows Home Server (WHS) offers a simple and reliable backup solution. With it he could have performed a file or image restore of his parents systems.

      Because I use WHS I am not familiar with Windows 7's built in backup tool. However I believe it offers a good backup solution.
      • Indeed...

        Seems to me, if I recall correctly, you can set up WHS to do a bare metal restore - meaning you can restore the computer to the exact state it was before it went belly up - to a clean hard drive in short order.

        But there in lies the rub... What if whatever corruption that was introduced into the system got restored as well?
      • There's no set up required.

        @Wolfie2K3: [i]Seems to me, if I recall correctly, you can set up WHS to do a bare metal restore...[/i]

        It's something you can do from a default install.

        [i]But there in lies the rub... What if whatever corruption that was introduced into the system got restored as well?[/i]

        The nice thing about WHS is you don't have to decide up front. You make the decision at the time you want to do the restore:

        You can rebuild the system using OS media, install the WHS connector, and restore the individual folders / files you want.

        You can boot from the recovery CD (which is essentially the same as the Windows 7 recovery CD) which will locate the WHS server and provide you a list of the same backups. Any of the backups on the WHS server can be used as the bare metal restore point.

        WHS is a great backup solution. I highly recommend it for home / small business use.