Thanksgiving tech support survival kit (2013 edition)

Thanksgiving tech support survival kit (2013 edition)

Summary: Get some down time over Thanksgiving by preparing in advance for the inevitable 'Turkey Day' tech support requests deluge.

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I also find it handy to have a scanner that I can install and run to clean up any infected PCs I stumble across. For this I use VIPRE PC Rescue Program, which is a superb tool for on-the-fly malware removal.

Remember to check that all installed browsers are up-to-date (along with any add-ons).

Here are a few other things worth checking: Java | QuickTime | Flash

Another good security tip would be to determine which program is the default PDF reader on the system. If it's not an up-to-date version of Adobe Reader then I'd recommend uninstalling it and adding FoxIt Reader, a move that will make the system in question safer.

A great way to make sure that people keep up-to-date with patches is to install the Secunia PSI 3.0 scanner. This tool not only identifies programs that are insecure or in need of updating, but can also automatically update many of the commonly used applications.

Install this now, and next year you might actually get to watch the game next year.

Troubleshooting

My favorite portable troubleshooting utility is, and has been for years, the Ultimate Boot CD.

Ultimate Boot CD now allows you to run the .ISO disk image from a USB flash drive, which is more convenient and a lot easier to keep updated than a disc (although for older systems it's still wise to have a CD in your bag, just in case it won't boot from a USB drive). 

Freebies

It's also good to have a few freebies. After all, People love freebies.

I find that most people asking your for help are running on Internet Explorer (and maybe even an old version of the browser). Consider auto-updating versions of rival browsers, such as: Firefox | Opera | Google Chrome -- because security patches and fixes are automatically downloaded and installed without user intervention. 

Another great freebie (especially for those who don't have Microsoft Office) is the OpenOffice suite. If the PC is used by someone who wants to play with graphics, throw in Paint.NET as a fantastic basic (with advanced feature-set) image editor.

For any relatives who might have a new PC (that's more than likely stuffed full of 'crapware'), then PC Decrapifier is a handy tool to have nearby. However, if you want to give out real freebies, then small USB flash drives are both cheap and really handy. 

For those still "thinking about going to Windows 7 or Windows 8..."

I'm betting that a lot of the people you know are still running Windows XP, right? But unless your family and friends have been living in a cave on Mars with their fingers in their ears while humming show tunes, there's a good chance that they will have at least heard about Windows 7, or even Windows 8.

Chances are also good that you'll be asked questions such as, "will it run on my PC?" Well, be ready for them and grab the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor and the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. Both of these tools will help determine whether the next-generation operating systems will run on existing hardware, which may negate the need to buy a new computer for the December holiday season.

Hardware

You need to be packing hardware as well as software. I find that at minimum it's good to carry the following:

  • A #2 Phillips screwdriver (or a good multitool);
  • An anti-static wrist strap;
  • A few anti-static bags;
  • Some spare screws (drive screws and motherboard screws are especially handy);

Alternatively... just say no!

And engorge yourself on pumpkin pie and turkey slices instead. Do you think that this t-shirt from ThinkGeek is a fantastically passive-aggressive way to get the message across?

Have a good Turkey Day, folks -- oh, and try to have fun!

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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24 comments
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  • Your Secunia is out of date

    Version 3 has been out for a bit and goes a step further by installing those updates like Java and Flash in the background without user intervention. No more "It keeps popping up telling me it needs updating but I don't like to click on it" situations.
    keebaud@...
    • My most useful tool

      Another essential gadget I have is a write protected USB drive. It has a switch on the back meaning that I can update it when required but it will never get infected by a virus riddled system. They're hard to find but worth their weight in gold if you're looking at fixing more than one system.
      I've built mine using XBOOT and stuffed it with all the useful utilities I may need. I keep it read-only and use an external hard drive for any backups once I'm sure the system is clean.
      keebaud@...
      • Useful tool cont'd.

        I have just such a write-protected drive in my small Victorinox Swiss Army knife, which is handy to carry around. They also have "knives" with USB drives buth with scissors only instead of knifeblades, so thay can be carried on airplanes.
        Biotechguy
      • Easy way to write-protect USB

        Instead of a thumb drive, get an SD card and USB adapter. All the standard-sized cards (not micro) include a Lock tab. Lock it and then put it in the adapter.
        Rick_R
  • This sort of sounds like

    and advertisement for Chromebooks. Get them to buy one, leave all that trouble shooting HW at home and enjoy the holidays. :-)
    D.T.Long
    • Then you have to deal with other problems

      Things like it won't connect, I can't run Office, I can't run my games, my printer doesn't work: the usual things people buy computers for.
      DontUseGoogleAtAll!
  • Is OOo still a going concern?

    It's my understanding -- and I could be wrong -- that OpenOffice.Org is moribund under Apache because most of the developers forked the project over to www.libreoffice.org

    Certainly, Ubuntu doesn't use OOo -- they helped form Libre Office as soon as it became apparent exactly what Larry Ellison's intentions were. Larry Ellison is today's Bill Gates.
    nbahn
  • Secunia 2 vs 3

    My guess was that this was a deliberate choice. Check the Secunia forum (or just google) and you'll see that many people have had problems with version 3. I couldn't get it to run on either my Dell desktop or my HP laptop, and had to revert to version 2. Even if you can get version 3 to run, many people prefer version 2's more detailed reporting.
    waveparker
  • Security esentials

    Security essentials is bad anti-virus. Sure it doesn't bother the user, or pop up in your face much... but they have not taken care of it over the last year. They in fact recommend that you do not use it unless you know what you are doing.... most people who require tech support don't.
    SovereignTechnology
    • PC Pro wasn't being very accurate in their reporting

      Apparently PC Pro took some things out of context and added their own opinion and everyone else has run with their article. Microsoft has clarified their statements here:

      http://blogs.technet.com/b/mmpc/archive/2013/10/09/our-commitment-to-microsoft-antimalware.aspx

      Other's have taken a less extreme view of what was said:

      http://askleo.com/do-i-need-to-stop-using-microsoft-security-essentials/
      joshandrebekah
  • Thanksgiving tech support survival kit (2013 edition)

    Those are some good tools on the list especially ubcd. I always set things to autoupdate and rarely get asked about the computer.. I might go on their computer just to see how things are working and make sure they didn't change the settings.
    Loverock.Davidson
  • My tech day survival kit consists of four words

    "Do you use a Mac?"

    If the answer is "no," I respond: "Sorry, I'm a Mac user."

    Now, the truth is, I can fix most Windows problems. I just don't want to anymore.
    baggins_z
    • Sigh. Five words.

      Really need an edit button here.
      baggins_z
    • awesome solution

      classic!
      jcramner
  • More than just a service pack

    Any thoughts on apps such as WSUS Offline Update? If you've got the USB capacity then it certainly helps to supplement the Service Packs.
    keebaud@...
  • Ninite Software Updates

    another great tool for automatically updating common utilities is www.ninite.com you select all the apps you want tot keep up to date and it creates an installer package. After that run it once a week and it updates everything you selected.
    jcramner
  • Difficult question

    Be prepared to answer the question "Why is Windows 8 so horrible?"
    julians@...
  • My best copout

    Sorry, I work with Unix and Oracle. They wander away with the look on their faces that asks "I wonder what those things are?"
    I'll take 10 of those shirts please.
    NotMSUser
  • You're on XP? Ignore Win 8.

    Win 8 requires PAE and a few other things that almost no XP-era CPU's include. So realistically it's a waste of time even checking for Win 8 compatibility.

    On the other hand, if the machine isn't too old (pre-2005) it can probably run Win 7 IF it has at least 1GB RAM. I suggest a minimum of 2GB for decent speed most folks with an XP machine will find perfectly acceptable. (However, that would be DDR, which goes for about $35 per GB now. Their machine may have 512MB and 2 slots, so they're looking at $35-70 just for RAM. And, no, you REALLY can't find it cheaper.)
    Rick_R
    • One other thing about PAE

      By the way -- cute thing about Win 8 and PAE. It will do the ENTIRE install -- up to 90 minutes -- do the FINAL reboot and THEN crash with a cryptic "unsupported CPU" error code! Then it rolls everything back.
      Rick_R