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Dated: Aug. 13, 2004
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By Alan Lubar
You're probably all too familiar with the term "self-inflicted computer disaster." This week, I'd like to discuss its first cousin, the self-assisted computer disaster, in which you get some unhelpful assistance on the road to perdition.
Just as we teach our children the difference between a "good touch" and a "bad touch," we need to teach PC users the difference between a good assist and a bad assist.
A good assist is help from a qualified computer expert to solve a real problem. A bad assist is help from a well intentioned friend to solve a problem that frequently doesn't even exist. Some bad assists are harmless, but some precipitate computer disasters.
My favorite cousin is a sucker for bad assists because he is such a nice, trusting guy. He often accepts technology advice without questioning its veracity and then calls me for help when the advice causes a problem or disaster. (I don't mind helping because he really is a great guy and, more importantly, he gets me discounts on auto parts.)
Last year, a friend convinced him to delete certain files from his computer because they were supposedly indicative of a virus infection. Of course, this turned out to be a virus hoax. I was able to help him reinstall the deleted files.
More recently, I received the following phone call:
"Alan, my computer is freezing up about 20 times a day and I have to reboot each time this happens."
I asked the obvious troubleshooting question: "Have you made any changes to your computer lately?"
"I installed Norton SystemWorks a few weeks ago," he answered.
"And how long have you been having this problem?"
"Ever since then," he replied, oblivious to the obvious.
"As I recall, you already had Norton Anti-Virus and ZoneAlarm installed on your computer. Why did you install Norton SystemWorks?"
"A friend of mine, an information technology instructor at a local college," he added for emphasis, "thought it would be a good idea to install it, and she did it for me."
(Did it to me, I was thinking at this point.)
"So let me get this straight," I said. "You weren't having any problems with your computer, you installed Norton SystemWorks for no apparent reason, and you immediately began experiencing major problems. I suggest that you uninstall it and see if that fixes your problem."
He did, and it solved the problem.
I don't mean to imply that Symantec's NSW (Norton SystemWorks) is a bad product and that every user who installs it is going to have problems. But even the best software can sometimes precipitate a disaster. NSW has been known to cause problems, some of which are documented on Symantec's Web site. For one thing, it must be installed with great care. Symantec's white paper, "How To Prepare Your Computer Before Installing SystemWorks," provides valuable assistance in this regard. My cousin's friend didn't follow these instructions, so it is very possible that the install was corrupted.
It is also possible that his computer just wasn't up to the task of running NSW. Symantec acknowledges this problem in its white paper, "Windows And Applications Run Slower Or Stop Responding After Installing Norton SystemWorks." Symantec notes that NSW includes many programs, and that "because you are actually installing many programs instead of one, it can be a strain on the system's resources." Symantec provides another white paper, "How To Configure Norton SystemWorks To Use Fewer System Resources," to address this problem.
Whatever the cause, the fact remains that my cousin had a stable, well protected system and he accepted a bad assist that created a major problem. He allowed a friend to install an application for no apparent reason, where the potential for pain far exceeded the potential for gain.
Beware of bad assists. If you are having a problem, get an assist from a qualified computer expert. This is easier said than done, as bad assists often come in the guise of a knowledgeable authority. (Remember that my cousin's friend was an information technology instructor.)
John Stockton and Magic Johnson might disagree, but not all assists are good. When it comes to computer assists, the Russian proverb that President Reagan used to quote applies: Trust, but verify.
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