By my calculations, about 96 percent of all computer repairs are done, not by the local computer guy or the Geek Squad, but by The Friend Who is Good With Computers. Often that friend is nothing more than an average computer user who knows how to look up error messages on Google, but it doesn't matter -- once they become known as TFWIGWC, they will get the call every time something goes wrong. And they will fix it, probably for free, because TFWIGWC pities you.
Still, any time a bunch of TFWIGWCs get together and share their computer repair horror stories, you learn that there are certain things their "customers" do that make them want to ram their head through a wall.
So, before I touch your computer, friend who may or may not do me a favor in return for this free repair job, here's what you should know:
This computer is yours. You know exactly who has used it. It is in its current condition without any outside interference, especially from me. I, on the other hand, am about to spend several hours of my own time trying to get it back into the condition it was in before you or someone you love screwed it up. So, two months down the line if I get a call from you, saying, "That program you installed messed up my computer." I will beat you until it causes hydrogen fusion. Or at least I will imagine myself doing it.
This is how it's gonna go down, chief.
See, the vast majority of the computers I fix are broken because of some bullshit the owner has installed, like Weatherbug, or some program that changes their cursor into an amusing animated kitten. Or, they've been playing some online flash game that just funnels in malware as fast as their connection and processor will allow. While fixing your computer I will explain all of this, and talk about how an entire industry of malicious free downloads thrives purely because so many Internet users are trusting souls like you. You believe all men are good at heart, especially on the Internet, so no amount of antivirus warning popups will convince you that the people distributing "Wild Bill's Poker Roundup" for free want anything but the best for you.
So, I go through and strip out the malware and toolbars and Trojans, then install protection like Malwarebytes or something like it to help block this type of deceptive shit in the future. Then, two months later, I get that call:
"Yeah, I don't know what you did to my computer when you were here but it's so slow now that I can mow the lawn waiting for it to check my email. I need you to undo whatever you did."
At this point I will drive over, again, imagining myself slamming the owner's dick in his own laptop. Five minutes after I arrive, this exchange will occur:
"Wait, where's Spybot? The program I told you to leave on there?"
"I uninstalled that. It was messing up my computer. It wouldn't let me play any of my games."
Yes, it was Spybot. Not the programs that I told you would cause the exact problems we're looking at right now, you impossible dipsh- "Wait, where's the antivirus?"
"Oh, I got rid of that, too. My cousin was downloading music, and it wasn't letting him open the files, so we had to get rid of it."
"Sure, sure. Now, this is going to seem like an odd request, but for this next step, I'm going to need you to take out your dick, and lay it on your laptop's keyboard."
"Wow, I didn't think it would take that long," you'll say as I'm into hour two, removing eight months' worth of stupid bullshit from your hard drive. "Is it going to take much longer?"
Yes. It's going to take much longer. Much, much, much longer. Probably. See, the thing is, I have no way of knowing how long it's going to take me to find the problem. That's why before I came over here, I canceled all of my plans for the rest of the day.
The only reason I'm not punching you in the neck right now is because I know this ignorance isn't your fault. Despite owning a computer and probably using one at work, much of your knowledge comes from Hollywood, and Hollywood hasn't got the slightest goddamn clue what they're talking about. In movies, everything from hacking the Pentagon to creating Kelly LeBrock can be done in one flurry of keystrokes.
Oh, that reminds me, we're going to need some bras.
In real life, the same symptoms could be the result of any of three billion different problems. Especially when the symptom is that the computer is "slow." Or when the thing you're complaining about only happens once every two days, and never when I'm around. If it's a result of the malicious software and other bullshit I was just talking about, remember that it's specifically designed to be hard to remove.
Half the time I'm going to wind up Googling for other people who've had the same problem, because none of the standard spyware removal tools will do it. Half the time, my search will take me to a message board and I'll find this:
Posted: 8.1.11, 10:24 PM
Subject: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: (Exact description of the same problem we're having)
Posted: 8.1.11, 10:36 PM
Subject: Re: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: (Request for more information, OS, HijackThis logs, etc)
Posted: 8.2.11, 8:15 AM
Subject: Re: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: Never mind, I fixed it.
Posted: 8.2.11, 8:29 AM
Subject: Re: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: Issue resolved. Thread locked.
OK, try it now.
You might notice me becoming steadily more frustrated as this process repeats itself eight or nine hundred more times. And you're making it worse by being the kid in the back seat who's constantly asking, "Are we there yet?!" I want to make it clear: I have no problem whatsoever bending you over my knee and spanking your ass until you shit blood. Go find a movie to watch, and I'll let you know when it's fixed.
The subject of who is to blame for your screwed up computer is sure to come up. There are a couple of reasons -- one, some people, usually douche bags, live in a world where everything is somebody's fault. The computer can't just break. Somebody has to have broken it. Nothing "just happens," right?
But other times it's just that whoever's computer I'm working on wants to make sure I know that they didn't screw it up. It's, "I told my son not to install that Firefox thing." Yes, Firefox broke your computer, not the 27 "free screensavers" websites that each came with their own toolbar, or the hundreds and hundreds of sketchy porn sites.
"Yeah, but you were shopping on eBay the other day!"
But the focus here should not be on blame -- I don't want to hear how stupid your wife is. It needs to be on repair and preventative action, so that we don't have to go through this again. And by "we" I mean "I." And, the thing is, there's a good chance you're not going to want to hear why your computer is actually in this condition. At least not from me. Let me talk to your son in private, and you'll be a much happier person. I've tried the direct route with parents before about their teenage son's porn use, and how he's not old enough to know to keep to the reputable porn sites, and it never, ever ends well.
"Bobby?! He wouldn't do that. He's a good kid."
"Yep. He's also a teenage boy with a volcano full of dick-related hormones that require an outlet."
"OK, what's the cup fo- OH MY GOD!"
"I know my son, and he wouldn't. Maybe a hacker did it."
"Yes. A hacker, out of the blue, decided to break into your computer and place temporary files onto the system in the hopes that a repairman would see them and then report them to you. Evil hackers have it in for your son, and this is by far the best way to do it."
But even that isn't as bad as when there is no kid involved at all. Then I have to figure out which spouse has the poop fetish. Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person can cause an instant rift in a marriage. But saying nothing at all means that the activity will continue the second I pull out of their driveway. And a month later, I'll be getting the blame for the computer's relapse. "You know, eBay sure does have a lot of popups for shemale porn sites these days."
"I just bought this game, and my computer won't run it. What's wrong?"
If your computer is more than five or six years old, the answer is most likely going to be: "You need to buy a new one." No, I can't upgrade it, you bought it at Wal-Mart and one reason you got it so cheap was that the motherboard has absolutely no place to add any components.
"Can't you just put more memory in it?"
That long blue slot is your RAM slot. Most new computers have four or more.
Nope. All of your RAM slots are filled. Replacing the motherboard with one that has room for more RAM creates a domino effect where everything other than your monitor, mouse and keyboard also has to be replaced. The hardware is obsolete, all of it, and it's not my fault.
"Yeah but even the stuff I used to do runs slower."
Yes, because you are using newer, updated versions of those programs and the people who make that software assume you are regularly upgrading your computer. Each version of Microsoft Office is going to be more of a hog on your computer's resources than the last one. Everybody makes their programs load on startup because they assume you have vast stores of RAM to keep it in. See those six rows of icons down by your computer clock?
"OK, so here's what we do: I sell my computer on eBay for a couple hundred bucks, and we buy the new system with that."
Not so fast, Johnny Mnemonic. Your setup wouldn't sell for a couple hundred bucks. It won't sell for 10 bucks. Remember that "obsolete" thing I mentioned earlier? That means that virtually nobody on the planet has any use for it. I don't care that you paid $1,000 for it 10 years ago. Right now, it's worth less than the shipping and handling fees it would take to deliver it to your customer. Computers degrade in value at roughly the same rate as bananas.
How about instead of me buying those from you, you pay me to haul them off.
No, it's not some huge scam on the part of the people who make computers and computer programs. And even if it is, I'm not in on it.
I've used the word "toolbars" several times, and you'll notice I use the word kind of like how you'd use the word "virus." Toolbars are little strips that get glued to the top of your browser, bearing some advertisement and a bunch of buttons that will probably take you to even more advertisements. When you downloaded that free program that rotates pictures of your children on your desktop while playing inspirational songs, way down in the Terms and Conditions it mentioned that the price of downloading that free program was that they got to stick a toolbar on your browser.
And when you download the next gadget, its toolbar will not replace the last one. It will glue itself to the other one, and the next will get stacked on top of it. Eventually it will look like this:
The first thing I'm going to do when I start poking around on your machine is open Internet Explorer and Firefox, and the number of toolbars I find there will tell me everything I need to know about the problems I'll be encountering and what caused them. And I'm going to uninstall them all.
But I bring this to your attention because from now on, when you download anything, pause for a moment while you're blindly and rapidly clicking "next" on each window that pops up, and look for the word "toolbar" on the list of things they're asking to cram onto your computer. Uncheck it if it will let you. If it won't, just bail out of the whole thing.
That "cancel" button is there for a reason. The program won't be offended.
Even if you don't mind viewing your Internet through a two-inch window at the bottom of your screen (maybe you like to pretend you're seeing the world through the slit of a knight's helmet or something), a lot of these are malicious programs that track everything you do and, at random, will boot you out to some site they control.
I'm also going to get rid of a lot of free programs that sounded really useful when you clicked on the banner ads offering them. Again, I don't want to lower your opinion of your fellow man, but "Registry Cleaner 5000" was, in fact, not cleaning your registry, it was spawning fake warnings to make you go download more bullshit. Weatherbug will, in fact, tell you the temperature, while it's spawning popup ads on your system. But there are other ways to get that information.
Worse has come to worst. I get to your place, and your PC is so screwed that it won't even boot -- not even in Safe Mode. Maybe you have a boot sector virus or maybe some key files got corrupted, but one way or the other, our only troubleshooting option left is start over and do a clean install of your operating system. With an exasperated sigh, you tell me, "Yeah, fine, just wipe it and start from scratch." I ask if you're sure because that means you're about to lose everything, since you did not keep backups. You say you know. You just want to start over.
Several hours later, all of the drivers are installed. Windows is up to date. You have a new antivirus. Your system is smoking fast (well, compared to what it was). You can actually see a whole screen's worth of Internet in your browser. It's like new again.
You sit down, open up your browser and ask in horror, "Where's my email? And all of my music?! And my pictures?!"
You just told me to wipe it. Did you not know what that means? Because when I said "lose everything," I didn't mean, "lose just the bad stuff." I meant every motherfucking thing. In some cases, this is a breakdown in communication. The person has heard a "computer guy" use the term "wipe" before, and they're just repeating it. Trying to connect with you by using terms you're familiar with -- even if they're not. "Yeah, 'wipe,' like when you're cleaning a window, right? You wipe it off?"
Or, they figure I couldn't have wiped everything because, look, Windows is still there. Hey, maybe that other stuff is still hiding somewhere, too!
No, Swordfish, you didn't keep any of that important stuff on any kind of a backup drive, you kept it all on the exact same bit of hardware you have been dragging through a shit gauntlet of adware, spyware and Trojans. So, you're starting from scratch. Think of it as a second chance. A fresh start; to clean up all off those bad habits, and to treat your computer like the crucial yet fragile tool that it is.
See you again in about three months.
For more on computers, check out 7 Reasons Computer Glitches Won't Go Away (Ever) and The 10 Most Baffling Computer Gadgets Money Can Buy.