The holidays are a great reason to break bread and spend quality time with family and friends. If you've come to be known as the techie in the group, though, the holidays are also a time when people may come to you for advice.
Almost every computer-literate person has to brace himself or herself for the question: "Hey, can you take a look at my computer?"
The issue isn't that you don't want to help your loved ones, it's just that the issues are often more complex than they seem. To help get your troubleshooting started off on the right foot, here five quick tips that you can use as a launching point for figuring out what's wrong.
1. Clear the cache and cookies
Nowadays, most computing is done on the internet. So, when people complain about their computer being slow, what they really mean is that their favorite webpage isn't loading quickly enough, or they cannot access their email.
An easy first step to remedy this is to clear the cache and cookies. As a reminder, the cache is basically temporary storage for files that relate to loading a given website, and cookies are bits of information about how you interact with specific websites.
The process for clearing the cache and cookies will be different for each browser, but it often is nested under "settings," "preferences," or "history." Just remember to check if the user has any saved passwords before clearing the cookies, as it will often clear those out.
2. Remove spyware and malware
Does your uncle incessantly click on pop-ups and fake emails telling him that he won a million dollars? If so, he likely has some form of malware or spyware that is affecting his computer's performance. There are a plethora of tools available to help you remove malware, many of which offer a free version. However, a nice gift might be to purchase a premium product and set it up on their computer for them.
Here are some additional articles that could help you remove malware and spyware:
- How to remove pesky malware from your PC with Windows Defender Offline
- Five portable antivirus and antimalware tools to carry with you at all times
- 10 ways to detect computer malware
3. Look for the RAM hogs
If the speed issues are local, there could be applications and programs that are using too much memory. Check your Activity Monitor for Mac, or Task Manager for Windows to see how much memory each program is using.
One of the key ways to make sure these RAM hogs aren't causing regular problems for your user is to make sure they aren't booting at the start up. Both Windows (Startup) and Macs (Startup Items) have a folder that includes the applications that will launch at startup, and subsequently will run in the background. Make sure that there are no unnecessary programs in this folder.
4. Uninstall programs and apps
As many in IT know, simply deleting an application doesn't remove it from your device. Instead, you'll need to manually uninstall applications to get rid of them for good. In Windows, this can be accomplished from the Start button under the Control Panel, clicking on a program and selecting uninstall. On a Mac, however, you'll need a third-party application (ironic, isn't it), like AppCleaner.
While you're at it, make sure to empty the recycle bin and get rid of any files that the users doesn't use on a daily basis. While it may take a long time to go through batches of photo or video, it may save you a headache in the future.
5. DEFCON 5: Reinstall the OS
If all else fails, it may be time to reinstall the OS. This is a serious step, but it often leads to a much better user experience and can take care of a multitude of problems at once. Just be sure to back up everything the user needs in a couple different places before pursuing this option.
These articles may provide some additional assistance in reinstalling the OS:
- 10 things you should do before, during, and after reinstalling Windows
- How to create a bootable USB installer for macOS Sierra
- Windows 10: Will you lose your free upgrade if you reinstall?
What are your thoughts?
Do you have any other tips that techies should know before assisting their friends and family? Any family tech support horror stories? Share them both in the comments below.
- 10 good reasons not to provide free tech support (TechRepublic)
- Here's how fake telephone tech support scams work (ZDNet)
- Firefox gains serious speed and reliability and loses some bloat (TechRepublic)
- Tech support scams evolve, borrow tricks from ransomware creators (ZDNet)
- Power checklist: Troubleshooting hard drive failures (Tech Pro Research)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.