Five tips for preventing user screw-ups

You can make your own job easier -- and help your users stay productive -- by preempting some common mistakes. Jack Wallen outlines several good ways to keep your users out of trouble.

Let's face it, every one screws up. From the uppermost IT manager to the most inexperienced end user, no one is immune from making mistakes. But there are certainly ways of preventing some of them from happening. Here are some of the best measures you can take to keep your users from fubaring their systems.

1: Schedule tasks

You wouldn't believe how much scheduling various tasks can help prevent issues. The tasks you should definitely schedule are:

  • Virus definition updates
  • Virus scans
  • Malware definition updates
  • Malware scans
  • Defragmenting
  • Disk cleanup
  • Data backup

And just to be on the paranoid side, you should schedule all end users to change their password every 30 days. Scheduling these tasks eliminates the risk of users overlooking them and leaving their PCs vulnerable to various issues.

2: Keep a tight rein on permissions

Unless you can think of a solid reason to make an end user a local administrator, don't. I understand this can be a real hassle in certain situations. And particular applications might require local admin rights just to run. But unless it is absolutely necessary... it is not at all necessary. The less your end users CAN do, the less they WILL do. The biggest issue with this setup is that you will come off with some serious control issues. But in the interest of cost cutting and/or sanity saving, keeping your end users from running tasks that should be run by an administrator can be a big help. Be warned: This will cause you a lot of running to and from offices entering admin credentials. To that end, make sure you can remote into those end-user machines quickly.

3: Preempt password resets

This one might seem overly elementary, and you will certainly think that it is not your responsibility. However... Keep an encrypted spreadsheet (or encrypted text file) with updated user passwords. Why? Your users ARE going to forget their passwords. You can count on it. Instead of your having to go back to the Active Directory user manager and reset their passwords, just keep an updated file with all the passwords in it. That way, all you have to do is a quick lookup. Just remember to encrypt that file so only you can see it.

4: Don't sacrifice security for usability

As annoying as Windows 7's UAC is, it is not without purpose. In fact, that annoying feature is an integral part of the Windows 7 security mechanism. Many people disable UAC to get around that bothersome popup. That might be fine on an admin's machine (not a server, of course). But with end users, who will be trying to download and install the strangest, must unsafe tools imaginable, you do not want this happening without some warnings being passed to them. With Windows Vista, UAC was nothing more than a serious annoyance. Windows 7 has gone a long way to actually make the UAC useful. So do not disable this feature.

5: Provide some basic training

Don't just throw your end users to the wolves without a little preparation. You can teach them a few simple things that will help you in the long run. For example, most techs take for granted what does what on a computer. But how many times have you told users to open up a browser, and they had no idea what you were talking about? Teach them what a browser is, what office tools to do what, what Outlook can do, what keyboard shortcuts are, etc. And don't even presume to think that an end user knows what it means to safely turn off a computer. You tell some users to shut down their computer and they will simply reach for that power button. And just like that, you have possible data loss on your hands. Make sure all of your end users know the proper way to shut off their machine. This is especially true for your mobile users.

Additional resources

Wow, five quick and easy tips to help you help your end users from screwing up. Of course, these five tips won't completely prevent end users from messing up your machines. But the more steps you have taken on the front end, the better your chances of averting quite a few typical mistakes.

Here's some further reading on the subject of avoiding preventable problems:

10 dumb things users do that can mess up their computers

The 10 most important things to teach your users

10 habits of superstitious users

10 common user questions - and some analogies that help clear things up

Providing the right kind of help

More preemptive measures?

What do you do to prevent user issues? Do you have a checklist of items you go through with each new user? Share your ideas and thoughts with your fellow TechRepublic members.

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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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