I’m going to let you in on the biggest IT secret, the one they all keep safely guarded and never let the public know about. It’s shocking, maybe even a bit disconcerting, but it’s the god’s honest truth.
When you have a problem, they Google it.
That’s right. The guy at Geek Squad? Googled it. The people you shipped your computer off to for 5 weeks? Googled it. Yes, these people have a lot of technical training that the layman doesn’t have, but their jobs ride on being able to fix anything, from the mundane problems to the massive ones, and they can’t remember or know EVERYTHING. So what do they do? They Google it.
The reason they can appear to know everything is because they know how to search for problems the right way. Searching for the term “computer won’t load” isn’t going to get you squat, and that’s why people pay IT techs to fix things. Instead, Googling “error loading operating system restart Windows 7 64 bit” will bring you to discussions where people have had very similar problems. It can take some fine-tuning, but to get the most accurate information (and the best chance of fixing something on your own), use as many search words as possible, and quote anything on the screen that seems important, ESPECIALLY if it has an Error 1234 or somesuch.
Don’t be afraid of words you don’t know–heck, I worked in IT for several years and still couldn’t tell you half of the words you’ll find–just follow directions as carefully as possible. If you don’t recognize something or don’t know how to open up something else, do another search. If you take 20 minutes to sit down and really dig, you’ll eventually find the answers you need.
**IMPORTANT NOTE: DO. NOT. DOWNLOAD. ANYTHING.**
While there is a lot of good information out there, there are also people who post links to software that will “solve” the problem you are having. Some of these are legit, but a lot are viruses and will cause more problems than they solve.
Googling is a great way to fix minor problems, especially ones for specific programs (like Microsoft Word, which to this day surprises me with the things that don’t make sense or go wrong for no apparent reason). It is NOT the way to fix hardware issues, though. Leave that to someone who knows their way around the inside of a computer or you can risk a) voiding your warranty or b) breaking something essential.
This article will not tell you how to fix all of your computer problems. I’m not a computer fairy here to grant wishes. This is to help YOU help YOURSELF. You don’t need to resort to buying help right away if you have a little patience and minimal knowledge of your computer. Below is a list of important things to know, a quick glossary of terms (mostly for Windows) that will significantly improve your chances of finding the information you want online and saving you the cost of calling the Geek Squad.
- Hardware: All the physical pieces of your computer, the inside bits that look like the parts in the picture above. DO NOT TOUCH THESE. The most you should ever do is unplug and plug back in your computer or plug in cables. If you have to open the case, you’re in “get professional help” territory.
- Software: All the programs on your computer, even the things working in the background.
- OS: Your operating system (Windows, Mac, etc.). It is important when searching for a problem to include your operating system in your search terms to weed through clutter. For instance, I am running Windows 7 64-bit. Don’t know exactly what your computer is running? Google “how to find my operating system” and include Windows or Mac, because you probably know at least that much.
- CMD: On Windows computers, you can open up the Command box, which can let you type in actions, like finding your IP address. Where is this magic box, you ask? Click your “Start” button, and in the little search bar, type “CMD” and hit enter. That’s it! This little box can solve a lot of problems.
- Run as Administrator: You’d be surprised how many programs won’t install or work if you don’t “run as administrator.” All this means is that you are giving your computer permission to bypass any arbitrary security measures it has set up. To activate this, just right-click on the icon for the program and click “run as administrator.” To make it a permanent decision (so you don’t have to do this every single time), right-click on the icon and click “properties” instead, and under “compatability,” you will find a checkbox for this. Click it, save, and you’re done.
- Viruses and Malware: These can be tricky, but there are a few really good, FREE programs out there that can clean up your computer for you. Malwarebytes is my personal favorite, and AVG is also good. These have paid versions, but the free ones do the job just as nicely. Macs may not get hit as hard with viruses, but if the recent attack on Apple headquarters is any indication, there is still need for Mac users to add a little security to their computers. It is important to have at least two different anti-virus programs on your computer, but don’t run them at the same time. When you do run an anti-virus program, follow the below instructions and you greatly increase the chances of fixing your computer.
- Update the anti-virus software.
- Run your computer in Safe Mode. To run it in safe mode, restart your computer and hit the F8 button repeatedly as it starts back up. You will get a screen with start-up options, and you want to use Safe Mode WITHOUT an internet connection.
- If you have an ethernet cable, unplug it from your computer. Turn off your wireless receiver. Make sure your computer is completely isolated from the internet since some really bad viruses can keep working if they have access online.
- Run one of the programs. Don’t do anything else with your computer. When it’s done, if it suggests things to delete or quarantine, do it. IF IT QUARANTINES SOMETHING, IT IS STILL ON YOUR COMPUTER. FIND THE QUARANTINE SECTION OF THE PROGRAM AND DELETE EVERYTHING IN IT.
- Run the second program the same way as above.
- Restart your computer and it will boot normally. Connect it to the internet again and run the programs again. If they are finding the same things they did in safe mode, you will most likely want to seek professional help at this point. Hopefully, though, you will be squeaky clean!