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As a developer, I'm always asked this by friends, family, family members of friends, friends of family members, friends who are in families of friends, and enemies. Because you know, I'm the guy that "does computers."

But I'm a Mac user, haven't done much on a PC of my own in years (I am proud to say I've never even used Windows Vista for a moment in my life), and don't remember what I used to do back then - nor do I care to try to.

So when people that don't understand this ask me what to do, what should I say to them? Right now it's "sorry, I'm way out of that world, if you had a Mac I could help you with that but then again if you were using one we probably wouldn't be having this conversation to begin with. Anyway, all I can really recommend is taking it to Best Buy's Geek Squad."

That's my quick way of trying to get rid of them while at the same time trying to steer them to somebody who can better assist them. Is there a better stock answer to give?

I'm looking for either a better place to send them or maybe a couple of pieces of software to recommend trying.

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"I am proud to say I've never even used Windows Vista for a moment in my life" I hate fanboys –  Drake Jul 21 '09 at 15:01
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If someone's car breaks down do you also recommend they go out a buy a different make? –  Travis Aug 4 '09 at 20:23
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17 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Be honest, just tell them "I don't know, I use a Mac"

then look at them with fond pity until they slink away

Addendum: your question asked for some software or something to help them, but you really shouldn't - otherwise their problems will become your problems, i.e. "That software you recommended didn't work, now what should I do?". Better not to get involved. Think of it as "tough love" ;-)

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Microsoft is now sending people to http://safety.live.com/ that are having virus, malware and spyware issues. It is a tool to scan and clean your system from Microsoft so they don't have to worry about choosing a version or getting up-sold.

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Tell them it takes AGES to do a really good clean up but it's easy if they follow exactly the instructions given at this link. Remind them that they must not forget to turn off system restore and then turn it on again at the end of the process. These instructions have always worked for me. Remind them that they have to clean their computer regularly to avoid major problems. Then turn them on to linux!!!! http://www.computerbob.com/guests/how%5Fto%5Fclean%5Fcomputer.php

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Look up the answer in Google.

I don't know how to remove a nasty virus, but I do know how to find the information to remove a nasty virus. A lot of people don't know where to look to find the information. Once you find the solution, point it out to them and tell them to follow the directions. Frankly, following the directions is all that I would be able to do.

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Tell them to go to superuser.com and ask their questions there ;-)

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A quick way of making people stop asking you for free IT helpdesk is by making them think twice before asking you again.

  • Everyone has their favorite way of going about this, but I will leave here the easiest example of all: adult material related embarrassement:

    • tell them how you have to delete all of their pr0n to make the virus go away..

    If they ask "what pr0n?" smile and slowly follow the steps to open IE/Firefox history folder

    • Better yet, give details on how "once" you found some really weird stuff on one of your friend's machine (murmuring clown midgets in good timing helps) you can also add that most people don't even know they have that kind of stuff until you go fix it..

    • Help them once and leave with the warning that its the adult content websites that spread the viruses online.

All of the above examples worked with people I know.. (Worked on my machine**TM** variant)

The topic could be something more family-show friendly also.. but shock and awe is the best approach here.

Try it

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Of course some people like midget clowns... of course rule 34 (xkcd.com/305) is on your side here. –  RBerteig Jul 21 '09 at 7:38
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If inclined to be at least somewhat helpful, be sure to ask about the age of the computer.

There's nothing quite like spending 30 or 40 hours failing to be able to chase the last vestiges of virii, adware and spyware off a six year old machine, giving up, reinstalling Windows and all of their applications to give you a sense of accomplishment.... and them a six year old machine.

Since $350 or so buys a perfectly usable brand-spanking-new nettop that might actually outperform a six year old machine... let them do the math from there.

If its a gamer who's been going too far down the overclocking garden path then your probably better off staying out of it aside from gentle advice to avoid the seedy cheat codes and warez sites.

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I love how some people have immediately tried to turn this into a Mac v PC thing.

Back to reality, why not just tell them you're a software developer, not a computer support technician.

As an analogy you could say: "Asking me to fix a computer is like asking a writer of a novel to fix a printing press".

I find it amusing how many developers think technical support work is so easy that anyone could do it.

They want everyone to bow down to their mastery of everything computer related, but when it comes to proving it, it's all too hard.

From direct experience, most developers are useless technical support people and give good support people a bad name.

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My friend, I provide computer support for a living, let me assure you, they do! Yes, Macs currently seem to be more stable/secure then Windows, but anyone who says they don't have any problems is speaking $#@%@. –  Ash Jul 21 '09 at 23:33
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The flip answer "no, I would not like to fix your computer" can be appropriate sometimes.

I usually follow up with "I don't know either, when I have a problem like that I ask my windows group for help."

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I have this problem a lot, and I'm a Windows guy. The fact is, even if you have the skills to fix someone's virus-laden computer, you probably don't have the many, many hours it can take to get them back to a workable state. Even then, there's always the follow-up question of, "How do I make it go faster?" expecting you'll find a way to make XP work fast on a system with 256MB of RAM or something. You can only walk on water so many times per day. I used to get burn-out trying to be tech support for so many people.

I ended up just saying a flat-out "No." I'm not trying to be rude or selfish. I'm just being realistic. It was awkward at first, but I'm now able to enjoy my weeknights again. This is what the manufacturer's tech support is for anyway. Now I know that manufacturer tech support is about as helpful as water on a grease fire, but you have to stick to your guns. And remind them that maybe they should fork over some money and buy good anti-virus.

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I once asked my brother-in-law who has a landscape business if he would come to my house to figure out how to get rid of the brown spots in my lawn if I "fixed" his PC. Now he doesn't ask any more. Stole the idea from Dilbert, but it worked! –  BillN Jul 21 '09 at 4:29
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When they ask if you can fix their computers.

Say "No, but if you find someone who can, will you let me know".

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I've moved family and some friends to linux. Never worry about viruses again, ever.

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I always give a try to "System Restore"

Start Menu/Accesories/System Tools/System Restore.

Of course it must be executed in the following couple of days after the virus is detected ( when the computer start doing funny thing [beyond normal windows behavior of course]) And not 4 months later.

Modern viruses attack system restore though.

If that doesn't work just tell them: Format your PC ( or switch to mac )

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To get away from dealing with Windows altogether, I download and burn a copy of the Avira rescue disk and get them to boot from that. It loads up a Linux OS to run a virus scan without having any problems with locked files etc.

(Some other anti-virus boot disk downloads listed here)

Then get them to install a decent free virus scanner (try here for recommendations).

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Be honest and tell them,

"that whilst you are confident with computers, you are not an expert when it comes to PC's. As the machine has a virus the only thing you can recommend is that the wipe everything and restart from scratch. Other than that they might get better help with someone who lives eats and breathes PC's."

That should do it.

or

Tell them to go to the buymore, and the nerd herd desk and ask for Chuck.

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+1 for the 'Chuck' reference! –  JFV Jul 20 '09 at 23:42
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Don't tell them to wipe everything. That's rarely necessary, and if they already think your the computer person they're likely to follow the first suggestion! –  Annath Jul 21 '09 at 2:12
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Send them to free.avg.com, tell them to download, install and run.

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Tell them:

Go to securitytango.com. Follow the instructions to the letter. Don't skip a step. Do it twice. Every week.

Telling them "When you get tired of that, buy a Mac or install Linux" is optional.

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