Prevent the Headache of Lost Data at Home and Work
Better Back It Up
In the beginning, personal computers were big, bulky and built like cars. The user — a technically minded chap — could open one up with relative ease to perform simple maintenance or replace a component. But technology changes, and gone are the days when you could easily open up the hood and swap out motherboards. Computers have evolved into highly complex, multi-media tools that can fit in the palm of our hand. They store our photos, videos, music files and important documents. We can send email and text messages to anyone, anywhere. Wireless connectivity brings us the Internet like never before — the good, bad and the malicious.
Unfortunately, when something goes wrong — and hundreds of things can go wrong with modern computer systems — all that advanced technology tends to backfire. Users who aren’t as technically savvy or proficient with the engineering as the geniuses that designed and programmed the machine are at a distinct disadvantage when the thing stops working. So, what do you do when the dreaded “blue screen of death” pops up or some virus takes over your system? What do you do if you can’t access all those precious family photos and documents?
For starters, any computer user either at home or work, should make themselves familiar with the day-to-day working of their computer to discern possible issues, said James R. Nichols, owner of Your Quality Computer Service of Pensacola
“Signs of pausing, hesitating and freezing can indicate hardware issues,” Nichols said. “Changes in the home page of your web browser and unfamiliar icons on your desktop or task bar can often be signs of a malware infection.”
If you need to repair the hardware or recover lost data, the best thing to do is seek professional help.
“The rule of thumb is much like a vehicle. If it’s not running correctly and the problem is not going away, consult a professional,” Nichols said. “I have met many a new customer that has permanently lost data (and computers) because they did not take the time to have their computers checked when symptoms of hardware failure began.”
Jeff Danick, JWD Tech Inc., Niceville
If you’re concerned that there is a problem, it is time to call a trusted technology professional.
“Your first instinct will usually be the best one,” said Jeff Danick of JWD Tech Inc. of Niceville. “If a customer isn’t even comfortable with some of the basics, I’d never advise that they tackle tasks such as hardware repairs or data retrieval without a professional.”
Danick said that for home computers and business computers, it’s way better to never need a fix.
“Practice safe computing. Don’t open unexpected attachments, even from people you think you know. Avoid ‘free’ software when it’s not from a trusted company. They have to make money somehow,” he said. “Keep your data backed up. Try to have at least one backup on-site and one off-site, perhaps with one of the trusted ‘cloud’ services such as Carbonite or Mozy.”
An Ounce of Prevention
Nichols said he thinks every user — especially business users — should be trained and familiar with basic trouble-shooting, such as clearing the browser cache and power cycling (turning off and on) the equipment.
“However, the general rule would be to do the basic maintenance, clearing cache and temp files, defragmenting the hard drive and manually scanning with the installed anti-virus software,” he said.
CCleaner is a free program that makes clearing caches and temp files a breeze with nearly no concern for side effects, Nichols said. It can simply be installed and run without the need to configure. He also recommends Avast!, a free and excellent anti-virus/security suite. Also, checking and repairing disk permissions should be done just as often as on a Windows PC.
“Running a disk check is an often overlooked bit of maintenance that can save many a headache. Mac users should still run an antivirus on their computer despite the common myth of being virus-proof,” he said.
Backing up data is especially important for business owners, but remember the fundamentals as well. Use quality un-interruptible power supplies with voltage regulation and surge protectors. Restrict how your business systems are used, Danick said, because you don’t want someone checking their Facebook account on a system used as a point of sale. Frequently go back and review best practices with your users regarding passwords, email and downloading items off the Internet. Make use of the built-in security and privacy tools and settings available on Mac OS X or Windows. Make sure to keep your software updated for security updates.
“And did I mention backing up your data? I’ve been preaching the gospel of backup for 10 years,” he said. “Back when I was in school, up north, part of the job was maintaining three backup servers, so that lesson was one thing that stuck with me.”
That practice alone could be worth its weight in gold, especially in a state infamous for summer heat, thunderstorms and lightning strikes. Danick recounted a time he talked to a data recovery company, and the rep said they get more hard drives from the state of Florida than any other place.
“This seems to be due to the usual causes of drive failure: too much heat and electrical issues like lightning, surges and brownouts,” he said. “We seem to have more of that here in Florida. Here in our area it’s a tie between hardware failures (power supplies, hard drives) and systems being compromised by malware. Again, prevention is a far better approach.”
The alternative to not safeguarding hardware and making backups is not easy to swallow. Depending on what the customer wants recovered, recovery can generally cost in the hundreds to thousands of dollars.
“The price of not backing up is expensive. Our lives are on our computers,” Danick said. “We have photos, tax documents, IRS forms, you name it, and it’s not easily recreateable or replaceable. You might say, ‘Just give me my photos,’ and that might cost $800 to $1,100. Then, there is ‘I need everything,’ and that’s thousands. So backup is relatively cheap compared to that.”
Even if you decide it’s worth the money, there’s still no guarantee of success. That’s why he suggests that home users and business owners should subscribe to online backup “cloud” services. External hard drives are another option and run about $100, he said.
Businesses have other options for protecting their data systems. This could include having a full-time IT professional on staff or paying an outside company to keep tabs on things remotely. What service they opt for depends on the business, its size and any contractual requirements the business is involved with. A business may want to start out making use of a local professional, and keep track of hourly or daily costs and decide at some point in the future whether a service contract or hiring a full-time professional to work in-house is the right path to take, Danick said. Many businesses may require a local consultant or full-time employee, as well as a service contract with a software or hardware vendor.
“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” he said.
Fix It Yourself?
Modern computer engineering design makes it much more difficult (in some cases) for the home computer user to dabble in computer repair at home. And anytime you deal with something electrical there’s always the chance that something can go wrong, and you can wind up hurting your components, yourself or both. That’s why Danick strongly suggests caution for the would-be repairman.
First of all, a little knowledge can go a long way. Knowing how a computer works, and knowing how yours is supposed to work, is the best thing, he said.
“If you don’t have a foundation of how it’s supposed to work when it doesn’t have a problem, it’s hard to diagnosis and trouble-shoot and get to the nuts and bolts of repairs and data retrieval,” he said. “You really need to know how things are supposed to work. You don’t rebuild an engine without knowing the characteristics of how that engine is supposed to function.”
If you don’t have that knowledge, you can always join a local computer club, search the Internet or take a computer class at the local college. Northwest Florida State College in Niceville offers a computer class (as well as other enrichment studies) through its Prime Time program, and the Center for Lifelong Learning in Fort Walton Beach hosts a Computer Club to promote computer literacy.
Depending on the computer you’re working on you might find service manuals online, or specialist websites like Ifixit.com have a lot of demos and instructions on certain devices and sell some of the tools that are required. The right way of going about your own repair demands getting the right tools.
“You definitely need to focus on having the right tools for the right job, and that may involve spending a lot of money just to do one job on a computer,” Danick said. “An anti-static mat costs around $70–$100, and the tool kit might cost between $50–$70 and that’s just getting you to the point where you have the tools you need. You may also need lint-free gloves, suction cups and tools for removing glass. It depends on the device you’re working on. Always take antistatic precautions and have the right tools ahead of time.”