Being "The Computer Guy"

This is a break from the usual developer oriented posts but I have been extremely busy lately with getting ready to launch StuntJuice in the next couple of days. I will do another posting on that later in the week. In a couple of minutes of downtime I churned out this post to just vent really. After removing more spyware in the last 2 months than most people do in a year. I’m happy to get through it with my sanity. I read this post at the DailyWTF and laughed so I figured I would share my experiences in a blog post.

Frequently, I receive exasperated phone calls about a computer malfunctioning or someone having a “trojan” as I am sure most of my tech oriented readers do as well. I thought it would be a good time to outline the methods I go through with each virus infected spyware computer that I come across in hopes in sharing methods and/or tools of destruction of these horrible excuses for computers.

Over the last couple of months the word got out at my girlfriends work that “I know computers”. They have known this for awhile but since Aidan has been born all of the office staff at her work bought him tons of clothes and baby stuff, and figured it would be a good time to ask for much needed help from “The Computer Guy”. I can’t say I blame them after seeing the state of some of the machines I repaired.

Let me start off first by saying that I very much dislike working with proprietary machines. Each manufacturer bundles a heap of junk software on every single machine and removing that software alone takes a couple of hours. I have found the absolute worst culprit of this is HP with Gateway in a close second place. Sony is not too bad but they still put junk on there all the same. Couple this with the fact that no one ever gives me the original disks that came with the computers so I can reinstall their OEM copy of windows if need be. I suppose asking for the disks that came with their computers is like asking someone where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

So over the last 2 months I have repaired about 7 machines. One of the machines she gave back again because I didn’t get everything off of it and she was still getting popup’s. At this point I have repeated the process below so many times I could do it in my sleep. If anyone please has improvements or other tools you find make this process go faster please let me know! There has got to be a better way =)

Here are the steps I usually take when getting a horrible machine in the door begging for help.

  1. Uninstall all of the bundled software that I know for a fact they don’t even use. I leave the software they might use till later so I can ask them if they actually use it or not. This is usually WordPerfect and the like.
  2. Depending on how bad the machine is at this point I will usually start by looking at the processes running and start killing them one by one through msconfig until I get the CPU and memory back to a manageable state.
  3. Once the processes are back under control I run all the windows updates. Amazingly a lot of these computers have NO windows updates. That’s right…NONE. I mean I can’t blame the user for this but the windows update stuff should be enabled by default. It’s horrible to see this. Some of the images from the computer manufacturers have got to be years old when the machines are only 1-2 years old. Definitely no excuse.
  4. With my handy 8gb thumb drive I install Avast! Antivirus, AdAware and SpySweeper. Avast runs really well and is 100% free. If they have Norton Antivirus or McAfee and their subscription is expired I just uninstall it. I find that Norton and McAfee are complete hogs and I just don’t even mess with them.
  5. By this point I have gotten all the viruses off with Avast and hopefully all the spyware. I make sure there is no add-ons installed in IE and make sure that IE7 is installed which should have been done at the end of the windows update process.
  6. I surf the web on the machine for a bit making sure there is no strange processes popping up or popup’s. If I am still having problems at this point and there is still spyware on the machine I usually call up the person and tell them I am going to wipe and reload the whole machine and if they want me to save anything off of it. I suppose I could try to get rid of the spyware remnants but usually at this point I just don’t care about their data that much. I know it’s horrible to say but I really dislike wrestling with spyware. They should be doing backups in the first place anyway’s =P

I have realized lately that spyware is the largest epidemic on the average user’s machine. We even have pieces of spyware popup on the school district machines where all our users and locked down very tight via group policy so I am amazed that these guys can find holes when windows is locked down as tight as we have it. This has got to be the most aggravating thing in the world for an average user that doesn’t know how to fix it and has to take the computer to a shop where they are charged hundreds of dollars for a process that takes a little over 2 hours. It’s highway robbery all around. All the machines I recently fixed I didn’t charge any of them a dime for. I felt bad for them and each one of the people bought my son a bunch of gifts for the baby shower. Two of the ladies insisted on giving me money and when I refused they bought me a Heineken Mini Keg and a case of Miller Lite. I told them that was better than cash =)

Anyone like to share their experiences? I know there has got to be a couple of good ones out there. =)

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About Sean Chambers

I am a Senior software developer from Palm Coast, Florida. An advocate of Domain Driven Design, Behavior Driven Development, creator of FluentMigrator and community activist. I am married to my beautiful wife Erin and am the proud father of two wonderful children. I currently reside at ACI, a local insurance industry/mortgage software company that excels in creating solutions using Agile methodologies.
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