Many years ago I owned and operated a motorcycle repair shop that specialized in repairing and updating Triumph motorcycles. It was a fairly profitable endeavor, however, I leaned a real-life lesson while trying to fit after-market parts not purchased from Triumph; if it goes right on and does not require any modification, you probably have it on wrong or you bought the wrong part.

I use the same logic, many times, when dealing with computers. If you buy something and assume it is going to load right up and you will be happily computing in a matter of a few minutes, you need to rethink that position. Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft and Apple do a fantastic job of creating operating systems that are compatible with most programs and cause very few error messages once the software has been loaded and has integrated with all the other programs, but sometimes they just need some help.

Such is the case with a customer I spoke with recently. She had a Windows 8 laptop her daughter bought her and she was having a heck of a time getting it to do what she wanted it to do. She is an average computer user and uses mostly email, some Web surfing and a golf GPS system. Windows 8 is a pretty tough operating system to learn if you do not have a touch screen, which she does not and she was ready to stop using her laptop altogether because of the frustration.

I told her that many people were experiencing the same frustrations she was but that didn’t seem to help, so I suggested that we see if we could remove Windows 8 and install Windows 7 since it is a much easier operating system to use and very similar to Windows XP. In a class this customer was attending that, hopefully, would improve her computer skills, she told her instructor the story and her instructor said, “That seems to be going backwards, doesn’t it?” Apparently her instructor had never worked on Triumph motorcycles.

The point I am trying to make is that if something is not working for you, there are alternatives. This customer was about to stop using her laptop completely because she could not get used to Windows 8. I offered an alternative, which may have seemed to some to be going backwards, but it would have been a positive experience for her since she could have used her laptop more easily.

On another note, I was asked last week if a computer that had a virus could be repaired or if it just had to be replaced. To me this was a simple question, but if one person asked it there must be more who do not know. Any computer can be returned to an “Out of the Box” condition provided the hardware (hard drive, RAM, DVD player, power supply, etc.) has not failed and the recovery partition and/or recovery disks are available. When the operating system is erased and the hard drive formatted, all data is erased including the virus. This also erases all of your pictures, music, documents, etc., so be careful if you decide to do this to your computer.

This action is actually a last resort for me when I am repairing a computer. True, it is the easiest, fastest and most sure-fire way of fixing an issue, but if personal data is not saved it is lost forever and that is never a good thing. I prefer to spend a little more time and diagnose the issue to see if there may be a solution other than formatting and reinstalling the whole operating system. Many times there are ways of correcting whatever issue is present without erasing all the data.

• Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services, based in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to or call (480) 753-7667.

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