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Walk a fine line between computer maintenance and tinkering

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Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 4:45 am

"Red meat is not bad for you. Fuzzy, green meat is bad for you.” For all intents and purposes, I am a vegetarian and therefore believe red meat is bad for you but wholeheartedly concur that fuzzy green meat is way worse. So what does this have to do with computers? There are programs and corporate tactics that are bad for your computer and others that are not so bad. The trick is how to tell the difference!

I have a number of Internet domains for my company and my wife’s company. When the domain registration is nearly out, GoDaddy calls me to ask for renewal. That is beneficial! If someone who claims to be from Microsoft calls and tells me they must have immediate access to remove a virus or Microsoft will revoke my license. That is a hoax and therefore not beneficial.

Some severe cases of operating system corruption require us to use a registry cleaner to correct some issues we see in our clients computers. That is beneficial. If you see an ad on TV telling you that a company can make you computer “run like new” by using their program and all they need is access to your computer to install their program. That may not be beneficial. Do you see the pattern here?

Many of our clients ask me, “Mike. How do I tell which programs and services are good and which ones are not?” That can be a tough thing to ascertain, however if someone calls and says they need access to your computer in order to correct an issue, usually, it is not a good idea to allow this.

“What about these ads on TV claiming they can make your computer run like new? Are those bad?” I was asked that question by a customer once and to prove a point, I installed a registry cleaner on his brand new computer that I was setting up, which had never been on the Internet. The registry cleaner found more than 50 errors and yet it was running flawlessly! The point is that every computer has registry errors. Ninety nine point nine percent of the time, they do not affect the performance of your computer. In older computers where many programs have been installed and uninstalled, a registry cleaner may be beneficial but I would recommend using them with great caution.

“What makes a program or service good or bad?” The guy claiming to be from Microsoft generally plants a small program in your computer that is designed to cause you issues every so often so you have to call them again and again. This is called a recurring income stream for them and a financial drain for you. If they do not plant one of these Trojans, they may plant a program designed to track your Internet or banking habits or other computer related activities. Maybe they mine your address book or monitor your email? Once they have access to your computer, they can do whatever they wish.

“I understand the dangers of giving someone access to my computer but I don’t understand what registry errors are.” When programs are installed, there are files that do not always get loaded properly. These are called fragmented files and most can be corrected by using disk defragmenter, however some cannot be corrected. When a program is uninstalled, not all the files get removed. Those fragmented files are not removed because your computer does not have a record of where they are. Other files are designed by the manufacturer to not be removed when the program is uninstalled. These are examples of registry errors. If the computer locks up and you hold down the on/off button to make it go off, you could create registry errors. Registry errors can come from almost anything. As mentioned above, most of them do not affect computer performance.

I believe there is a fine line between computer maintenance and tinkering. If you insist on running registry cleaners every week, month or year, you will find issues; guaranteed!

For questions about a particular program or service, please email us. I would much rather spend a few minutes answering an email than have you spend a lot of money repairing your computer.

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

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