"Scott! Why is my computer so slow and keeps crashing???"

UPDATE: I am now offering myself for hire for night/weekend computer help. Please see my official site for this service: http://www.vtgeek.com/

Hello, friend! You have been directed here because you need some standard Windows computer help. The steps are common and I get asked frequently, so instead of repeating the stuff for everyone I have created this web page. That way you can most quickly get help, refer to it as often as you need, and send other friends here too.

If your problems are any of these, this page is for you!
  • Computer feels "slow"
  • Internet feels "slow"
  • Annoyed by pop-up ads
  • Weird crashes and error-messages
  • Problems with viruses
  • Many other annoyances
Web hosting: 20GB storage, 1TB bandwidth, $7.95/mo
Read more about the spyware/adware epidemic here

You can solve most problems plaguing Windows users these days in just five easy steps...

Step 1: Fix your web browser Get Firefox!

Most likely you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer (aka "IE"). You should be aware that the most common source of viruses and spyware is IE use, so the first thing you need to do is replace IE with a better web browser. I recommend Mozilla Firefox, which not only eliminates your ability to get infected with viruses/spyware while simply browsing the internet, but it has many other useful features such as tabbed-browsing and pop-up blocking. It's also faster than IE. You can download it here. Import your IE "favorites" (called "bookmarks" in Firefox and most other browsers) and you should be good to go! If you need help with Firefox, be sure to check the Frequently Asked Questions ("FAQ") list. New users would also be advised to check out this great Introduction to Firefox. There are also some excellent online support forums where you can ask your own questions and get help.

Tearing yourself away from IE might seem traumatic, but trust me, you need to. No need to take just my word for it, though... if you need more convincing, read the news and see what other sites are saying.

If you don't like the way Firefox looks, I can recommend the Qute theme instead. Give it a shot! If you don't like the new theme of Firefox 3, you can alway apply the Firefox 2 theme which many people still prefer. Other useful extensions that I like are AdBlock Plus, CustomizeGoogle, DictionarySearch, Linkification, and Forecastbar. There are plenty more themes and extensions, so be sure to check them out and customize Firefox to your liking.

If you decide you like what Firefox does for your web-browsing, you might like what Thunderbird does for your email. It has an awesome built-in spam filter and is immune to viruses (unlike Outlook which will still use IE to display emails even if you've switched to Firefox).

Step 2: Get antivirus software

In this day and age, you absolutely must have antivirus-software installed on your computer. Not doing so would be like driving without insurance or a seat-belt. You need to make sure you installed and keep it up-to-date. Most antivirus programs will update themselves automatically, but it's best to not just "install and forget it"... be sure to check it periodically to make sure the updates are working! My favorite is AVG. You can download the free version of AVG here. Because the free version of AVG doesn't come with phone support, you will want to check the FAQ for AVG here as well as the free interactive AVG support forums.

Step 3: Update your system

Microsoft is constantly putting out updates to Windows. These fixes solve problems found in Windows since it was installed on your computer and block the ability for viruses to infect you. It's crucial that you stay on-top of things and keep your Windows computer "patched". Microsoft has a service for doing this called Windows Update, which probably has an icon right on your Start menu. It can also be found under the Tools menu of Internet Explorer (unfortunately, even though you've switched to Firefox you need to use IE for Windows Update). From IE you can also just go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ but regardless of how, once you're there be sure to install all updates in the "Critical Updates and Service Packs" category. This might take a long time (especially if you're on dial-up over a phone line) but as the name suggests they are critical. You can also configure Windows to automatically download (and even install) updates in the background as they come out so you don't have to think about it. Go into the Control Panel (Start -> Settings -> Control Panel) and find the icon for "Automatic Updates". If you don't see Automatic Updates, you might not be up-to-date enough yet to have that feature. Bring yourself current using Windows Update first then check back. More info about keeping Windows updated can be found here.

Step 4: Clean off spyware/adware

A lot of your problems are probably caused by spyware (software that secretly sends personal info about you to marketing sites) and adware (software that pops up ads) that get installed by browsing websites in IE, installing random programs, and so on. You need to have some tools to remove this spyware/adware already on your computer. It's good to run these tools periodically to keep your computer clean, as browsing the web isn't the only way to get infected. Three programs that work well together are Ad-Aware, Spybot and AVG Antivirus. Install and use all three as they compliment each other. Just like your antivirus program, make sure you have these keep themselves updated. It wouldn't hurt to run them at the end of each day even, but at least make sure you run them often to keep things clean. Free support for Ad-Aware can be found in these online forums, while a FAQ and how-tos for Spybot can be found here. Support for AVG Anti-Spyware can be found in these forums. No program does it all, though, and the spyware/adware problem is so immense that it's worth having more than just these three programs protecting you. Other free programs I can recommend are SpywareBlaster and SpywareGuard.

Step 5: Be careful what you install!

Now that you've gone through all this work, don't forget to practice some responsible computing! Just because a program seems cool doesn't mean you should install it. Many nuisance programs try and bait you by tempting the user with "cool" things like fancy cursors, screen-savers, and other gee-whiz items, when really they are not friendly behind-the-scenes. If someone sends you a file/program or recommends that you download and install something, pause for a minute and consider the consequences. Anytime you install a program you are giving it permission to do absolutely anything and everything the author (who you don't know) wants to YOUR computer. Think about that for a minute. The same way you don't give the keys to your house to any random stranger who asks, you shouldn't just install any program on your computer. If you are unsure about a program someone (even a well-meaning friend/family-member) has told you to install, it doesn't hurt to ask your local friendly computer geek about it to see if they know anything or can dig up info..

Other tips:

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