By Andrea Eldridge – Summer is the season for computer mayhem. After spending the summer surfing the net, playing video games and whatever else your kiddos get into on the computer, your family PC is probably in need of some R and R. Before you enter the season of homework and research projects, take some steps to get your system in shape to head back to school after the summer mayhem.
For the Inner Nerd: How thorough you get depends on what you use the computer for and your technical ability. Best case scenario? If you use the computer primarily for surfing the net, writing papers and checking email and you are relatively tech savvy, back up the data you want to keep, format the hard drive and reinstall the Operating System. Before you get started, review the tips posted on Microsoft’s site. This may sound drastic, but most Nerds consider it good form to reinstall Windows every year or two to return your system to as close as you can to “factory fresh” (like it was when you pulled it out of the box). It gets rid of junk programs that have been installed, fixes corrupted applications and gets everything (software-wise) running smoothly again.
For the Novice User: That said, a basic user might find it daunting to have to get programs reinstalled and data back on the PC, particularly if the system is used for more than just Internet and email. So if a format-reinstall doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can still gain significant performance improvement by doing some relatively easy maintenance.
Check out add/remove programs for a list of what’s installed on your system. Remove all the junk programs and browser toolbars that the kids installed when you weren’t looking. Also, cruise through the extensions or add-on section of your browser (usually found via settings) and remove all the search bars, games and programs that pop up and beep at you every time you go online.
Next, do a manual run of your anti-malware/anti-viral software (we like Microsoft Security Essentials) – being sure to check for, download and install any updates before scanning. Finally, run a registry repair tool and browser cleanup program like CCleaner (free) to help repair any registry errors left after removing all the junk programs.
Once you’ve got your system purring along again, don’t forget to set up separate user accounts for everyone that gets on the computer, reserving administrator privileges for yourself. Limit user privileges so that only the administrator can install or remove programs. Limit the damage your kids can do in the future by activating the parental controls integrated into Windows. Just open up the Control Panel window and under “User Accounts and Family Safety” choose “Set up parental controls for any user.” You can limit when your kids can use the computer (so they don’t get in trouble while you aren’t able to keep an eye on them), what games they can play and what programs and content they can access. You can monitor and limit the web sites they visit, too, so if there’s a site they frequent for downloading games that you suspect brings additional junk programs with each installation, you can block the site.
Finally, once you’ve got the system cleaned up and locked down, set up a family calendar and organization tool to make the school year easier to coordinate. Cozi offers a great, free family calendar and organization tool. Just set up a free account for your family and everyone logs in separately with their personal email address to view and update the family calendar. Each user can maintain their own calendar or see color-coded events on the master calendar, get reminders or alerts. If your school has an online calendar, you can set it up to automatically show events on your calendar, so you won’t miss another Open House. There’s also task management so that you can set up individual to-do lists for each family member or one for the whole family. Cozi syncs across Windows, Macs and a multitude of Smartphones and handheld electronics.
About The Author:
Woman You Should Know Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service for consumers and businesses. She established the company with her husband, Ryan, from a spare room in their home in Redding, California in March 2004.
In addition to running her business, Andrea is the writer of two weekly columns, Computer Nerds On Call, a nationally syndicated column for Scripps-Howard News Service, and Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She regularly appears on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The CW, and CNN on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, Good Morning Arizona and MORE Good Day Portland, offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle, and gadgets. Andrea recently has begun working with Demand Media to produce content for eHow.com and has written a book for them Smartphone 101: Integrating Your iPhone Into a Windows World.