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Many Problems and Some Solutions

May 1, 2004, update June 7, 2004, update December 20, 2004
update June 8, 2005, update November 20, 2005, update May 16, 2006

To All Of Our Customers:

All of you that have been with us for years know that we do our best to treat our customers with respect and kindness, and we do our best to be fair with pricing. Over the past few months, our industry has had a dramatic change in structure. The Internet introduced problems of viruses and spyware have caused security threats beyond imagination. SPAM is a huge problem. Due to these factors, our time to service problems and the time to troubleshoot them has increased dramatically, as has overhead due to cost of living. This note is to inform you of several potential problems to anticipate, as well as how to perhaps avoid them. It is also to remind you of sound and acceptable computing policies you should be using; and lastly it is to regrettably inform you that we are having to raise our base price structure.

SPAM, scams, viruses, adware and spyware are all major problems; it is becoming more and more difficult to differentiate one from another; however, here is our attempt to define them. SPAM is unsolicited E-mail. You've seen it in the form of pornography sent to your mail box, ads for prescription drugs, ads for physical enhancement and the like. SPAM also often contains malicious code that plants applets or programs on your computer that report your activities to marketers on the Internet. The "planted programs" often generate the triggers for the pop-up ads that irritate all of us. SPAM sending addresses are often listed as Bill or Sue, or some other fictitious name. Often however, they are spoofed as being sent by people you know. They accumulate and use the names in your address book and subsequently indicate that one or more of those people that you know actually sent them. Virus distribution is also done in the same manner. Viruses are malicious content designed to harm or alter your computer. Spyware is malicious code delivered to your computer in one of many ways, such as via share-ware or free-ware, as well as E-Mail and via rogue websites, that can send out much information about you and your activities to the originators of the software. Often that can contain credit card numbers and bank account or investment account information. This is dangerous content and it will only get worse before it gets better. Everyone knows what a scam is and yet thousands of people fall victim to them each year. The Internet is a prime source for scams. Use your common sense to recognize a scam. Adware is advertising that shows up or pops up on your computer directly or indirectly. It often starts when you select a "free search engine" start site. It is virtually impossible to get rid of.

These situations are on 85% of the computers that we have come into our shop for repair or tuneup this year. Generally it takes us at least a couple of hours to rid the computers of these problems, assuming that we can, in order to get to the reason it came into the shop. Often, these problem issues are set to replace or wipe out critical parts of the operating system with programs of their own of the same name. We, as well as all service facilities around the word, are finding that often it is impossible to clean them without destroying the operating system. Sometimes that requires re-installation of the operating system in order to recover. The worst cases often require re-formatting the drive and reinstalling all of the software that you use. It is critical that you be prepared for this situation as it is no longer a matter of IF this happens to you; it is now WHEN it happens to you. The symptoms vary from one to another; nonetheless, there are some common problems that generally happen in all of them. Your computer is slowing down quickly. A new icon or listing on a tool bar appears. One or more of your normal operations are no longer the same. Your web browser opens much slower than it did in the past. Your computer will not shut down correctly. You get pop-up ads regularly. Obviously there are others. All of these are symptoms that could be virus, adware, spyware, or hacker related. Any one of them can cause the fatal destruction of your system and data.

While it has been our policy in the past to "make every effort" to recover systems that have been damaged by one of these problems, we have found that no matter the procedure and the degree of effort and amount of time, seldom is the recovery satisfactory. The only "true" recovery is to format the drive, reinstall the software and attempt to recover data. This often seems extreme to customers and is always an irritation at best; but it is far less costly than 20 or 25 hours invested in trying but ultimately finding no success. Our policy is now to reformat the drive, reinstall the software (you must supply it) and try to recover the data. It should be your policy to make sure that you have current copies of your data on other drives, CDs, diskettes or tapes. You should also make sure that you have the media to reinstall both the operating system and your software. You must also (I am sorry to say), invest in antivirus software and keep it current; which you use is up to you. All do pretty much the same job, and most all use the same data for determining the problems. Most all are around the same price, Some have problems while working with certain other installed software. Use what you like; we will install whatever you like. If you want our opinion, ask us. It is your responsibility to make sure that you have paid for your updates (not to us but to the software company) and that the updates are actually being installed and that the software is running. Most are quick to notify you long in advance that you need to renew your subscription but that is often a sales gimmick as well. We do openly state that we have not seen good things from ANY of the web based AVs from any company.

These are things you can do to best keep your system running smooth and in good shape. Don't open "junk" E-Mail. If your antivirus software "warns" you that the E-Mail may be malicious, don't assume that it is not just because it is (supposedly) from someone you know. Granted, not all attachments that you are warned about are malicious, but MOST are actually correctly detected. Be alert; if it looks like something that the person would send, make the decision to take a chance or not. If your antivirus says there is definitely a problem, just delete the E-mail. In either case, some issues can arise as a consequence. You must also accept responsibility for keeping your system updated with patches and fixes for all of your software that you use, most importantly, the Microsoft operating system. Vulnerability to these problems is greatly reduced if your patch level is current.

Each and everyday, new and more invasive viruses and spyware are created. Antivirus software may or may not keep up with the issues. Be prudent! While on that, some of our customers have said that they feel the software companies actually create these viruses and spyware so that you will have to buy their products. We have our own feeling about that as well; we have no proof and I have not seen any from anyone else. I refuse to accuse without proof.

Regularly, backup your important computer data to some media so that you can recover it, if your drive is destroyed. You must do this regularly. Be aware that in the event you download "free or shareware programs" that you will probably pay a price later. Don't fall for "solicitations" from the internet for passwords, bank account numbers, investments that are too good to be true, and that sort of thing. There still isn't any free lunch…

Complain to your legislators about SPAM, unwanted calls and unwanted FAXs to you. There is no silver bullet at the moment for any of this. There are a few things that may help some, but just like anything else, some do and some don't, some are free and some aren't, and again, if there is a free lunch, the after taste may be bitter. If you see adware, spyware, pop-ups or unsolicited messages appearing on YOUR computer, react quickly. The quicker you react, the better chance you have to keep your system from being destroyed.

Don't use borrowed software or illegal software; most of the time you will pay more for that use than if you had ultimately bought it new yourself. We are not the software police and we are not out to cause you any problems. However, we are often put into an awkward position involving software ownership and we refuse to be liable for installing unlicensed or illegal software. Make sure you can re-install ANY software on your system with legal media and that you have the license numbers for that software that needs them. Microsoft is leading the way in the industry with that issue. The XP operating system and the XP Office software are the flagships. You must have the license and register it or you are shut down by them. If you have to re-install for one reason or another, you may have to explain to them why you have that need in order for them to re-issue the license permissions. Along these same lines, from Tech Republic, here is some of the latest buzz about XP and SP2 for it.

Finally, our base rate for computer repair and tuneup is remaining stable at $140.00 hourly, considerably less than competitors. Our other rates will remain the same for service calls (even with the exorbitant gas prices), networks, programming and webwork.

If you have questions about this, contact us to see if we can be of service to you.

We are a "down home", laid back, no pressure, professional group of technical people. We realize that most businesses cannot function without full use of their computer systems and we respond quickly and efficiently as needs arise. If you carefully look over our site (and us), you'll find that the personality is definitely not "three piece suit" and the humor is homespun. Service is personal and friendly. We have an attitude but it is not AN ATTITUDE! If you have tried recently to get service or support from the Big Guys, you will find our approach a welcome change. Thanks for checking us out...

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