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Easing the Job of Family Tech Support?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the shock-collars-and-a-willingness-to-yell dept.

Security 932

DarkDevil writes "Ever since I was introduced to computers at a very young age, I've been the resident tech support for a household of 7 users. I've been in a cycle for the last ~8 years where something happens to my parents' computer, I spend a week or two trying to non-destructively fix the problem (and try to explain to the users what caused it and how to avoid it), and then if it's not easily fixed I'll reformat and start from scratch. Most often, the level of infection warrants a reformat, which usually ends up taking even more time to get the computer back to how my parents know how to use it. 4-8 months later, it happens again. Recently, I found ~380 instances of malware and 6 viruses. I only realized something was wrong with their computer after it slowed down the entire network whenever anyone used it. My question for Slashdot is: are there any resources out there that explain computer viruses, malware, adware, and general safe computer practices to non-technical people in an easy-to-digest format? The security flaws in my house are 9, 26, and ~50 years old, with no technical background aside from surfing the internet. Something in video format would be ideal as they are perfectly happy with our current arrangement and so it'll be hard to get them reading pages and pages of technical papers."

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Give Up (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074674)

People use something they don't understand...Or just don't want to know how to...

Re:Give Up (5, Funny)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074908)

Mod parent up. You failed at this back when you were at "a young age". What you should have done is fake some sort learning development problem, (eg dyslexia), and saved yourself a lot of hassle.

(No, I couldn't find a link to that PA comic. Somebody else will have to do that.)

Re:Give Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074962)

On that note, how is the malware getting onto their machine? Is it exploiting software security flaws (e.g. in the browser)? Or are the users downloading and running programs from the Internet? If it's the former, get different software (this includes patches they're missing). If it's the latter, explain to them that a program does not necessarily behave like its author/distributor tells you it does (and the implications of this, i.e. trojans). If they cannot acknowledge this lack of trustworthiness, there is nothing you can do.

Re:Give Up (2, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075044)

I agree. Family tech support is a no-win situation. I solved the problem by moving 1,000 miles away. If that's not an option, you're left with either saying "no" or committing multiple homicides, whichever seems easiest.

MS SteadyState (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074676)

Try MS SteadyState

Re:MS SteadyState (5, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075058)

You know? It's pretty damned sad that OS stability and security has to be offered as a separate frickin' package to the OS itself.

here's where we get to hear someone spew (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074678)

get them all macs

Install Ubuntu (5, Insightful)

HalifaxRage (640242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074680)

> no technical background aside from surfing the internet Sounds like a perfect audience for an OS with fewer security flaws.

Re:Install Ubuntu (5, Insightful)

Corporate Troll (537873) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074938)

... and if it has to be Windows for some strange reason. Give them Limited User accounts. You'll be the sole Admin (and you won't use it yourself... just User for day to day tasks) and because of that you'll have to approve or disapprove all software that has to be installed.

I have this modus operandi with my family and it works very well. Technically, you have to see a family as a small business operation where you are the IT guy.

just install linux the next time you reformat (1, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074684)

problem solved.. at least until linux malware becomes prevalent

Re:just install linux the next time you reformat (1)

Lord Byron Eee PC (1579911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074848)

I'll second that. My gf and both parents are now full-time Linux users and the amount of support that I've had to do has dropped down to near zero. My gf doesn't even know that she's using Linux, just that it isn't Windows.

Re:just install linux the next time you reformat (0)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074886)

problem solved.. at least until linux malware becomes prevalent

That's really impractical, though, unless the person you're installing it for only wants email and to occasionally surf some websites. We live in a commercial OS world. You think you get lots of calls for computer help from family now? Wipe their drive and install Linux. After they figure out that they can't install games or Microsoft Office, they'll be asking you to put Windows right back on.

Myself, I've come to the point where I simply recommend to family that they buy an Apple, on the security grounds alone. I've pointed a couple of family members to Macbooks, and I get zero calls for help from them after a breaking in period.

Re:just install linux the next time you reformat (3, Interesting)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074924)

This is what I did for my grandpa. I set it up so that I can SSH into his box wherever I happen to live, which is good for installing updates, software he doesn't have, troubleshooting, etc. I could, in theory, have him do a dist-upgrade too (this is Ubuntu), but I haven't ever tried that via long distance. Whenever I visit, if a new LTS version of Ubuntu is out, I install that on there (preserving his home partition), configure it again, and carry on for the next few years or so.

Re:just install linux the next time you reformat (1)

Port1080 (515567) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075034)

Some people will probably claim that's a trite response, but it's actually the approach I took with my parents and so far it's worked quite well. All they ever did with their computer was browse the internet and check e-mail - they didn't even really have the technical expertise to be installing their own programs. Ubuntu has been a wonderful solution, particularly as Firefox has matured and the number of websites that require IE or ActiveX has dramatically declined. Linux is great for people with very low technical competence, and it's great for people with very high technical competence*. It's only a bear for people in the middle, who think that they should be able to do a lot of things with their computer, but aren't sure how to go about it. For those people, I would recommend a Mac.

*Windows is also fine for technically inclined people, since they're unlikely to accidentally install malware or leave their system open to viruses

Re:just install linux the next time you reformat (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075110)

Is that like breaking a dish every time they ask you to wash them? They'll learn pretty quick not to ask. ;D

Re:just install linux the next time you reformat (1)

Twilightman42 (1665629) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075150)

I did support for several of my friends and I found that installing Ubuntu (32 bit, less messing around) was the easiest solution if they are just using it to browse the net and e-mail (in which case why do they have so much Malware?). Problem is a few of them wanted access to iTunes, really creating a restricted environment in windows is the best option and try to idiot proof it as much as possible with decent antivirus protection, Chrome or Firefox, and tell them to stay away from virus magnets like Limewire. Or, I hate to say it, have them buy a Mac. I love linux, but for newb users Macs are the easiest option if a bit pricey.

Woo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074690)

In b4 posts

3 strikes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074692)

Three offences, and the whole family is off the net.

Buy them a Mac (2, Informative)

rjstanford (69735) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074696)

Seriously. I had similar issues and now have both my parents converted over to being happy Apple users. My support time has dropped to a truly negligible amount, and they're happier as well. It may sound facetious, but prevention works far better than education when those concerned have no interest in learning.

Re:Buy them a Mac (5, Informative)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074756)

I completely agree. I did the exact same thing.

The most beautiful part? When I was convincing them to pick up a Mini to replace their dying PC, my dad's first question was (I kid you not): "But will it run Firefox and OpenOffice?"

I almost cried.

And if I do need to give them support? 99% of the time I can just have them fire up iChat and share their desktop with me. Quick and easy for them, and doesn't require messing with opening ports in any firewalls or NATs.

Re:Buy them a Mac (1)

stokessd (89903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074930)

I did the same thing, and as a bonus I can easily remote desktop in (with audio) and show them how to do something. In addition to the super easy remote desktop there is easy backup at the system level. So I don't have to keep harping on them to backup what they care about, it just happens automagically. Not as good as offsite, but cheap and easy.

I can't imagine a nicer remote system for the marginally technically inclined.

However, anytime they have had a problem in the last 4 years, it's been cable modem related, so the remote desktop is hopeless.


Re:Buy them a Mac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074984)

I agree with this. Went from being a fairly regular event to nearly not happening.

I got my grand father's mac to VPN (openvpn) to my network and I can remotely administrate his machine now too so it doesn't even requires a house call for most technical problems now.

Re:Buy them a Mac (1)

tunapez (1161697) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075002)

It may sound facetious, but prevention works far better than education when those concerned have no interest in learning.

Like making your teenager watch a video on transmissions & clutch plates to dissuade them from "riding the clutch" or switching from R to D before coming to a complete stop.

Seriously, nstall separate data drives(map MyDocs to it or make a s-c on desktop(I ignore Vista/7's oodles of personal folders, too "specialized", IMO), backup bookmarks and nuke the infested drive from orbit. Even a bloated Vista OS can be replaced/updated in
PS: Start charging for your time, that ALWAYS fosters apathy for the problem.

I wouldn't bother. (1)

daid303 (843777) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074698)

I wouldn't bother trying to explain it, because they don't care. You'll fix it for them and that's enough. First you need to stop/reduce your fixing effort.

Related question (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074704)

I keep sticking a knife into my eye every three months. Can anyone provide detail instructions on how I can do this without causing so much pain?

Sometimes giving an answer to the asked question isn't appropriate. Sometimes you have to tell the asker that they are looking at it all wrong.

Install Ubuntu, problem solved. (1)

OFnow (1098151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074720)

It's not so difficult, really. Install Ubuntu 9.10. Problem solved.

Re:Install Ubuntu, problem solved. (1)

NervousWreck (1399445) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075010)

They should probably stick to 9.04 until the new one is more stable. Fewer tech support calls for our poster.

Tell them to stop using Windows (1)

cromar (1103585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074724)

Seriously. Is there anything they wouldn't be able to do on Linux or BSD or OS X? If not, then tell them if they don't switch their OS you won't be able to help them any more. That would solve the problem handily, at least for the foreseeable future.

An interesting resource (3, Informative)

RhapsodyGuru (1250396) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074728) [] That should give them an idea. It also includes a video about trojan horses. :)

Revoke admin rights. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074742)

If you revoke their admin rights and keep their software (acrobat, flash, java, windows) patches up to date you will reduce your clean up burden. But it comes at the cost of a maintenance burden. Pick your poison.

Re:Revoke admin rights. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074920)

I don't get why this is so hard.

When I set up my mom's computer, I installed I made her a User, not an Administrator. Install Firefox with Adblock Plus & Flash, Thunderbird and AVG, and I was done. I am the one with Administrator's password. When I visit I run Updates, for Windows, FF and TB. I let AVG update itself.

If it wasn't for the fact that Netgear updated its network card version, and the Linux driver for it no longer worked, she'd be running Ubuntu.

Re:Revoke admin rights. (1)

Z34107 (925136) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075020)


My cousin and I are the de facto unpaid familial tech support for my grandparents' computer, which is used not only by them but cousins, relatives, etc. Lots of viruses, and lots of well-meaning relatives and technical gurus trying to "fix" things.

We changed the password on the Administrator account and, this time, didn't tell anyone. There was grumbling, but we've never had to fix their computer since.

All the submitter has to do is password protect the Administrator account. People don't install new software every week, and I can guarantee you the "maintenance" headache will be much smaller than the "support/repair/disinfect" headache.

Win (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074744)

1. Reformat Computers
2. Setup Restricted Accounts
3. Win

Correct User Access (5, Insightful)

jeffy210 (214759) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074748)

I've found the best thing is to treat them like a corporation. Make sure their accounts are only user level, and either hold on to the Administrator password or make sure they know the real reason to use it. Done that with a few family friends I do work for and the amount of trouble i've had has dropped drastically.

Re:Correct User Access (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074894)

Indeed. Remove Administrator Access and all the REALLY nasty stuff goes away.

Then, anything else they catch can generally be ridden with Malware Bytes or Super Anti Spyware.

Only thing left to teach them is: Avoid Email attachments from unknown senders, Don't install Active X controls from porn sites, and for the love of Pete, don't go to any of the linked fileshares posted on

Re:Correct User Access (3, Interesting)

anom (809433) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074914)

Mod parent up; this is the only way to do this. I give my family a basic user account, and then furthermore go through their registry and then deny all write permissions to the "Run" sections of the registry so nothing can install itself in their user account. If absolutely necessary, give them an admin account to be used only for installing things (I gave it to my little brother and not my mom and this arrangement worked quite well).

Re:Correct User Access (1)

MTTECHYBOY (799778) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075014)

I agree and have done the same thing - lock the machines down. might be a hassle once and a while but it saves time (and hassles) in the long run

Re:Correct User Access (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075096)

I've found the best thing is to treat them like a corporation. Make sure their accounts are only user level, and either hold on to the Administrator password or make sure they know the real reason to use it. Done that with a few family friends I do work for and the amount of trouble i've had has dropped drastically.

Right. I'd go a step further and create groups and group policies. Each age range of user needs to be put in a certain group. Keep the kids off places that would be full of junk, filter out dangerous sites for the adults who don't know better. Just some basic stuff like that.

Just find yourself an old machine and throw Active Directory on it. And then lock it down like nobody's business.

Above and beyond that, I would create a disk image for each of the computers (maybe 1/calendar quarter, and they have to bring the machine to you), and always restore from that. If they want to keep their data, they need to back up their data. You are no longer responsible for data lost, and your time is valuable enough that if they bring you a machine to be fixed, it gets reimaged. Period. None of this non-destructive stuff.

You've been putting up with this for 8 years. No more!

The butterfly Parable (5, Insightful)

Martin Spamer (244245) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074754)

An insight into Mentoring & coaching

One day a man finds a cocoon for a butterfly with a small opening, he sits and watches the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared stuck.

The man decided to help the butterfly and with a pair of scissors he cut open the cocoon. The butterfly emerges easily, but something was strange. The butterfly had a swollen body and shrivelled wings. The man watched the butterfly expecting it to take on its correct proportions. But nothing changed.

The butterfly stayed the same. It was never able to fly. In his kindness and haste the man did not realise that the butterfly's struggle to get through the small opening of the cocoon is nature's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight.

Like the sapling which grows strong from being buffeted by the wind, in life we all need to struggle sometimes to make us strong.

When we coach others it is helpful to recognize when people need to do things for themselves.

Re:The butterfly Parable (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074986)

Mod parent up!

Re:The butterfly Parable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075078)

Dude, what are you, like the Dalai Lama? Sweet

Re:The butterfly Parable (-1, Offtopic)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075106)

Are you a Lamarkian evolutionist? Saplings do not grow strong from being buffeted by the wind. They die or are weakened.

Re:The butterfly Parable (3, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075146)

It has nothing to do with evolution. Plant tissues that experience pressures (say from bending in the wind) release hormones that make the tissue stronger, to better withstand that pressure.

Malwarebytes and combo fix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074762)

Put them on user accounts on linux, vista, or windows 7. Do not give them admin passwords.

Learn how to use combofix and malwarebytes, so you don't have to keep re-installing after infection.

Learn to properly protect their PC's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074774)

I've had that same role for years, and the best way to not make it a nuciance is to do things right the first time.

AVG Free, SpyBot (and setup auto-updates/scans for it), setup windows Updates.

I have 11 family members I support, no issues, and they range from 6 to 60 in age.

I have the same setup for my traveling sales folks at work too, AVG Network Edition, Spybot, Forced windows updates. Never had a problem. Stop complaining and do the task correctly.

Easy (1)

dc29A (636871) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074780)

I solved my tech support problems simply. I told my family, if they wanted me to fix their problems, they had to agree to a few things:
(1) I am admin on their machines.
(2) They are peons on their machines.
(3) ???
(4) Malware problem solved.
(5) Profit!

Install Firefox with Adblock, remove their administrative rights, set PCs to auto patch, your/their malware problems are solved. When they need to install new software, I do it for them, it's worth the hassle instead of constantly cleaning up viruses.

Wasn't Slashdot A Tech News Site At One Time? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074782)

DarkDevil, no one gives a shit about your life.

"My question for Slashdot is: are there any resources out there that explain computer viruses, malware, adware, and general safe computer practices to non-technical people in an easy-to-digest format?"

Yes there is, it's called GOOGLE dipshit.

Re:Wasn't Slashdot A Tech News Site At One Time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075040)

> Wasn't Slashdot A Tech News Site At One Time?

This is ASK SLASHDOT, asshole. It's NEVER been about news.

Don't want to see it? Go to your prefences and block it. Sheesh, you must be some kind of moron!

Options (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074786)

Can you explain to them what's wrong? No.
Here's what you do if they insist on windows, install firefox, take the internet explorer icon off the desktop and set firefox to default.
Install some antivirus software and anti malware.
Image the computer in a working state as they like it.
_Take off administrator power from their hands_

Now if they manage to screw it up still, you can just use the image to restore.
Btw, if they're frustrated enough, just let them try ubuntu though I think that may not be an option since it actually takes you a while to set windows up the way they like it, probably dependent on proprietary stuff.

Porn site membership (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074794)

Get them a membership, and they won't have to look for it elsewhere.

Give them some choices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074800)

Tell them that they either need to pay for service or let you admin the machine in a way that may limit some of their activities. Don't let them run code that wasn't installed by you. Don't let them use tools that process foreign data that have bad security designs or bad security track records.

Only every 8 months? Lucky. (4, Insightful)

GreatDrok (684119) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074810)

I have systematically made all my family members get Macs over the years and this has reduced requirements for my support services to near to nothing. I have tried a few on Linux and that helped but they tended to be the most technically literate. Others who insisted that Windows was all they could use got XP with non-administrator accounts and I would remote desktop in as needed. That worked pretty well but not as well as a Mac and that person (my wife's 92 year old grandmother) is about to get a Mac mini.

I can't understand why you have people who only want to do basic tasks with anything other than an non-admin account? Even on a Mac I reserve the admin rights for myself.

You can't teach people who don't want to learn (5, Insightful)

celest (100606) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074816)

In my experience, it is not an issue of easy-to-digest material, and explanations that they understand. It's a hard mental block. I've been in the same cycle for 10+ years, and my parents have said, flat out, they they "just can't learn". I've tried written, step-by-step instructions; I've tried demonstrating; I've tried tutorials. It's not the information or how it is presented. It's a mental block about learning new things.

"Why can't it just work?", and the fact that it doesn't is put on my shoulders as the "tech" generation. And that's that.

What really gets me angry is that they are helpless to do anything in their daily lives without their computer, and blame me for that fact (Cause *I* created all malware and put it on their computer, clearly), while simultaneously ridiculing my choice of career as worthless, because "technology is not important". The irony is lost on them. Completely.

The war you are facing is a cultural one, not a technical, or information/communication one. It's one better asked to a psychologist than Slashdot. Best of luck.

You have the control, so use it! (4, Informative)

donaggie03 (769758) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074830)

It sounds like you have all the control here, so simply lock down those computers. Install a decent anti-virus, firewall, and script blockers. Install a decent web browser and delete the IE icon on the desktop. Ensure all these and the OS are able to update themselves automatically. Install the programs your family uses. Then create a non-admin account for them and do not give them the admin password. That's what I've been doing and the only problems I've had to deal with in the last few years were a hard drive crash and some minor issues. If they need to install a new program or need the admin password for any reason, they have to go through me to get it done.

Re:You have the control, so use it! (2, Informative)

pz (113803) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075030)

It sounds like you have all the control here, so simply lock down those computers. Install a decent anti-virus, firewall, and script blockers. Install a decent web browser and delete the IE icon on the desktop. Ensure all these and the OS are able to update themselves automatically. Install the programs your family uses. Then create a non-admin account for them and do not give them the admin password. That's what I've been doing and the only problems I've had to deal with in the last few years were a hard drive crash and some minor issues. If they need to install a new program or need the admin password for any reason, they have to go through me to get it done.

Inevitably, something else bad will happen (an unrecognized virus will get through), and you'll have to re-install the system. So, once everything has been set up, including installing all of the tools mentioned above, then, checkpoint the system to an external drive that's physically compatible with the primary disk in the system. Next time things crap out, copy the disk image back.

Also, keep the system in one disk / partition, and user data on another. When you have to restore the system, it's easier to retain user data unharmed.

I finally fixed it once and for all... (1)

Kleppy (1671116) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074832)

I bought my Dad a Mac and then pointed him to my friend who's a Genius. In all seriousness (did the above) and I locked his PC out. He's a user with no rights. I did everything with an administrative account and did NOT give him the password this time. Last time everything was peachy until I gave it to him. Format/reload/lockout

Simple economics: (1, Interesting)

sean_nestor (781844) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074842)

Stop doing it for free. Either charge them for your time, or tell them to get it repaired at the store. I think you might be amazed how interested they become in browsing the net safely and taking care of their PC when they have a financial motivation to do so.

I know a lot of people have a hard time mustering up the courage to tell their folks to pay up, but take my advise - you're doing them a favor in the end (not to mention giving them a lesson the value of what you do).

Re:Simple economics: (1)

Schickeneder (1454639) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075008)

Well I wouldn't want to charge my parents anything, even if I do get calls once a month about computer problems and have to walk them through every single step. Main reason being, what if my parents decided to send a bill my way for room and board and financial help they've given me, it could take me years to pay that off! It's a pretty sweet deal in my opinion.

You know... (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074856)

Ubuntu still has a little ways to go, but it's good enough that if you're having regular problems, it will solve them. Just do it. You won't regret it.

Make them pay (3, Insightful)

TrippTDF (513419) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074858)

Your post says a lot about your family dynamics... there is a cycle going on here where they use the computer willy-nilly, and then when it gets screwed up, they know that you will fix it for free. What you need to do is make them pay for your services, so there are some stakes behind them asking you to fix it. That will probably curb their behavior when it comes to installing every toolbar known to man.

There is probably one major offender, and you could probably do some detective work to figure out who that person is if you tried.

live cd backup (1)

nloop (665733) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074874)

I know there is a linux option for this, I am assuming someone makes a windows tool fot it as well. Create a livecd rescue of how you tweak the system for their use. They corrupt their system, boot the live cd, reformat the system to the way that you set it up as opposed to pure stock. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Re:live cd backup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075036)

The closest I know of for Windows setups would be to use something like Norton Ghost to make an image of the drive once you've got it set up the way they like. Then all you have to do is re-image and run the latest updates and you're set. You might have to make a new image every once in a while to roll all the updates up again, but it's still way easier than having to manually install everything again.

I moved my relatives to Linux to free my weekends (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30074880)

I was in exactly the same problem, compounded by the fact that some of my relatives were a long distance away. My weekends were spend "fixing the computers" of in-laws and relatives.

So finally, I announced that I will stop supporting Windows. I moved 3 households to Linux (Ubuntu) and gave each user several hours of instruction on email, pictures and browsing. One user decided to buy a Mac instead.

The request for support are now down to one every couple of months for something trivial, generally a forgotten password.

I have my weekends back.

The last time I had this problem... (5, Interesting)

orsty3001 (1377575) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074896)

I had an old man that had trouble using computers, always getting viruses and what not. I installed Ubuntu to head off a lot of these problem but he refused to use it. He wouldn't even let it boot all the way up. He saw the splash screen and just turned it off. Next thing I know I got a request to appear in court in the mail and had to defend my actions to a judge that was just as ignorant of computers. I actually lost the law suit but was able to get the court to agree that my punishment was going to be to set the machine back like it was. In my book that's not a loss. It's what I wanted to do from the start if he didn't like it. After that I refuse to do anything for anyone that isn't paying me. No more favors, if any friends, neighbors or family want their computers fixed they can take it to a shop and pay to have it fixed. Something a lot of computer techs need to learn to do. When someone asks of you can fix their problem recite, "I really don't know that much about computers." I say this in the mirror from time to time.

Oblig. XKCD (5, Informative)

Kadagan AU (638260) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074898)

Give them all this []

Do it yourself, maybe... (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074902)

That's how I solved it, to the extent that I have. The rules are fairly simple, if a bit brutal:

  • Don't download anything you don't trust. Better yet, don't download anything without asking me first.
  • Don't use IE. Ever.
  • Keep yourself updated.
  • I will support you if and only if you follow these rules.

The last few times I've rebuilt their computers, I've taken disk images. Another good step to take would be backup -- teach them to burn DVDs if you have to -- as that makes the rebuild easier. But worst case, image the broken machine, restore a known-good image, and restore files (after scanning) from the broken image.

But the point is, those rules are simple enough that it's not a question of education, it's a question of discipline. And as this isn't a business, you can actually ask them to meet you halfway on that. If they don't, you can simply stop supporting them, or demand that they start paying.

Think of it this way: If they asked you to come help them move, that's one thing. If they ask you to do that every 4-8 months, sooner or later, you give them the phone number of a local moving company.

That said, if anyone does find resources like you've asked for (videos, etc), I'd love to know about them.

Remove administrative privileges (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074906)

Give them each separate accounts, and remove administrator privileges. Have a backdoor administrator account so you can install something for them if they need it, but otherwise limit their access.

Not to be that guy... (1)

Shadow7789 (1000101) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074916)

But, if all they are doing is checking websites and reading email, why not just switch them over to Linux or OSX? Then they won't have to worry about these problems again.

If that isn't an option, just setting them up with Firefox, a good AV, Windows Firewall, Spybot, and automated Windows Updates should take care of most of your problems. An even better option would be to just give them limited accounts, or at least move them off of XP so that every action they take doesn't have Administrator permissions.

As for your actual question, this website [] might be useful.

Get a Mac (4, Insightful)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074922)

I got my mom a iMac 5 years ago & have maybe spend a total of 7 hours working on it since then. Two of those were upgrading the RAM & two more were upgrading OSX.

I had never even touched OSX until we opened that iMac up. I had no problems setting it up & she has had no problems using or maintaining it.

Lock it down (3, Insightful)

IP_Troll (1097511) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074926)

Create a limited access user profile for non-tech savvy family members. Lock it down as much as possible. Or use the guest account feature that clears the profile when the user logs out.

Using an operating system other than windows is a good idea also, but unrealistic that it will result in a better situation for the tech support family member. Your virus issues will be replaced with compatibility complaints. If the family doesn't want to learn how to avoid viruses they don't want to learn a new operating system.

Proxy server (1)

jhfry (829244) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074928)

Not gonna solve every problem, but a properly configured proxy server will prevent a tremendous number of issues. Couple it with OpenDNS's filters and a minimal amount of training and you can stop most of the routine malware.

Of course, I switched my family to Linux years ago... but if I absolutely had to run windows, I would use OpenDNS and some sort of proxy that will scan downloads for viruses(squid w/ clamAV?).

I know the problem (1)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074934)

I've just explained, over the phone, for the umpteenth time, to my SO how to copy and paste. It can be very frustrating. However there were things she actually did understand. She didn't ask what and where the 'Apple-Key' was, which is a step forward. I expect her to learn it completely in the next half year or so.

If your folks do nothing but surf and mail you should install Linux for them and explain the basics of handling it whenever the need arises. Viruscleaning and virus avoiding is a non-trivial task and I run into these problems quite often. And I'm an expert with 25 years of experience. Being unavailable once in a while is a good thing too for techsupport - if it's something they can easyly figure out for themselves.

Bottom line:
n00by? -> You're getting a Unix-based OS (OS X or Ubuntu Linux would be my choice) and a non-admin user account. That's it.
Experienced user? -> Here's your box, do with it whatever you want.

Be patient and reteach the basics of computing and surfing over and over again. It'll stick some day.

Possible Solution (1)

xixinconnu (1537835) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074936)

I was in a similar situation with some of my grandparents, I eventually gave up on trying to teach them and just created a simple ubuntu virtual machine that was just a web browser, set them up using delicious for all their bookmarks and had the virtual machine not save any changes when it closed out. That way each time they start it up it is fresh like the day it was created. Took a little bit of extra work to get it all set up but this way their core machine is some what safe from their internet travels.

Keep Users...just Users (1)

bitbreaker (719795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074942)

I'm in the same situation and I limited the dead-scenario by keeping user accounts in the Users Group (and NOT Administrators). Normally, a non-tech user, doesn't need any other things than Mail Client (sometimes, they even check emails thru the Web), Web Browser and Office suite. As soon as you installed such Apps with YOUR SUPER-SECRET Administrator Account, keep them in the Users Group. It's a feasible way: contract with them: "Do you prefer Virus or Administrator Account?". The other way to speed up things is keeping an hard disk image of the last clean installation: with software like Clonezilla, you can restore PCs in a faster way. Unfortunately, I'm looking for some videos to let my parents know what a malware is, how to avoid and so on...and I'm an Italian Guy: videos in such native language is harder to find.

I've actually got something (1)

NervousWreck (1399445) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074954)

I am tech support for the 5 users in my house plus a friend's family of 8. In my house we use either Macs or one of my ubuntu boxes but for the friend I wrote up a three page document on safe surfing and anti virus/malware software. How to scan, update etc. I can send it to slashdot if you want, but some of it isn't in English.

how about (1)

xate (784379) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074958)

not clicking on Ads

Use an obscure browser for extra points

Is there a kind and gentle way to explain PEBKAC? (1)

The Altruist (1448701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074968)

Tell your family that when someone offers you something for free on the internet, they should assume it's a scam until after appropriate research has been done. I believe there was an article just recently on the unpleasant things done by the creator of Mafia Wars.

I had the exact same issue... (1)

daninspokane (1198749) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074988)

I had the same problem and I replaced my Family with Macs. Now I harldy, if ever, have to fix their computers or answer inane tech questions. I am telling you, this is the only arrangment that will work for you.

A few suggestions (1)

gomiam (587421) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074990)

I have to deal with a few hundred "family members" daily (read: teachers, alumns and support personnel) ;) Our user's requirements are quite uniform: Web/mail access, document editor/spreadsheet, and multimedia.

Our solution is quite simple: restrict access. Do they want to install some software? Ask us. Do they want to connect a new printer? Ask us. We don't allow (almost) anybody to install, upgrade, or do any administrative work on the Campus' computers. That's what we are there for. And no, there's no "I need to have this installed right now or the world will collapse" software. If they want something installed, let them ask for it with time to spare.

That, removing Internet Explorer from sight of recalcitrant users and a few registry tweaks (like creating an autorun.inf entry in IniFileMappings conveniently set up to avoid autorun.inf files being read) and the computers work quite well quite often :)

Of course, family pressures can be (and usually are) harder to withstand than workplace ones :)

A friend in your situation ... (2, Interesting)

drissel (123701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30074994)

A friend in your situation put his parents and grandparents on live CD's. Trouble over. One grandfather objected because he wanted to save emails and a local store advertised "Recovery Services." My friend referred the old man to the store. With Gmail and Google Docs, web browsers, email correspondents and light-duty word processors don't need local storage. Viruses can't infect a CD Rom.

I used to be you... (1)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075000)

Every six months I was reinstalling my daughter's PC. Then I got her a used Mac, and despite her doing the same kinds of crazy things as on the PC (for example, deleting to make space on the boot drive) she was never able to break it.

No responsibility? Take away the power. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075018)

If they aren't willing or able to learn how to be responsible and avoid downloading malware, take away some of the power.

If it's not already the case, make sure none of the problem users have admin rights. If that's not enough, switch them to Ubuntu. If all they use the computer for is the internet, Ubuntu will work just fine for most of their needs.

Another plus side to Ubuntu: you can easily administer them remotely, especially if you're on the same side of the router, to make sure they are all getting periodic security patches.

I realize that Linux might not be an option if any of these users insist on web services like netflix streaming and certain facebook games, but it might be worth trying.

Also do any of the users use the computer regularly for anything other than the internet? I.e. games, syncing their I-Pod, etc? If so, coming up with workable solutions might cause more headaches under linux than just periodically wiping their systems.

If you are forced to stick with windows, consider setting up a *nix box as a file server and have every one store their data on a central machine that you control so that when their systems die, you can wipe them clean without worrying about data loss.

Go Mac or Linux (1)

tji (74570) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075024)

A friend of mine installed Linux on his parents computer, and put an end to the corruption/rebuild cycle. Of course, I think a large part of why this helped was that his parents only understood how to do the basics - read e-mail, browse the web, play music. They couldn't install new apps.

For my parents, I didn't think they would put up with "lock down" mode. So, I set them up with an iMac, and it has been great so far. I can ssh in to the system and look around, like Linux. That helps some support issues. For others, remote desktop works well. But, I have not had to deal with any malware, system corruption, or complete re-installs since moving to Mac. (Why that is, I don't really care.. maybe someday we'll have virus issues. For now, all I care is that it is not a problem)

Erase all their precious files (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075032)

Erase all their precious files the next time you find something worse than ad-ware on their machines. Of course, you want to back it up, but you're not telling that until a few weeks later when they come to realise that -not- knowing the risks of using a certain machine, they will end up losing -something-.
Hey, I learned from that in 1999 when I lost a whole HD with all my work on there after having enabled some silly virus.

Stop with the quick fixes! (1)

cybiko123 (1223650) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075042)

Perhaps it didn't occur to anyone, but maybe switching to Ubuntu/Linux/OS X/[insert quick-fix OS] is not the best idea. One of the "security flaws" is a nine-year-old. Do you want to explain to him/her why running games doesn't work perfectly anymore (yes, I am aware of WINE)? Or why they can't play any of their iTunes-purchased songs? IMHO, you can't fix stupidity by switching OSes. You fix stupidity by making people less stupid.

Install AV/firewall (1)

Fry-kun (619632) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075046)

Set them to autoupdate daily & make them scan pretty much everything - email attachments, downloads..
It slows the computer down overall but that's the price they'll have to pay if they don't want to learn.

Of course this is in addition to warning them to check for obvious signs:
* who is this email really from?
* does the URL actually go where it pretends it will go?
* am I downloading from a legitimate site?
* did I remember to scan the file I just downloaded? -- there used to be firefox addons that did this automatically..

Installing Linux as some are suggesting works in some cases only.
* They won't be able to use some sites (think Silverlight)
* If they run programs other than standard email/browser/IM combo, it might be a problem. OpenOffice is great but not a perfect substitute for MS Office.


Set the systems up correctly (1)

al0ha (1262684) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075050)

1) Provide non administrative accounts for everyone but yourself - nobody needs admin on Windows any more

2) Install a good antivirus, which will easily be able to detect user level rootkits and malware

3) Disable AutoRun using the method provided on the NIST web site: []

4) Enjoy not having to mess around with compromised systems any more...

Some technical solutions (1)

ScaledLizard (1430209) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075052)

  • Ease system recovery by creating images of the system partitions
  • Allow users to run browsers only in a virtual machine
  • Use a Knoppix boot CD instead of an OS booting from disk

The 9-year-old is the key (5, Insightful)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075056)

Sounds like it's time to transition your support job to the next generation.

DeepFreeze (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075064)

OK, we all know a determined user can break it, but for the average home user, it, combine with a big home NAS (andd back-up NAS), Deep Freeze will reduce your support load to almost nothing. Just make sure to get a good disk image to make future metal restores easier, and make sure /user redirects to the NAS.

Easy way to not get viruses/spyware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075066)

Use legal copies of Windows, turn on auto updates, use a decent antivirus, and here's the critical user training:

Attachments don't only come from friends.
Most internet porn has viruses or spyware.
Most free music downloads have viruses as well.

I tried the "Install linux, throw away root password route" and it worked great for an old hippy friend that new nothing of computers.

Don't even try (1)

aerogems (339274) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075104)

I know it may seem mean, and all that, but I tell friends and family that if they want my help fixing their computer, they have to abide by my "rules". Which is that I will lock the system down, and remove a lot of the common ways in which viruses and malware ends up on someone's system. For example: If they want Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, then they're on their own to fix anything that goes wrong. Usually after they see the rates places like Geek Squad charge for what is ultimately a far less comprehensive service, they come around pretty quickly.

I've found you need to be rather Machiavellian about it. YOU are the one with the expertise needed to fix this problem, so YOU hold the power. YOU set the conditions by which you will share your expertise with them, and they either accept your terms or they seek out some kind of alternate solution on their own. And it may seem disrespectful to your parents, but it's disrespectful to you if you fix things, try and explain how to avoid it in the future, and they turn around completely disregard everything you say. All you're doing now by helping them, is reinforcing a behavioral pattern of learned helplessness. What you're doing is teaching them that they can do whatever they want, and then you'll come along and fix it when they screw things up. You need to disabuse them of this notion post-haste. Either they put up with your restrictions, or they start chipping in some money for your time and expertise.

Make it inconvient for them, not for you (1)

iaamoac (206206) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075114)

If your family is like mine, they will not learn unless the cost of not learning it becomes too inconvenient. As it stands, you are probably bearing the brunt of the inconvenience. Spread it around. Each time you have to do the same things to fix their problems, charge them more, and let them know it. What you charge does not necessarily have to be $$$. Let them clean your place, yard, cook meals for you, fix something, baby sit, .... but get something out of it. You are giving up your time to fix the same mistakes of theirs time and again. This is time that you could be improving YOUR life.

real easy- limited accounts (1)

Helix150 (177049) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075116)

this really isnt that hard.

1. do a fresh windows install
2. install AVG free antivirus, etc etc
3. Make the only account that has admin access be in your name. Put a password on it. Don't tell them what it is.
4. Make accounts for each of them, all Limited accounts.
5. back up the computer (take an image file).

Now if they screw it up, just unfuck their user account or re-create it. And if somehow it really gets screwed up (unlikely), then just restore the image. They may whine and complain about not being able to install some software, but that's tough cookies. Tell them this keeps their bank account safe (it does!)

Two words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075132)

Start charging.

Suddenly the incidences of stupidity will drop. Or failing that you'll make some money out of them.

Stop trying to help so much (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075138)

something happens to my parents' computer, I spend a week or two trying to non-destructively fix the problem [...] and then if it's not easily fixed I'll reformat and start from scratch.

Stop that. If you insist on holding their hands, make one clean rebuild of their workstations just the way they like it and then image it. Provide them with a restore disc which will restore that image and wipe everything else. Give them a copy and keep spares hidden where only you can find or lose them.

ANY time they come to you with some problem which even looks like they may have caused it themselves, just say "Stick in the restore disc". There will be whining about lost data, missing Solitaire high scores and having to rewrite that paper on Chinatown (and it was a really good paper), but that would be a good time to learn about something called "backups" and "not wasting your time".

If you can find them a copy of "Not Being A Dummy For Dummies" then that might help too. It has been out of print for a while, though, so good luck.

Install ubuntu.... Until they want to play a game (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30075140)

When they want to do something else other than run Firefox, then they are hosed. All the family is going to do is resent you for forcing linux on them. Just wait until they want to play a game they bought on Bestbuy. All the propaganda about the apparent superiority of open source software won't impress them when their game won't run.

One would be better off setting up a limited user account on windows, and tell them to only use the administrator account when they are absolutely sure they want to install a piece of software.


codemaster2b (901536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075148)

Okay, as they say, blood is thicker than water. As well-meaning as these kind folks on Slashdot are, you and I know that you cannot get out of a support role. In truth, it is a meaningful service you can provide. But, since you're commited, why not examine ways to reduce your problems? Sure, there are lots of software options, but I'm more of a hardware kind of guy. I bought a $100 router with twin hardware firewalls. Even using free ZoneAlarm under Windows XP Professional, I have had zero spyware, malware, viruses, rootkits, etc. In well over a year. That's with four windows XP machines and 3 Ubuntu machines on the network, plus printer, XBOX360, etc. I lock my wireless network to MAC-only and leave it otherwise open and unencrypted.

Limited user + EasyVPN (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075154)

If you don't want to deal with the bugs the easiest way is to not allow them to get them in the first place. being a PC repairman I had this same problem with my dad, who frankly could tear up a Sherman tank with a toothbrush. Run them as a limited user and set up Comodo EasyVPN (with admin privileges of course) so you can install any software they might "need" and you should be good to go. Now the only time I have to go deal with my dad's computers is when he picks up a new piece of hardware like a camera.

Here is the link [] for the 32bit version of EasyVPN, they also have an x64 if like me you have moved past 32bit. Your family will love how you can "magically" install stuff without having to be there, and you'll love not having them tear up the PC when you're not around. A win/win in my book.

But in my experience trying to "educate" users is like pissing in the wind, bud. You see there is this thing called "social engineering" and the dancing bunny problem [] . You see they WANT to see the bunnies, and no matter how many times you say it's a trap! [] they will completely ignore you and go right ahead and do whatever they need to in order to see the bunnies. So as long as they are allowed admin rights then this [] will be your expression more often than not. Better to just be the "installer monkey" and keep them in a nice locked down limited user account.

Not an Easy Conversation to Have... (1)

pig_man1899 (1143237) | more than 4 years ago | (#30075166)

... but you're going to have to tell mom and dad to stay off the russian girlie sites
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