The holiday season has once more arrived and it’s time to visit your loved ones, to spend some quality time with them. Having said that, a lot of this quality time can end up being spent on troubleshooting your nieces’ laptops, or your uncle’s old computer, i.e., if you are a geek, or even an intermediate computer user. Updating applications, troubleshooting issues, and re-installing the operating system are all those tedious tasks that can eat up a lot of your “quality time,” but all that can be prevented if you can take some simple measures to ensure that you do not have to start from scratch each time your family members or friends end up messing their computer.
In this post, we will provide you with some simple guidelines to help you reduce the time and effort that you may spend resolving technical issues of your near and dear ones.
Software Updates And Troubleshooting
After you inadvertently take charge of a system belonging to your relative or friend, the biggest question can be where exactly to start resolving the labyrinth of issues. Perhaps the best place to start is to begin with updating the necessary applications and applying hotfixes. Such system fixes are often automatically applied once the system is updated (e.g., after applying Windows, Mac or Linux updates). Many of the issues that novice users face can be easily resolved by simply updating their applications, including the browser, anti-virus, mail client, instant messenger etc. After you have updated these applications, you can take some contingency measures and install a remote access client for troubleshooting similar issues in future. For this purpose, Windows users can use Soluto, which is a comprehensive troubleshooting application for remotely determining what applications have been non-responsive or crashing on a remote computer. It allows remote installation of all necessary applications (including Skype, Dropbox, an anti-virus etc), and configuring default the browser, homepage, search engine, etc. Using Soluto, you can even see the CPU temperature and fan speed of the remote computer, and also remove applications, browser extensions and the like. You can find out more about Soluto in our post here. While Soluto is a feature-rich tool for Windows users, unfortunately, it is hard to find such a robust application for other platforms. For this reason, Mac OS X and Linux users can check out the next section to choose a suitable remote screen sharing and collaboration tool to remotely fix system issues.
Remote Screen Sharing And Collaboration Tools
To save yourself from the hassle of troubleshooting computer issues on your vacations, it is much better to periodically resolve the above mentioned issues by remotely accessing your relative(s)’ computers. This can be done with the help of a number of remote access and collaboration tools, including Team Viewer, ThinVNC and Cross Loop. TeamViewer is perhaps one of the best free remote screen sharing and collaboration tools. It not only offers smooth functionality of remote desktop connections, conference chat and multi-monitor support, but also has versions for a number of platforms including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and mobile devices (Android, iPhone and iPad). You can find out more about the configuration and usage of TeamViewer on multiple platforms, in our posts here. While TeamViewer provides excellent remote collaboration and screen sharing options, you can also use another advanced application known as ThinVNC. It is web-based remote desktop solution that allows remotely connecting to computers using an HTML5 compliant browser such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera or Safari. This enables users to remotely access, troubleshoot and manage computers using Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices. You can check out the complete review of ThinVNC here. Furthermore, if you require communicating between a Windows and Mac OS X computer, then you can also try Cross Loop. It is a cross-platform remote screen sharing and collaboration tool for Windows and Mac OS X that allows you to share your desktop screen with a remote computer. The connection is encrypted with 128-bit encryption, and generates a random 12-digit key, which is required to be transmitted to the host (e.g. via email, phone, instant message or similar means), so he/she can connect to your computer. Cross Loop has been designed for novice users, and therefore, is quite easy to use. You can find out more about Cross Loop from the developer’s website here.
Schedule Important Tasks
Now that you have updated the system(s) and installed a remote screen sharing and collaboration client, it’s time to schedule tasks using automation tools. While many of the system tools such as disk defragmentation, disk cleanup etc can be scheduled using built-in application options, it can be more convenient to simply use a single tool to schedule all kinds of tasks. Windows and Mac OS X users can easily benefit from Action(s) (a third-party application), which allows automating system tasks. Using Action(s), you can build workflows to quickly automate any kind of system task including system backup, copying and deleting files, displaying email messages, defragmenting the hard drive and more. To know more about this tool, check out our review here. If Action(s) seems a little too complicated, Windows users can always use Schedule Manager, which is more specifically designed for Windows task automation. This tool is meant for automating both computer-related and daily routine tasks, including, downloading files , system shutdown, hibernate, log-off, reboot, set meetings, appointments, reminders and the like. You can find out more about Schedule manager here. While Action(s) and Schedule Manager may get the job done for Windows and Mac users, it’s time to give some advice to Linux readers. When it comes to Linux applications, unfortunately there seems to be little development for new tools like the ones mentioned above, but that does not mean that Linux does not have a robust task automation software. Gnome Task Scheduler is a Linux tool for automating tasks. You can schedule tasks from any saved template, and use a task from a predefined template option. Gnome Task Scheduler can be used to schedule and manage one-time and recurring tasks to ensure that all required system maintenance and update processes are completed in due course of time. For installation and usage instructions of Gnome Task Schedulers, see our guide here.
Cloud Storage Services For File Sharing
While a lot of online collaboration and file sharing can be done with the above mentioned screen sharing and collaboration tools, some files are just too heavy to be sent via a remote desktop connection. This is because such a transfer can choke the connection and ultimately hang or/and end the session. For this reason, it is necessary that an online storage account is configured on the remote computer. Perhaps the best option for such a purpose is Dropbox. You can not only use Dropbox on a number of platforms including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android and iOS, but also share specific files with your friends and family by sending them invites. You can even create and configure a mutual Dropbox accounts on a computer to easily share files with your friend or family members. Despite being a handy file sharing and online storage tool, Dropbox has one limitation that many users find annoying, i.e., it only gives 2GB of free storage. For this reason, Windows and Linux users can easily opt in for Ubuntu One, which provides up to 5GB of free storage and is also available for mobile platforms including Android, iPhone and iPad. Unfortunately, Ubuntu One is currently not available for Mac. Mac users however, can always use iCloud – a Mac and iOS based cloud storage service, which offers up to 5GB of free cloud storage.
Configure System Backup
After you have resolved your friend’s or family member’s computer issues, applied necessary updates and hotfixes, installed a remote screen sharing and collaboration tool, scheduled important tasks, and configured a cloud storage medium, it’s now time for backing up the system. By creating a disc image, you can now ensure that each time there is an issue, you can simply revert the changes by restoring the system state to the current configurations. The good thing about creating a system image is that you can apply it remotely (provided the computer can be logged in using a remote access application). When it comes to creating a system backup, there are several third-party applications that one can use. However, the default operating system applications can do the job for you in a more simplified manner. These applications are easier to use and are suitable for both novice and advanced users. For example, you can use the native Windows Backup tool for creating a disc image of your system by following instructions from our guide here. Similarly, you can use the default Mac Time Machine to restore backed up data. Similarly, Linux users can use the reliable Deja Dup Backup tool, which is also the default backup application for many Debian-based distributions. If you don’t know how to use this application, then you can see our complete step by step guide here. In case you don’t want to use the default backup tools, then you can always use the feature-rich Duplicati application. This cross-platform application works with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux based operating systems, including both Debian and RedHat based distributions. Duplicati offers an easy to use interface to help you create a complete backup of your operating system state to an external hard drive, network drive, FTP server, AmazonS3 and WEBDAV server. You can check out system backup instructions for Duplicati here.
Hijacking Toolbars, Virus And Other Malware Removal
While the above tips should be comprehensive for resolving your holiday season technical issues, we have been asked by our readers to specifically explore another topic, i.e., the removal of viruses, toolbars and other kinds of system hijacking malware. When it comes to toolbars, the best method is to always choose the custom install option to avoid installing them. However, in case you end up installing one, then it is likely that it will not be removed by merely uninstalling it from the browser or/and Add/Remove programs. Some hijacking toolbars even take over your browser settings and remain active, even after apparent uninstallation. While many applications claim to remove them, the only method that I have found effective is to manually uninstall the browser, along with your personal settings and then to re-install it. However, if you don’t use Xmarks and other synchronization extensions, which may easily restore your browser settings and bookmarks or would simply like to avoid the hassle of re-installing your browser, then you can use toolbar remover.
When it comes to viruses, it is not a matter of if, but when your conventional anti-virus might fail. For this reason, you can use specialized virus removal utilities along with your anti-virus suite for maximum protection. One such software is ThreatFire (for Windows), it is an anti-malware application which is quite different from conventional anti-virus programs; it continuously protects your PC against zero-day attacks by detecting malicious processes instead of relying merely on definition updates. For example, it looks for applications which is attempting to log the key strokes. ThreatFire is not necessarily meant to replace your Antivirus suite, as it can work seamlessly with your existing Antivirus application, however, if all else fails, you can try out ComboFix – a low-level virus/malware removable application for Windows. As Linux computers are not prone to malware attacks, Linux users seldom use an anti-virus application. However, to be on the safe side, you can opt in for any conventional anti-virus program such as Avast, AVG or BitDefender (Linux editions).
Like Linux computers, seldom do we see that Mac systems are infected with viruses. This is because that most Mac applications don’t have the permission to write data to system-wide locations, where virus could seriously harm the system. Moreover, Mac applications are generally distributed in DMG format, which has to be mounted instead of installed on the system to perform the required functionality. However, DMG packaged applications do write on disks, but only with limited access to system locations. However, the Mac Preferences Panes sometimes get infected by malware. In case such an issue occurs, Mac users can use ClamXav and Sophos Anti-Virus.
We hope that the above mentioned applications will make it easy for you to resolve system issues of your dear ones, and also save your quality time from being spent on resolving computer issues of people you can’t say no to.