By my own rough estimate, 95 percent of personal computers are repaired not by a shop, but by The Techie Friend. The Techie Friend usually isn't someone with formal training in computer systems per se, but they've been around computers for a long time and know how to do more than just turn one on and launch a program.
Chances are The Techie Friend also knows how to use Google for more than researching funny cat videos -- the computer problem they're addressing is likely a common one, with solutions posted to social media or support websites or discussion forums.
Most of the time, The Techie Friend will work on your troublesome computer for free, because they feel sorry for you. They know you're a blundering oaf when it comes to anything more complicated than checking a power cable. They understand that you couldn't tell a memory stick from an ethernet connection.
Meet me, the archetype of The Techie Friend. I have answered hundreds of messages, emails and phone calls from friends who have a "busted computer". The friend is often someone I haven't heard from in weeks, months or even years. It's amazing how a busted computer can rekindle old relationships with people you thought long dead, in jail, or just didn't like you anymore.
It's also amazing how many of these long lost friends decide to vanish from my life again after I tell them I no longer work on computers for free.
"Oh. You would charge me? How much an hour? Wow. Gee, I thought since we are such good buddies you wouldn't mind taking a little time to help me out. Oh, well. Yeah, lemme call you back in a bit, or email you..."
And they then return to the void from whence they came, and I never hear from them again. Good riddance.
Let me explain why this particular Techie Friend no longer works for free. It's nothing to do with friendship; it's everything to do with providing a valuable service in an area you are totally lost in. It's investing my time and skill to solve your problem. In the long term, it's often an exercise in futility and aggravation because you won't listen to my sound advice once I have your machine up to speed again.
When I repair a computer today, I make the customer aware of some very important items in addition to the fact that it's going to cost them:
First, any future problems with their computer are not my fault. The vast majority of problems I encounter while working on personal computers have nothing to do with Windows itself, or the machine it's running on. These computers are running like crap because of the user.
They install "free" programs that also install unneeded browser toolbars and adware. (Why do you think they're free? The people behind the program are paid to bundle extra crap with their software.)
They visit questionable websites, lured by "free" games, hit movies, pornography and music. The website serves up tempting-looking links to click on, with a rude surprise in the form of a virus or trojan at the other end.
Either of these scenarios could probably have been prevented if the user had protective software installed. As I have seen, protection on most personal computers is nearly invariably out of date, disabled, or has been removed completely.
Despite my advice, the user will continue to download junk software or try to get the latest blockbuster movie without paying for it. They'll peek at porno. They will continue to play "free" online games. They won't run protective software or let Windows apply security updates. And they will wonder why, three months after I worked on it, their computer is again doing weird things.
Second, don't expect me to fix the computer in a certain amount of time. People often become upset when I can't give them an idea of how long it will take me to repair their machine. I will not know how badly they have screwed up their computer until I actually delve into it. Their problem description of, "It's running slow" or "It's acting funny" is not at all helpful.
Keep this in mind -- malicious software, which as I have mentioned is responsible for most personal computer problems, is often designed to mask its presence and be hard to remove. From past experience I can state with certainty that in nearly every infestation of this type, there won't be just one installation of malware to deal with, there will be many; sometimes dozens.
Third, don't be untruthful or assign blame. I am going to ask the customer what types of sites they have visited recently, because as discussed, bad websites abound. I will know if they are lying because I always check their browser and look at their surfing history.
Customers will attempt to deflect any blame away from themselves. They don't have unseemly browsing habits, they would never think of bootlegging the latest album from their favorite band, they let someone else use the computer for a while, they were innocently just using their computer when things started acting goofy.
When dealing with The Techie Friend, honesty is always the best policy. Trust me, within ten minutes of their initial evaluation of your computer, your online habits will be an open book to them anyhow.
Fourth, "reinstall" means "you'll lose everything". A full reinstallation of Windows is what I refer to as the nuclear option. It's a measure of last resort when I find a system so riddled with malicious software or corrupt system files that a rescue is impossible. The computer's operating system is going to be restored to pristine condition as if turned on for the very first time.
Irate customers will often call me two weeks later wondering what happened to their photo editing or word processing software, because they did not pay attention when I explained the ramifications of a complete reinstallation of Windows.
I can sometimes back up and restore the user's personal files in the computer's Documents folder. I cannot back up and restore the software the user has installed since they purchased the computer. When it comes to a full system reinstall, it's up to the customer to locate any installation media for purchased software or have a download site's web address handy.
Fifth, heed The Techie Friend's advice. After I make the customer's computer like new again, I will explain what I did, and suggest reputable security programs and safe practices to keep it like new.
I will also explain that failure to heed my recommendations will practically guarantee I or another Techie Friend will be asking them for money in a few months, because they were simply too lazy to follow instructions.
A computer is like any other tool in that it's best to use it with something more than just basic knowledge of what it does. A person should know its limitations and weaknesses. They should understand fundamental concepts of system maintenance and security. They need to actually read some of the warnings and suggestions Windows will throw at them.
The average computer user was actually like that twenty years ago. People today don't want to be bothered to learn even the simplest aspects of home computer use. This is good for computer repair shops and Techie Friends like me, but at the same time it's frustrating to us, because our advice is so often ignored.