A Layman’s Guide to Fixing Computer Problems for Family & Friends


computer repair 1Are you the local go-to person for family and friends whenever they are experiencing problems with their computer? It may well be that you are not actually a computer whiz at all, the burden of being even a little bit tech-savvy is that you are automatically elected to the position of ‘Chief Computer Fixer-Upperer’. It’s not generally a voluntary position, just one that you inherit simply because you happen to know a little more on the subject than everyone else.

I have previously published articles relating my own encounters with the ‘absolute novice’ brigade, it can be a frustrating and, at times, time consuming exercise. What follows is a few basic tips to help those of you who may be caught up in the role of ‘Local Friendly Computer Repairperson’ (note the politically correct non-gender specific terminology :)):

Hands-on is generally quickest in the end!

You’re sitting watching match of the day on TV, the phone rings, it’s your beloved Mum, she’s having problems with that infernal machine again. You don’t really want to leave the game, maybe you can guide her through whatever is ailing it over the phone. Forget it!! In my experience, in most cases all your going to do is waste more valuable time. If you can’t or don’t want to leave immediately, make arrangements to pop over at a more computer repair helpconvenient time.

Remote-control software can often be of assistance under certain circumstances but it’s generally not much use waiting until the phone call and then expecting the caller to understand how to download, install, and use the software… after all, that’s why they are ringing you in the first place, is it not? Here’s a good plan; as you visit each of your ‘clients’, install your preferred remote-control software on each machine, taking time to carefully run them through the connection process afterward. Now if you want to have a go at fixing a problem over the phone, at least you’ll be in with half a chance.

Recognize your limits!

It’s great to be the hero of the day and receive all the plaudits, but you can also make a rod for your own back by taking on more than you can chew. First rule of working on someone else’s computer… thou shalt not do it any harm. Before you do anything, take time to properly assess the situation and make sure it’s something you are both confident and comfortable dealing with. There is no shame in admitting that something is beyond your capabilities, recognize your own limits and when it might be best to call on professional help. It may well save a lot of time and heartache in the long run.


Start with the basics!

The worst thing you can do is jump in boots and all, trying things in a higgledy-piggledy fashion… you’ll only end up confusing yourself. Formulate a proper plan of attack and start with the basics. You’ll be surprised at how often a simple reboot can remedy a recalcitrant machine. Or how powering off a router or printer for several minutes and then powering back on again can return those devices to full operations. Or how many times a loose or disconnected cable can be the culprit. If, for example, you are dealing with a sluggish or non-existent internet connection, before you start the lengthy process of exploring for system issues and malware infections, power cycle the router and check any cable connections. Start with the simple things first and work your way through in a logical order.

A Loaded Flashdrive is your best friend!

computer repair flashdriveJust like any other repairperson, you should never leave home without an adequate toolkit. There are so many wonderful portable applications to aid with diagnostic and remedial operations, a well equipped flash drive is your essential ally. Make sure you have system-diagnostic programs, software to combat malware infections, file-recovery tools, and any other portable apps that can help with your endeavors. Assemble your very own PC troubleshooting toolkit. One of the best places to start is a collection of over 150 excellent portable tools and utilities included in the brilliant NirLauncher package from NirSoft, available for download here: http://launcher.nirsoft.net/

To further help you on your way, here’s a selection of the main portable tools included in my own flashdrive toolkit:

  • NirLauncher – Of course!
  • SUPERAntiSpyware Portable Scanner Personal Edition – A must have, and one of very few portable malware scanner/removers.
  • Emsisoft Emergency Kit – Includes powerful malware scanner, command-line scanner, HijackFree (similar to Trend Micro HijackThis).
  • Recuva Portable –  Arguably the very best free data recovery utility – from Piriform, makers of the ever popular CCleaner.
  • Everything Portable – Very fast file and folder search tool. I keep this mainly for working with XP where the native search function is very slow.
  • Speccy Portable – System information tool, also from Piriform. Invaluable aid for checking hardware specs/brand/model for possible replacement or associated driver issues.
  • PrivaZer – Superior cleanup utility. No installation required but you need to download the executable and run, then select the option to ‘Create Portable Version’.

Spread the Word!

Last but certainly not least is the need to ‘educate’. There are some wonderful resources available via the net; articles and how-to guides, etc. Not the least of which is here at DCT, where we pride ourselves on producing content suitable even for novice users. Usually complete with pictorial guides (screenshots) as well as easy to comprehend, non-techy type language. Our team of experts is also always ready, willing, and able to help out on the DCT Forum. So, when you come across any helpful articles… you know… just like the hundreds packed into DCT… make it a priority to share them with family and friends. You never know, given enough education, some may even stop ringing you!

About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

17 Comments

  1. Since your format change, your font is too small and does not respond to CTRL+ as most pages do. Much of the stuff on the page gets bigger but not the main text. Not too good for old eyes.

  2. Jim That first paragraph fits me to a T.Among family,and at work,I’m the “computer guy”.
    This recently backfired though while on the phone with my Sister in Florida.Seems she was confused regarding update notifications for Flash and Java.Apparently she’s been disregarding them due to lack of understanding what they are.So,we got through the Flash updates with no small amount of frustration on my part,as she uses IE (which I’m not well versed in for personal reasons),and then it all went to hell with my suggestion to remove Java.Figuring her limited computer use consisting of email and general surfing,this should be a “safe” procedure,or so I thought.All seemed to go well as I confirmed all of the windows that were presented during the procedure,until the following day when she called stating she was unable to access the internet.fortunately,good old system restore cured that,but I’m not sure of the Java/internet access relationship.She has told me that she uses AOL Online for her internet,so anything ring a bell there with you? I’m waiting for her daughter to stop by so we can enlist the services of Team Viewer so I can have a look at what she has going on there.
    Sometimes,no matter how savvy you are,if the “victim” is computer illiterate,you’re screwed.

    • Hey Chuck – AOL is not big here in Oz so my knowledge in that area is rather limited. However, I can’t imagine there would be any association between Java and overall internet connectivity. I can see how the absence of Java may interfere with certain elements within AOL but not how it could cause zero internet connection.

      Sorry I can’t be more help,
      Cheers… Jim

    • Chuck,
      It’s been many years since I’ve even seen an AOL installation, but (in AOL’s infinite wisdom) I do believe their software uses Java. Why, oh why, in this day and age they do so is beyond me. The best solution is to simply change ISP’s – there should be many dialup providers available, and dialup is the only reason I can see for using AOL at all.

  3. Good tips … one small heads up though … SUPERAntiSpyware portable, while still named as such, is no longer portable …

    From the site:

    “The SUPERAntiSpyware Portable Scanner Personal Edition is a great Freeware alternative for those that want to scan and remove threats from their computer when malware may be blocking the installation of SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition or other security software. _** The program installs easily and is available to scan your computer at anytime! **_ ”

    While it is simple to uninstall, I thought it important to note it will be required if you don’t wish the install to remain.

    • Good point!

      It is still a good idea to include the ‘Portable’ version in a flashdrive toolkit though. It incorporates a couple of features which are not available otherwise: – up-to-date definitions, so internet access is not required. Plus it is saved under a random filename to prevent malware from blocking the scanner.

      I think that may be why the developers have retained the term “portable”, because it is especially designed to be carried around from machine to machine.

      Thanks for your input,
      Cheers… Jim

  4. Wondering if any one else had an issue with NirLauncher, when I extracted the zip into a folder my Norton Internet Security 2013 flagged 5 objects as being Trojans. I downloaded NirLauncher directly from there site.

    Just wondering, Robert Taylor

  5. Hi,

    Thanks All, for all this info. First time here…

    What size flash drive would recommend
    for all the aforementioned utilities, etc.?

    Thanks,Bob

  6. Thanks Jim for the link and information. I had a feeling it was probably OK but wanted to check.

    Thanks Again, Robert Taylor

  7. I have a couple friends that call me for problems too.I love to go to them and help.Before I touch any thing I set up a new system restore point and then I check out all the connections and reboot and then go to work.I have a special disc I made with anti-virus detectors and make sure that a virus isnt the cause. A lot of times its getting their programs updated and mostly its just plain explaining how to use programs.
    I have to remind them to not hit DELETE if you dont know what you will lose.
    And so many had no idea what disc cleaner and defragging means.DUH..So often it was just simple things they didnt know how to use.
    I would install useful programs and show them how and why to use them.So far I havent crashed and burned any ones computer but had the satisfaction of seeing happy faces after I was done.
    I am no expert but know enough to keep my friends safe online and enjoy using their computers. I never charge a fee..a glass of wine and their company after things are fixed is all I need!