Ten Commonly Asked Computer Questions…and Answers: Part 2

Last month I answered 5 of the 10 most commonly asked computer questions. This month I answer the remaining 5 questions.

1. Why do I have to renew my antivirus software every year?

When you buy antivirus software (or an Internet Security program that includes antivirus software) you are really buying 2 things: the software program and a subscription that allows you to update the program for one year. So, after a year you are not buying the whole program again, you are renewing your subscription for another year. Of course, when it is time to renew the subscription, a new version of the software has been released and they want you to buy the new version as well as renew the subscription. The subscription is what allows you to download the latest updates that protect you from the latest threats. If you don’t renew the subscription, the program usually continues running and will protect you from the threats it knows about. It won’t protect from any new ones that come out since your last update. You don’t have to buy the whole program, you can just renew the subscription. But, over time, the program itself has improved and eventually it will not be supported (see question 5) or they won’t allow you to buy a subscription for that version. I would recommend you update the program at least every other year, but updating it every year is not a waste of money.

Illustration by Nathan Zak

2. I just installed the latest version of my antivirus software and now my PC is very slow…what happened?

Almost every version of every software program has a minimum system requirements list that you can find on the box or on the manufacturer’s Web site. The closer you get to the minimum requirements, the slower your PC will be. So, if you just barely meet the minimum re-quirements, you are probably going to see your PC slow down. Think of it this way… you have to sit in the back seat of a car with 2 other adults for a 3-hour ride. Would you rather sit in the back seat of a Honda Civic or a Ford Expedition? They both claim you can fit 3 people in the back seat, so what’s the big deal? There is a lot more shoulder and leg room in the back seat of the Expedition, which probably means you will be more comfortable. I am not knocking the virtues of the Honda Civic, just using it as an example. Now, let’s say you have triplets who are 11 years old. They can all fit nicely in the back seat of the Civic right now. What about 5 years from now when they are 16…do they still fit nicely in that back seat? Sure, they can still fit, but all of the pushing and jockeying for position every time you take them somewhere is starting to get on your nerves. What if you could get a vehicle that had a third row seat? Despite the arguing over who has to sit back there, wouldn’t there be a lot more room and a lot less shoving?
OK, back to your slow PC. Your software has grown up and gotten bigger, but your PC hasn’t changed. Sure, you could upgrade the RAM, the hard drive, and maybe even the processor (CPU, think Pentium III versus Pentium 4), but will that really solve your problem? It is your decision as to how much money you want to put into the 5-year-old Civic before you decide to buy the new vehicle. As a rule of thumb, if you are waiting for the PC to catch up with you, it might be time to upgrade. Yes, there are always slight delays when opening programs or saving files, but you shouldn’t be able to make a pot of coffee and discuss the latest news in full detail before the program opens.

3. How come every time I have a computer problem, my computer tech interrogates me with a lot of questions?

Does it seem like your computer tech works for the CIA and interrogates you every time you call for help? Asking a lot of questions is a good thing—being condescending or judgmental is not. The tech is asking questions to better understand what the problem is, what was happening when the problem occurred, and what changes have occurred that could have caused the problem. The questions can be very basic if you are doing some troubleshooting over the phone. You are the eyes and ears for the tech when doing phone support.
The KISS principle is extremely important when troubleshooting over the phone, and is still used if the tech is onsite at your office to fix the issue. The KISS principle is not the rock group, it means Keep It Simple, Stupid (the stupid is for the tech, not you). What does this great scientific principle really mean? Start with the easy stuff like, is it turned on, what lights are on and what color are they, what happens when you hit the Num Lock key, etc? Most computer problems are easily fixed. Did a cable get kicked or pulled? Is the surge protector turned off? If you have a computer problem and it only takes a few minutes to fix, your day is not ruined.
So, how do you know if the tech has you chasing your tail and really doesn’t know what (s)he is doing? Well, if you don’t trust your tech or have faith in their ability, sounds like it is time to get a new tech. It is also OK if you ask the tech questions. Sometimes the problem is solved because you ask the right question. The whole idea is that you work as a team to solve the problem. If you work against the tech, you are only delaying the process to find the solution. Also, if the tech can’t work as a team with you or your staff, then this is a problem as well.

4. Should I reboot my server once a week?

If you have to reboot your server once a week, then you probably have an issue that needs to be corrected. It is a good idea to reboot a server once a month. The idea behind this is to close everything out and start fresh. Why is once a week a problem? It may be time to upgrade the server because you are pushing it to its limit. Or, you may have a program that is not running properly, and over time it is using up most of the resources (mainly RAM and CPU). This is sometimes called a rogue application. Software programs are supposed to be written so they play well with other programs and share the available resources. If one program is hogging all of the resources, then the other ones will slow down because they can’t run properly.
Also, a program may not close properly and is still using resources, or more appropriately, has not re-leased those resources to be used by another program. There probably isn’t an error message on the screen or an error in the system logs, so how do you know if the resources are being taxed or not shared properly? The Task Manager is where you can look to see what applications are running, how much of the RAM is being used, and how much of the processor (CPU) is being used. To get to the Task Manager in Win-dows XP or Windows Server, hold down the CTRL and Alt keys and hit the Delete key…this will bring up a box with 6 buttons. Click on the Task Manager button. Click on the Performance tab and you will see 2 line graphs. If the CPU usage is staying above 80% or so consistently, then you probably have an out of control application. If the server is older, you may be taxing the resources and need to upgrade to a new server.
Do not reboot the server while the other PCs are logged in. To be safe, you may want to shut down all the PCs before rebooting the server, but at the very least make sure everyone is logged off. You should consult your computer tech as to the best practices for rebooting your server.

5. I bought one box of Microsoft Office at the office supply store…can I install it on all 3 of my front desk PCs?

You can, but it is illegal and you probably will get error messages when you try to register the second PC and the third PC, and the programs will stop working after so many uses. Software programs have different licensing options, and these options can change when a new version is released. Please don’t be offended or insulted if your computer refuses to install software on your PCs because it would break the licensing for that product. Some will pooh-pooh this statement, but if your computer tech installs illegal software on your office PCs, it puts their business and your practice in jeopardy. Microsoft has filed over a hundred lawsuits this year against computer companies that installed or sold illegal software. I couldn’t afford to fight a lawsuit against Micro-soft, and I don’t look good in an orange jumpsuit. So, what are the chances you will get caught? Microsoft has launched a program that verifies the authenticity of your Windows installation before it will let you run the latest updates from Microsoft. No big deal, I won’t update my software. OK, but what happens when a security hole is discovered in Windows that some hacker exploits and now you can’t use the Internet until you install the patch from Microsoft (Google W32/Blaster from August 2003 as an example)? 
What if the program isn’t a Microsoft application, can I install it? If it breaks the licensing agreement, then no, you cannot legally install it. Most software programs have an online update program built into them so you can get the latest fixes or updates. Do you think they check the licensing before they let you update? What information is sent to them when you run an online update? Some people look at installing illegal software the same way they look at cheating on their taxes…what are the chances I will get caught? What are the consequences if you do get caught? The most well known group for catching software piracy is the Business Software Alliance (bsa.org). Many of the larger software companies are part of this alliance. It appears that most companies are audited because a former disgruntled employee has turned them in to the BSA. It is not really known how the BSA chooses companies, similar to the lack of knowledge as to how the IRS chooses companies to audit. Would you help a patient commit insurance fraud because they don’t think it is fair that the insurance companies are making all that money?

CONCLUSION

There are many computer questions that are asked every day by dentists and staff. Hopefully my answers to the 10 most commonly asked computer questions that I have encountered will prove helpful.


Mr. Walsh is the president of Patriot Networks, located in Mendon, Mass. Patriot Networks provides computer and network services to dental practices and small businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He can be reached at (508) 624-9898 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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