Youre reading this Web site. That means youre the most technical person in your extended family and therefore know off the top of your head why your mother-in-laws PC won't print, right? Your uncle is convinced that if he can corner you between dinner and pie, you'll solve the riddle of that obscure error message he gets every time he boots his PC.
And your cousin wants to buy her husband the latest gadget. She has a Black Friday coupon for something, but doesn't remember what it's called. Should she buy it?
Ugh! Where's that eggnog?
You're a nice person, and you're happy to help. But what your newbie relatives don't realize is that such questions cannot be intelligently or satisfactorily answered without a lot more information. Worse, if you try to help, you could unwittingly give them the confidence to really foul things up -- and now their tech issues are not only your problem, they're your fault.
I might be able to help you help them. But first, you've got to accept the situation for what it is. You're not going to be able to solve their problems over dinner. And you're not going to fly back with them and spend three days trouble-shooting their problem.
Dont try to solve their problem as if it were your own. You can't. Instead, your objective here to should be to give them a process they can understand for solving their own problems on an ongoing basis -- without setting yourself up to be blamed for something that isn't your fault.
And don't accept the "terms" of your friend or relative. Some people insist on a free solution. They don't have such expectations for their car, their roof or their plumbing. The expectation that a PC can always be repaired free of charge is unreasonable. Let them know that they might have to spend some money. If they don't like the cost of your solution, just tell them that's what you would do and that's your advice.
Note that these are incredibly broad-brush solutions you'll be offering, and that's exactly the kind of advice you need to be giving in this situation. The last thing you want is to be sucked into the minutiae of detailed trouble-shooting.
It's also a good idea to give non-technical people the least number of options. Instead of telling them to choose, say, from any of 20 different anti-malware packages, just pick one and tell them to download it.
And finally, a new solution to many problems exists this holiday season for the first time ever: Tell them to buy an Apple iPad.
Many of your relatives are using a full-fledged PC for nothing more than surfing the Web, answering e-mail and poking around on Facebook. An iPad is a cheap PC alternative for some people, and one that needs little to no support help. If you can convince your loved one to buy an iPad this year, you wont be answering tech support questions next year. When the person is right for an iPad, the iPad is the solution to all their ongoing support woes, as you'll see below.
So here's my fool-proof "script" for how to navigate those awkward family tech support sessions that you'll face this holiday season. (Note that you can also copy and paste the scripts below and e-mail them.)
However, I can tell you about some products and services that might help solve the problem for you. And even if they dont solve your problem, you should be using them anyway.
And if those dont work, I have a couple more things for you to try.
1. Get Carbonite. The first thing to do is save your data. Download Carbonite, which is an automated backup tool. It's free at first, but later you'll have to pay $54.95 per year to keep using it.
It might take anywhere from several hours to several weeks to back up all your data, depending on the speed of your Internet connection and how much data you have. But its very important that you back up offsite before proceeding further.
Carbonite usually backs up all normal user documents, such as Word documents and Excel files. If you want to backup unusual files, you may have to select them manually by right-clicking on them and choosing the Carbonite menu item. Carbonite puts an orange dot on every file icon it plans to back up.
2. Get System Mechanic. Once your data is backed up, download and install System Mechanic, which is an all-purpose fixer and optimizer of PCs. It costs $40.
Once installed, click on the Toolbox menu item, and go through each of the "All-in-one Tools" and "Individual Tools." These processes systematically do most of the things an in-person PC repair person might do. System Mechanic might solve your problem. But even if it doesnt, it will maintain your system and improve its performance.
3. Get Anti-Malware. A lot of mysterious problems are caused by malware. After running all System Mechanic tools, download the free version of Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware software. Make sure you accept the default option to update the software during the installation process. For ongoing protection, pay for the full version, which costs $24.95.