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Family IT Management
by Patti Hermes
When did it come to this? Do we need an office manager for our home? Certainly an IT professional would be appropriate, if not exactly in the budget. I blame it on those discount tech sales, those emails screaming "Price Alert: 25"HDMI LCD $199 … 15.4" Lenovo Dual-Core Laptop $429 …" they're so hard to resist! Especially the laptops.
Has the computer become like the TV in your house, one in every room? And with these laptops, who cares how many are in the room, right? (OK, so maybe we are going a little overboard on the geekiness) Except when something goes wrong. Wow, can it ever ruin a perfectly good weekend! Who is going to want to spend all day Saturday trying to fix a problem they don't really understand? (or how many friends do you have giving out free tech support?)
Even if you only have one computer for your entire family (smart move, keep it that way if you can!), who is in charge of maintenance? These things can't go on forever downloading without a little TLC you know. There's a whole plethora of scenarios that can lead to the complete downfall of your little civilization, if you don't keep up on regular computer maintenance. It's like your car, only it takes up your time, not a whole lot of your money.
Number one priority is to update your operating system, as recommended. Most home users have a form of Windows, and newer models all have the option for automatic updates. Make sure to activate it and you'll have one less thing to think about. Many software publishers also offer the option for automatic updates during installation.
Back-up, back-up and back-up again. Another task that can be automated, or you may have to stand by for some assistance such as adjusting the back-up media. My computer here does an automatic back-up to the hard drive, and then I do manual back-ups to DVDs, but CDs can work for smaller back-ups as well. You'll need to find your comfort zone as to frequency, but once a month seems to work for most families (weekly for heavy users and financial information). Make a date, and keep it.
I've designated Friday nights for back-ups and maintenance of our household computers. In addition to back-ups, I check the computers for cleaning and defragging needs, and any programs that are slowing down performance. Yes, I am the official Family IT Manager, but it doesn't necessarily have to be me. Since my older son figured out downloading on his own, and took to installing new software fairly easily, I figure he's ready to learn the responsibilities of care and maintenance. I could use the help, and someday hand over the reins (and regain my social life in the process!).
Home Computer Security
It still surprises me how many people are hooking up their computers to high-speed internet connections with no anti-virus protection. And there is absolutely no excuse. "It's too expensive" became obsolete long ago, with all the free stuff out there. And yes, it actually works quite well. I have one machine running AVG free anti-virus with no problems at all. The best thing about it, in my opinion, is it works in the background, updating itself, running scans according to schedule. I barely even have to think about it.
In addition to viruses, you also need to protect your computer from hackers, spyware and other malicious software. While the latest operating systems, such as Windows Vista, may already have a firewall (for blocking hacker access) and anti-spyware built in, it's a good idea to check your anti-virus software package to see if it includes Full Protection for older systems. You may be surprised to find that your systems are already fully protected, and all you need to do is make sure it is ON, and UPDATED regularly.
And finally, some good ole common sense will go a long way in protecting your computer from online security threats. Never open attachments in emails from strangers, be wary of strange or unusual emails even if they appear to be from people you know, use your pop-up blockers, and never click on those annoying ads anyway, they are notorious spyware carriers. Be aware of phishing scams and never reply to those phony emails asking for "important security update"; all they want is your password so they can steal all your money. Stick to reputable web sites, names and or brands you know, and when downloading software click "save" instead of "run" to give your anti-virus program a chance to check for nasty bugs before they can infect your computer.
The best tech advice that has served me well over the years: Don't trust anything, and when in doubt, Google it (but don't believe everything you read!).
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| Patti Hermes is a freelance writer and columnist, specializing in family and parenting subjects and works for children, as well as essays and a blog, Writes For Chocolate. She works at home where she referees two spirited little boys and occasionally their father. Originally from Massachusetts, she and her husband of eighteen years are now raising their happy family in the Midwest. To read more visit her on the web at