It’s a man’s job to be curious. Exploring and prodding the world to determine what is best, what is safe and what should be feared. In pre-history this man would be in charge of the stick used to poke maybe-dead things. Today, it’s Todd’s job to seek out the latest gadgets, gear and technology that could make all of our lives easier/cooler.
I’ve been helping people with their computers since before helping people with their computers was cool. And even now that it isn’t cool again, I’m still helping. The phone call usually starts like this:
“Can you help me? My computer has a virus or something.”
It used to be that virus meant virus, but now the word “virus” has become the universal buzzword for “some program that I’m pretty sure I don’t want”. After I agree to inflict a bit more pain on myself and I’m sitting at their computer, it isn’t long before I’m pointing at the screen and asking:
“Why did you install X?” where X is some program that nobody in their right mind would want on their computer. I’m already bracing for the inevitable response:
“I didn’t install that.”
I feel like I’m in an episode of House, M.D., where Doctor House is telling his team that the patient always lies.
“Yes, you did.”
After a few rounds of accusation and denial that could have been handled by a couple of 5-year-old children, they end up giving in a little bit:
“Well perhaps I did install that, but I don’t remember.”
Here’s a secret that I really wish wasn’t a secret: a disturbingly large number of computer issues can be prevented by simply reading. That’s it. Reading. And to prove it to you, I have some case studies. None of the software below is classified as a virus, however most of it is harmful or annoying in some way, and I almost guarantee that nobody installs this stuff on purpose.
Case study 1: The Ask toolbar. If you read the promotional text it’s fairly easy to understand that you wouldn’t want it: you already get Facebook notifications, you’re already listening to your own music, you already know how to use Google and you’ve already seen thousands of funny YouTube videos. You don’t want or need this toolbar, it’s only going to make you unhappy. Uncheck the box and remain happy. You can easily discover the road to continued happiness by simply reading.
Case study 2: Pay no attention to the colors. READ! If you read the description for HotspotShield you will see “Ad supported”. So by installing this optional software you are begging to be shown more ads. But you don’t want more ads. So ignore the bright green button and read the words. The grey button “Decline” is your path to salvation.
Case study 3: More green, less awesome. This piece of software Search Protect is one of my least favourite at the moment, only because so many of my friends and family have accidentally allowed it in their computers. It’s like a vampire – once invited, it’s in. Seriously, read what it proposes to do, it’s quite insidious. Do not click the shiny green button. Go grey or go home.
Case study 4: What a strange twist of fate. This is a case of “the cure is just as bad as the disease”. McAfee used to produce some good anti-virus software years and years ago, but now they’re in the same boat as the bloatware that they apparently are trying to protect you from. Uncheck the box, and curse Adobe while you are forced to update Flash yet again.
Case study 5: This one is a test. Which of the three download buttons is the real one? Don’t say the green one, they’re all green. The answer is “none of them”. Oh sure, the button at the bottom left will eventually get you the software you are looking for, however you’re on a download site, not the original site for this software, and you will run into more bundled software offers that you don’t want. Close this browser window, open a new one, and go directly to the software’s home page to download it.
The moral of this story is that taking just a few seconds of your time to stop and read will be the best defense that you could have against your computer becoming slow and bloated. Next time you can call your friendly computer person and just invite them over for beer – they’ll be pleasantly surprised when you tell them your computer is running just fine, thank you.
Todd Trann has been programming computers since 1983, and is a self-proclaimed geek and Dumb White Husband. If anyone is asking, he always reads the entire EULA. You can find him on Twitter at @toddtrann.