Tech support for your parents

Tip 1: Install the software they need
If you're visiting your parents over the holidays, it's a good time to bring the parents' computer up-to-date or to make sure it's protected from viruses and the like (consider doing so whether or not they ask you). When you're packing for the trip, take the time to prepare a USB memory key or a CD with some useful software.

What you should do
The best thing you can do for a parent who has a Windows computer is to make sure automatic updates are turned on so that the system is getting the important security updates that Microsoft sends out.

Windows XP
Right click on My Computer (either on the desktop or in your start menu) then click Properties. Then click the Automatic Updates tab and turn on Automatic.

Windows Vista
Click on the Windows Button, then Control Panel. Click the System and Maintenance heading and then under the Windows Update section click Turn automatic updating on or off. Check Install updates automatically (recommended).

Here's the other software you should consider installing.
  • Start with free anti-spyware utilities, such as Spybot Search and Destroy (which can even immunise against possible attacks) and Ad-aware SE. To complement Spybot, you may also find Spyware Blaster a boon which acts as a preventative, rather than a solution.
  • For antispam and antivirus software, you might want to spring for the paid, professionally supported utilities, such as Kaspersky AntiVirus 7, or ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite which has an antivirus, firewall and spamkiller built in.
  • While you're loading up a USB key or a CD-ROM with software, add some digital pictures of yourself and your family to it and maybe some bookmarks--say, links to your online family photo album.
  • Other software you might want to install: The Instant Messaging app that you use, so that anytime your mum or dad is sitting at the computer, they can chat with you in real time--or ask for help--for free.
The FireFox Alternative
As much as we like it, be careful before installing the fantastic Mozilla Firefox browser for non-tech-savvy users. There are still some sites that don't work as they're supposed to with this browser, and you don't want to be telling your parents to switch back and forth between it and Internet Explorer all the time.

Mind you it could save you a potential tech support nightmare by avoiding Internet Explorer security vulnerabilities--so if you do install it, make sure that your parents' online banking and so forth work with it first, and make sure all the relevant flash/shockwave plugins are installed.

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