General tips for using Microsoft Windows 8.1

After a busy week and a half blogging about social justice stuff, I want to cleanse my palate with some nerdy advice.

In my new job role, my main task is to help consumers resolve issues with their home laptops and desktops. It's a bit different from my previous experience in an enterprise environment, but I'm really enjoying the challenge of fixing literally every kind of software issue under the sun. The only thing I miss is that all this support is over the phone, so I don't get to gut machines any more and Frankenstein them to make them work. C'est la vie.

From this experience, I have a few tips on how to keep your home Windows computers running. I'm not going to go over everything there is to know ever. If you want something that in-depth, pull up a chair at and hunker down. Bring snacks.

Firstly, if you have Windows XP you'll ok for now so long as you have an active antivirus installed. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP in April, which means that it's not sending out any more updates to patch issues they find out about. You're on your own. Some folks have had their Windows XP automatic updates disabled because they didn't like the slow-downs or interruptions, so you may very well still be working on SP2. Continue on with your bad selves.

Now, if your Windows XP computer shits the bed, you're basically out of luck. All machines will one day fail. What I'd recommend is to regularly back up your data to an external drive, and start making your succession plans by saving up a rainy day fund for a replacement. Then just run your machine into the ground.

If you have Windows Vista, you're on your own.

Windows 7? You're fine.

Windows 8? Upgrade to 8.1. No, seriously, do it. If only because if something goes wrong, it's easier to get to the tools to fix it.

What I love about Windows 8.1 (stop laughing, there are some things I love about it) is the start button. As someone who fixes stuff, being able to right-click on the start button and have everything from Device Manager to Control Panel to Command Prompt with admin privileges right there is hella convenient.

Now, what do I do with these?

From Device Manager I can see if any hardware devices have notifications beside them to let me know about a driver issue. For 9/10 devices, I'll just uninstall them and upon reboot they'll reinstall themselves. Often this will fix the issue. If it doesn't, I'll look online for a more up to date driver.

If I suspect I have malware, I'll open Control Panel, go to Programs and then look for stuff I didn't download or install that isn't from either Microsoft or my computer's manufacturer. If you don't know what you're looking for, check this out but don't remove anything.

If you have pop-ups, just download and run Malwarebytes free version. I'd say 99/100, Malwarebytes has gotten rid of the malicious ickies that have infested a machine and caused pop-ups, page redirects, and resource hogging. Because of how well their free version works at spot-cleaning, if you were to buy a version to do real-time scanning and protection I'd recommend them.

The only time recently it didn't work, I used Dr. Web Cureit free. This program takes longer to download and run, which is why I don't use it as my first line of defense. They're a Russian company, so don't be concerned if you Google them and wind up on a site that's not in English. Just click on the language option in the top-right corner. If you were to pay for antivirus, they'd be my #2, since their free scans also work so well.

If you get errors when trying to run Windows update, let the Troubleshooting tool in the Control Panel do the heavy lifting for you. If that doesn't work, there's a tool and some more tips here.

If your computer is acting wonky and you suspect it may be an issue with the Windows files themselves, right-click on the start button, select "Command Prompt (Admin)" and type out the following commands:

dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth

When in doubt, with any computer issues, Google is your friend. Well, I mean, searching the internet for IT forums and advice is your friend.

I know this isn't the most exhaustive list, but it comes up often enough that I figured it would be handy to write it down. Good luck, intrepid home computer-users, and gob speed.