When it comes to computers in general, andWindows in particular, prevention is usually far better than cure. Rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then panicking to find a solution, it is advisable to have a number of safeguards in place to either help avoid problems in the first place, or at least to make it easier to get everything back to normal. A combination of good practices and preferable computing habits can help to avoid disaster down the line, and Vista includes more features as standard to help avoid problems than any previous version of Windows.
Avoidance is best
Microsoft understands the old prevention/cure tenet better than most, which is why it has crammed Windows Vista full of new features designed to prevent many problems from ever occurring. One such precautionary element is Vista’s User Account Control (UAC), which is basically awarningmessage that freezes your screen. In general day-to-day use, it is something you may encounter only rarely. It’s designed to spring into action only when potentially dangerous changes are about to be made to your computer; for example, when certain system settings are accessed. Usually, User Account Control will not prevent an action from being performed altogether, but you’ll need to click ‘Continue’ to get past it or supply an administrative username and password if you’re logged on with a Standard user account (see below). While User Account Control can be turned off, it is far from advisable. The very act of disabling the feature can sometimes have detrimental effects in its own right but,more importantly, switching UAC off could potentially leave your systemopen to abuse frommalicious hackers.
User accounts are a good way of preventing many kinds of accidental and security-based problems fromever occurring. It is a good idea to assign everybody that uses the computer their own user account and password protect each one. On a basic level, this helps to avoid the potential problem of one user deleting another’s files, and if users are assigned Standard accounts, they can also be prevented from making unwanted changes to system settings. You may even want to consider using a Standard user account yourself for your day-to-day computer use, reserving your Administrator account only for such times when you need to make use of its privileges. With a Standard user account, any action that could change key system settings or works with important system files requires the entry of an Administrator password. As some malware can change settings and files, many threats can be stopped in their tracks by not providing them with Administrator privileges.
Anyone wishing to prevent disaster fromhappening will naturally be concerned about security issues, and Windows Vista introduces the Security Center as the focal point for this. Security Center ensures there is a firewall in place to protect against the potential threat of malware, as well as ensuring that Automatic Updates are enabled so that Vista always has the latest fixes and patched installed. The Security Center will also warn you if there is no anti-virus software installed (Vista doesn’t feature any built-in antivirus programs, as we’ll see later on), while Windows Defender will help to protect against malware infection, malicious downloads and a variety of ther internet-borne threats. Should any of these defence mechanisms be disabled, or if they are not installed, the Security Center will alert you to the fact and suggest steps that should be taken. The security of Vista’s new web browser — Internet Explorer 7 — also goes a long way to helping protect your computer. It can auto- matically block access to websites that are known to be malicious (such as phishing sites), and prevent the appearance of pop-up windows, which can often include malicious links. Another security concern for those with wireless home networks is encryption. Without encryption in place, it could be possible for others to gain access to your internet connection or, worse, your personal files and data.
Take control of your PC
If other people use your computer, there is always the danger that they will change a system setting or perform a task that has unwanted side-effects. One way to help prevent this from happening is to use Vista’s Parental Controls This feature has been designed to place restrictions on children using a computer, but it can also be employed to restrict other users. Ensure that there are user accounts set up for everyone who is going to use the computer and that they have Standard rather than Administrator accounts as this will prevent undesired system-wide changes. Now open the Parental Controls Control Panel and work through each user account in turn. It is possible to restrict which programs can be run, block file downloads to help avoid malware infection and also block other websites. Parental Controls also make it possible to place restrictions on when the computer can be accessed and the types of games which can be played.
Even with all of these securitymeasures in place, there is still potential for things to take a turn for the worse. To help avoid virus and malware infection, it is important to take care with all online activities. Care should be taken when downloading files from any website, or opening files attached to emails, for example. Do whatever research you can to reassure yourself that the website or email in question is genuine and use a virus scanner on the file before opening or executing it. One of the most common problems with computers is that over time they slow down to a fraction of their performance speed when they were new. With regular maintenance, however, it is possible to virtually eliminate this slow down. In the Performance section of this Ultimate Guide, we’ll be examining ways in which taking care of your computer and optimising settings will help keep your system running smoothly for as long as possible. Like any sensitive piece of equipment, it’s important to treat your Vista PC with care in order to prevent it from physically falling into disrepair. For instance, it is possible — although admittedly rare — for power surges to result in toomuch power being supplied to a system and its components, and this can result in hardware burning out and becoming broken beyond repair. The easiest way to avoid this problemis to invest in a surge protector. These are similar in appear- ance and function to traditional multi-socket extension leads but sometimes also include sockets for a telephone line and network cable to protect additional hardware against the threat of power surges. Surge protectors often include an equipment warranty, so should computer hardware become damaged as a result of a power surge, and the surge protector was in use, it is possible to claim compensation for any loss.
Another electrical hazard can occur when performing even the simplest of hardware upgrades. Static electricity can easily build up, particularly if you happen to be walking on carpet with a deep pile, and this charge can be all too easily discharged into a hardware component you are about to install when you reach inside the computer case. Before attempting any hardware operations, there are two steps that can be taken to avoid damaging your computer in thisway. First, the vast majority of computer hardware is supplied in antistatic bags, and components should always be stored in these until they are needed and only removed at the last moment. Second, to prevent static from discharging once you are inside the computer case, there are two possible methods. The first is to use an antistatic wristband. This strap needs to be worn around the wrist and the other end earthed by connecting it to exposed metal — for example, the metal of a radiator or of the computer case itself, providing the computer is plugged in but switched off. Such wristbands offer ongoing protection from the danger of static, but a free alternative is to simply touch some earthed metal with your hand and continue doing so while you are working inside your computer.
Unfortunately, no matter how thorough you are with your disaster avoidance strategy, there will still be the occasional, seemingly random, problem that crops up. As such, you need to be not only vigilant and security-conscious in your computer use, but also prepared for the worst. Hardware failure can all too easily lead to the loss of personal files, so it is extremely important to have a backup strategy in place — and perhaps the best investment any computer owner canmake is in a USB hard disk. This could be used to provide extra storage, but it also acts as a relatively cheap and reusable backup medium — more practical and easier to use than recordable CD and DVDs. Backing up your valuable data, optimising your PC and remaining vigilant when it comes to security — you’ll find that keeping one step ahead of potential pitfalls and preventing problems before they happen are themes that will recur throughout thismagazine. But, of course, it’s not always possible to predict what’s going to happen with the intricate and sensitive machine sitting on your desktop. And, with that inmind, you’ll also find that this Ultimate Guide will also arm you with all the knowledge you need to get yourself out of a tight situation and provide you with valuable advice on how to recover should the worst come to the worst.