Monday, August 24, 2009

Give Your PC a Back-to-School Check-up

While parents are getting their kids to re-focus on math and English, it's also a good time to get the computers in the house ready for school, too.

After a long and busy summer of playing games, downloading music and browsing Facebook, PC's can be out of shape or downright dangerous for serious use. Here is a handy guide for giving your computers that back-to-school check-up.

1. Remove Dangerous Programs
P2P File Sharing programs like Limewire, eMule, or Shareaza are typically used to download pirated music, games and other programs. "Other programs" can include viruses, as I described here. Besides getting a computer infected with viruses, File Sharing programs can also make every document on your computer visible and available to users all around the world--users you don't know (and probably don't want to know). A Seattle man was sentenced earlier this month to over 3 years in prison for stealing tax returns, bank statements and canceled checks from computers all across the country.

2. Free up Disk Space
Windows needs gigabytes of free space to run properly. When important security updates are downloaded by Windows Updates, they may fail to install because of insufficient disk space. Here is a guide from Microsoft on freeing up space on your hard drive. You might ask the kids to find and delete music or videos they know they don't need anymore.

3. Run a Full Virus Scan
You do have antivirus software, don't you? If not, install a security suite immediately. AVG offers a free antivirus program you can get here. Today's antivirus programs are on all the time, watching for badware and blocking what they find. But they don't stop everything the first time they see it. So it's a good idea to pull up a chair, find your antivirus program's "Manual Scan" or "Full Scan" feature and let it run for the hour or more it may take to search the entire computer for badware. Don't worry, you don't have to sit there and watch it. Just check back periodically to see if the scan is complete and review the findings. Choose to "Quarantine" any malware that was found.

4. Set Internet Time Limits
It may have been okay for kids to stay up late on the computer during the summer, but if you want your kids to get a good night's sleep on school nights you'll need to set some limits. First, talk to your kids and agree on an appropriate schedule and the "lights out" policy for computer use. How do you monitor and enforce this policy without watching them every minute? Many security suites include Parental Controls options to set time limits on Internet usage. Wireless routers also have this feature. You can read about Netgear's here . World of Warcraft has an excellent Parental Controls feature that allows parents to create a separate password for managing a time schedule that the game servers will all enforce; the game will log your child out at whatever time you specify. (See screenshot, below) Other online games and most game consoles have at least some ability to control game play.

5. Check Printer Ink and Paper
Okay, this is an easy one. Remember the big lemonade stand banner the kids printed out this summer that used up all the yellow? You won't want any excuses when it comes time to print out that homework. So check for printer paper and get an extra ink cartridge for the printer. That way you'll avoid any "teacher's dirty looks" when your kid hands in their first assignment printed out in magenta.

Settings Play Schedules for World of Warcraft

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