Trouble-free computing - a basic approach

JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)
Microsoft MVP; QuickBooks Pro Advisor.
I see lots of posts in Experts Exchange in which people are asking for help with problems. Typical problems involve viruses and malware that corrupt operating systems. Incompatible or legacy software can also corrupt operating systems.
I have been using computers since 1983 and in more recent times, I used XP Professional on a ThinkPad T41 computer for about five years. I reinstalled XP once because of a faulty hard drive. I used Vista Business 64-bit on a ThinkPad T61p for about 18 months and never had to reinstall Vista. I used Windows 7 Pro 64-bit for about 3 years on the same T61p. I had to reinstall Windows 7 once because I had installed an early and incompatible version of QuickBooks. The machine ran, but not reliably, so I got a new hard drive and reinstalled Windows 7. It ran reliably thereafter and is now my spare computer.
I now have a ThinkPad X230 with Windows 8 / 8.1 Pro 64-bit. I ran this for about six months with Windows 8, replaced the hard drive and went to Windows 8.1 about a year ago. I have not had to reinstall Windows 8.1.
I purchased a Windows 3.1 desktop computer in 1994 and the vendor delivered it to me with a low grade virus that prevented drive A from working. They gave me an anti-virus application which completely eliminated the virus. I have not had a virus before or since. I do not get viruses on my computers and my computers run reliably.
How do I do this?  My thoughts below are one way to accomplish this. It is not the only way, and my thoughts may not work for you, but my methods do work for me. Please read on.
  1. I always use commercial IBM or Lenovo computers. Commercial computers, especially laptop computers, are engineered better and employ higher quality parts than consumer computers. They come with (or can come with) 3 and 4 year warranties. My experience is that this approach keeps overall reliability high.

  2. I always use Professional operating systems. Windows Home will not work on domains and are not good for most business uses. I find it better to have Windows Professional installed and be able to use the complete range of business applications the operating systems are capable of.

  3. Since 2008, I have used 64-bit operating exclusively. 64-bit allows more than 3 GB of memory to be installed and I find 8 GB allows Windows 7 and 8.1 to run fast and smoothly.

  4. Since 2004, I have used 7200-rpm commercial hard drives exclusively. I have had one hard drive failure in 11 years and that was because of defective Hitachi firmware that conflicted with Hard Drive Protection. The drive was replaced under warranty.

    I may drift towards an SSD drive but I wish to have at least a 500 GB SSD commercial drive with a 5 year warranty. I think this will come with my next Laptop and Windows 10 Professional.

  5. With respect to viruses and safe computing, I use Symantec Corporate Endpoint Protection or its predecessor. There are many brands of anti-virus. I use Symantec Corporate because it works and because it uses very little CPU resources. You may choose to use something different. However:

    (i) Use anti-virus – do not convince yourself you do not need it.
    (ii) Use commercial, paid anti-virus. I have to rip free anti-virus out of clients to bring stable virus-free computing to their environment.
    (iii) Make sure complete scans are set to run at times of low computing use.
  6. All anti-virus applications (ALL) are rear-guard applications that protect after a virus has been released into the wild. Therefore it is critically important to use good old-fashioned common sense. Don’t click on links that purport to “help you” or give you “really good deals (too good to be true)”. These are socially engineered links designed to lure you in, install rogue software on your machine, and attempt to steal financial information. Do not underestimate hackers and do not imagine you can wander around the internet without a care. Always keep your guard up.

  7. By now you should be using Windows 7 or Windows 8. Windows XP is dead and you should abandon it. Windows 7 and Windows 8 come with User Account Control and you should leave UAC enabled. I have not seen one single decent reason to disable UAC and it should not be disabled. This will go a long way to preventing rogue software from being installed. As the person using the computer, you have a responsibility to not just blindly click OK to any installation request.

  8. You should always use a password with your Windows user name. The password should have one or two special characters and one or 2 numerals and the balance regular characters. It should not be easy to guess, but I have special short words I put in between numbers and special characters. They are easy for me to remember and no one can ever guess them. Good passwords are another good safety measure.

  9. On Windows 7 and Windows 8, the “administrator” user name has been disabled by design. Do not enable it. Hackers got used to getting into Windows XP machines that had no password for “administrator”. Leave “administrator” disabled and use the first user at initial startup as the administrative user name.

    If you are a very careful user, you can use this first user (leaving UAC enabled) as your main operating user name. If you know you are a care-free user, set up a second, standard user and use that as your main user. This will also increase the overall security and reliability of your computer.

  10. Now to the extent that anti-virus applications are all rear-guard applications, Microsoft has come out with EMET (the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Tool). I am using the most recent version 5. EMET is NOT a set and forget tool. Checking off ALL mitigations for all applications can lead to a lot of “stopped working” errors.

    Below is my application setup for EMET that has come from experimentation on my part. It is not for the weak of heart and does require some setup. But it does increase protection and so increases overall reliability.

  11. Another complaint I see is that “my computer is getting slower”. Properly maintained, a computer will always work at the same speed as new. Three things:

    (i) The memory supplied when new may not be adequate for newer applications. Make sure you have 8 GB on board.
    (ii) Remember my 7200-rpm hard drive? Make sure you have a fast hard drive or a commercial SSD with good warranty.
    (iii) Temporary files and hard drive fragmentation can slow things down. Run Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter weekly. I use Disk Cleanup and Raxco Perfect Disk. Perfect Disk can run on a set and forget basis, but do not forget to run Disk Cleanup on a regular basis. Do not defrag SSD drives. There is no need and it can lead to premature wear.

  12. Outlook: Of all the applications you run, Outlook may be the most pervasive. I have Outlook 2013 running with a main PST file and 4 archive files. I have email going back to 1996. I do three things with Outlook:

    (i) I put all emails into appropriate folders every Saturday morning so that each Saturday morning, my inbox is empty.
    (ii) I compact my PST file each Saturday morning. The Compact PST function is available in the advanced properties of a PST file.
    (iii) I let Auto Archive run every 60 days and archive items older than 12 months and I compact my PST file after auto archive runs.

    This keeps my main PST file trim and fast and still provides easy access to any email I want. I never have the “Outlook is slow” problem.

  13. Backup: Anything can go wrong, and I have a Desktop computer and a Laptop computer. It makes sense to back up one machine to the other and I do this. For a two computer home / home office setup, Sync Back Pro ( works remarkably well. I keep 35 GB of general files and 15 GB of documents synchronized on both machines. I run the synchronization profile whenever I change a document or database. If you have a small network, all computers can synchronize to the server and the server backed up regularly.

    Why Sync Back Pro? Microsoft Offline Files tie offline files to their source and using an offline file without a connection to its source can be slow in my experience. I also have had issues with Offline Files trying to synchronize huge volumes and numbers of files. Sync Back Pro avoids all of this, leave files as real, physical files on all machines and allows fast access to files. I have been using it for about 6 years now and it just works better.

  14. Outlook Backup: Outlook is trickier in that PST files cannot be backed up while Outlook is open and I really want Outlook to current be on both machines at the same time. There are several ways to do this, including IMAP. I use POP3 email and set the “leave mail on the server” flag enabled. I delete email on the server at the end of a working day with Pop Peeper. Additionally Pop Peeper allows me to screen and delete list mail (such as Experts Exchange notifications) without even using Outlook.

    This way Outlook is pretty much self-backed up, but I do copy the PST files from Laptop to Desktop every couple of months.

    The really critical point here is to back up your systems. I am empathetic with but not entirely sympathetic to users who are prone to problems and who do have not current backups. I cannot conceive of losing my documents or email and I make certain that I do not lose them.

  15. Reliability Monitor: Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10 all have a decent reliability monitor. Run it occasionally and see if you have any software causing critical errors. Look at the error, look for common errors and eliminate the root cause. Few critical errors increases overall reliability.

  16. Software: Paid, commercial, up to date software also increases reliability and performance. I use Office 2013 (Subscription) on Windows 8.1. Office 2003 is dead and Office 2007 is past its best before date. I use Adobe Acrobat V11. Old versions of Adobe may not work well on Windows 8.1. The main point is to upgrade your software when you upgrade your computer and operating systems.

    Also keep your software installation sources. I see so many posts here: “I have damaged the operating system and reinstalling Windows is out of the question. What can I do?”The answer normally is “nothing”. When I enquire as to why reinstall is out of the question, the answer typically is “I discarded the installation source and keys”. I just scratch my head. Keep your software sources and keys. You will need them. It is a matter of when, not if.

  17. Laptops run on batteries. NiMH batteries had memories and poor life and have largely disappeared. Li-ION batteries last a lot longer, are not particularly subject to memory affect, but still discharge quickly with older hard drives, large motherboards, and cold cathode LCD displays.

    My ThinkPad X230 has an LED screen (very low power consumption); small, thin, fast hard drive; and a small motherboard (12 inch screen). This gives me 4 hours of computing without attaching to a power source. This is very useful to me in a lot of situations and I rarely have to reach for an AC adapter before a logical break.

  18. On the Nice-to-Have front, I have a Nokia CS-18 Internet key and a monthly subscription for it. I have a complete computing environment in my briefcase that will work nearly anywhere. This does not increase reliability but it does increase my productivity and reduce stress.
    There are lot of ideas here. I follow my own advice and my computer is always ready for me at the start of a new business day and it always works as expected.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)
Microsoft MVP; QuickBooks Pro Advisor.

Comments (2)

Well done. Shows the benefit of years of experience.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)
Most Valuable Expert 2012
Expert of the Year 2018


Thank you. I appreciate your comment.

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