Preface: This post is intended not to be unique or original material, and I am well aware that much of this information is located elsewhere on the internet. Read this only if you're interested in understanding a little bit more about how I troubleshoot and fix basic computer problems, or if you just enjoy my writing.

People come to me with a slew of problems when they are having a computer issue. These problems can be broken down into categories, which I can generally ascertain in the first minute of describing the problem. These categories are as follows, with examples:

  1. How-to/Need - Setting up a router - Backing up a computer - Upgrading a computer (software or hardware) - Buying a new computer
  2. Something is broken/not working as expected - Printer not working - Peripheral disconnection (mouse/keyboard/wifi) - Computer freezing or very slow
  3. I have a virus - "It just started happening" / "I didn't even touch it" / "I have no idea" - "I visited a website that I've never used or heard of before" (I've never had anyone honest enough to tell me this)
There are a series of steps that I follow for each and every problem that you come to me with. The steps vary based on my experience with your problem, and the category into which they fall. The first step for every category is as follows:
  1. Google
I kid you not, I google everything. Even if I don't google something in one particular case, you can believe that I have googled it in the past. If you've got a computer problem, chances are others (and if you're inexperienced with computers - many people) have had this problem. Because of Google's ability to crawl forums, message boards, Q&A sites and blogs, most of this information is a quick search away. Figuring out what to search for isn't always easy; I'll talk about google-fu in another post.

Subsequent steps for your need broken down by category:

How-to/Need

Chances are I've had this need for myself in the past, and if not, I've helped a family member with it. I draw upon previous experience (and the previous google search) to fulfill the need. I make recommendations on purchases based on experience with purchases.

There's not really any magic going on here. Just like you become accustomed to figuring out where to buy the cheapest clothes, or how to cook a certain recipe, I learn and remember these things with electronics and software.

If you'd like me to blindly hook you up, or if you'd like me to explain to you the process and my reasons, I would be glad to accommodate (although, be warned - I am much more willing to help you if you're willing to learn. I am very much against willful ignorance, especially in the case of technologies that are becoming crucial to business and day to day life for many people).

Something's Broken/Not Working as Expected

  • Turn it off and back on. Do it again. This is a running joke in the technology field, but mostly because it actually works in many cases - especially Windows.
  • Unplug it, wait, and plug it back in. This is similar to the first, but usually applies to things that don't really turn off, like a router or modem.
  • It works better if you plug it in. This is a bit of a joke, but again, is based on reality. If your printer isn't working, please make sure it's plugged in and turned on; the same for your wireless mouse.
  • How should it function? Telling me that something isn't working right, without knowing what "right" is, isn't helpful to either of us. Try to become familiar with your computer and the steps you follow to accomplish certain tasks. If you are familiar with the steps, and it really isn't working correctly, check your preferences to see if something has been changed or removed accidentally.
  • Try it a different way. For example, if you usually can access your printer right from the print menu, but it isn't showing up, try going to "printers" in the control panel to try to locate it. There are often many ways to accomplish a single task, so if one isn't working, we can try to identify the problem by doing it a different way.
  • Try it with different hardware, to try to locate the problem. If your mouse isn't working, you can try plugging the mouse into another computer, or another mouse into your computer. If your computer can't access the wifi, can your ipod, or my phone (any other device with wifi)? This helps narrow down the exact location/cause of the problem.
  • Try cleaning up a bit. This one is relevant to the computer freezing or working very slowly problem. Try removing all unnecessary programs, ALL toolbars, and clean out temporary files. I use CCleaner, because it works well and is free.
  • If at this point, if Google still hasn't yielded anything useful,  I might try something as drastic as re-installing software or doing a system restore. This rarely happens, as solutions to these problems are often quick fixes.
###I Have a Virus If you have a true-positive identification of a virus, then kudos. Some viruses (many of the worst, in my opinion) disguise themselves as ANTI-Virus. They directly tell you that you are infected with a virus, when in fact, they are the virus. Their motive is to elicit payment in order to buy the software to remove the virus. Never pay for this. (On a side note, never pay for any anti-virus. If you've got a "free trial" of an antivirus like MacAffee or Norton, just remove it, and install Microsoft Security Essentials). Other viruses are harder to identify, and some general computer problems are confused with viruses on occasion.

Here's how I remove it.

  • Turn your wifi off or unplug your network cable. Giving the virus access to the internet is a very bad idea, as it is liable to transmit your data, or download new, malicious data. By disconnecting your computer from the network, we remove this threat, or stop it from continuing.
  • Identify the threatening process and stop it. This is a little tricky. First, identify the popup/window that is a part of the virus. Then, in task manager, right click on that window and select "Go to process." This will show you which process on your computer is associated with the virus.
  • Stop the virus. Kill the process you found in the previous step. Chances are, it will restart itself. If so, you'll need to stop this from happening. Right click on the process and select "Show File Location." Delete this file. Be careful with this, however. If you're not 100% sure that what you're deleting is the virus, you could cause problems with your system later.
  • Fix residual problems. Many viruses are tricky and do things like causing every single program on your computer to start the virus itself, as opposed to starting the actual program. For example, when you try to start your anti-virus or Microsoft Word, the virus starts instead. Often times, this is done by hacking the registry. There are quick fixes available on the internet, but if you're not exactly sure where these come from, beware, as you could manually install a new virus, or corrupt your system. The best idea is to have backups of your own registry. CCleaner (mentioned above) can help you regularly fix registry issues and create backups.
  • Clean, Scan, Update, Prevent. You should be able, at this point, to install and uninstall programs. If you haven't install CCleaner and Microsoft Security Essentials and run both. Run Windows Updates on your computer - believe it or not, these are intended to help you, not just annoy you. Some browsers are more secure than others, and some are also much faster than others. I use Google Chrome, because it is lightweight, fast, and secure. If you're using Firefox, I would probably leave your browser as it is, but if you're using Internet Explorer, I would recommend that you switch to Chrome for speed and security reasons.
There is no catch-all solution to general IT/computer problems. Many problems are indeed unique, and I cannot fix everything. However, many things I've experienced before, and many things I am able to figure out using Google. So that's it. I'm not a magician, I just have a skill set. If you're willing to learn about it, I'm even more willing to help (sidenote: If you're willing to fix my car, I'll sure take the time to learn about what you're doing).