Best and worse computing advice – readers’ choice

Last week I wrote a post on what I consider classic good and bad computing advices and asked for input from readers as well. Quite a few good suggestions were made in comments and they are worth a post to sum them up.

Makes sense

Don’t be nervous about stuff (by Rush)

Computers are mostly predictable. Same sequence of actions is very likely to produce same result. Getting hyped up about something going wrong is a sure way to make things worse, not better.

Keep software under control (by Chocobito of Bosque Oculto de Chocobo)

Installing software can introduce a lot of issues to the system – files, libraries, registry entries and up to unwanted malware. Keeping amount of software at minimum and following correct uninstallation routines ensures that system stays healthy and stable.

It depends

Curiously plenty of advices are totally on the fence between good/bad and can swing both ways. Which makes them even more dangerous, depending on who tells whom to do what.

[Don’t] use antivirus software (by Klemen of Brumec.org)

Antivirus is a tool that can be considered both essential and useless. They do work, but not as nearly useful as developers try to present them. Alternatives (firewalls, behavioral detection, permissions) are all more complicated and have higher upkeep, but that shouldn’t ever be a reason to skip them for power users.

[Don’t] mess with registry (by Rush, Samer of Freeware Genius)

Manual or automated registry cleanup either is reason for many horror stories. It is easy way to break things, but just as often it is required to fix stuff. Rule of a thumb – only use absolutely foolproof software (such as CCleaner) or be absolutely confident about what you edit manually.

[Don’t] update OS and software (by Sandrina)

Updating software can just as well plug glaring security hole or introduce a new one. Keeping everything up to date remains good policy… That will occasionally cost you nerves (or more). Unfortunately updates are often far from no-brainer decision and take some experience to evaluate when and if you should move on to fresh new version.

Defragment drives (by Samer of Freeware Genius)

File fragmentation is a continuous issue that require good scheduled (or at least regular) defrags in place to keep it under control. On other hand it is so persistent and known that some people arrive at wrong conclusions. There are some distinct exceptions to when and how you should defrag. Namely realtime background defrag some promote is evil (stressful to drive for little gain) and SSD drives shouldn’t be defragmented, they are much less affected by fragmentation, but easier to wear out.

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  • Transcontinental #

    Interesting. Personally I get nervous only when I know that I don't have in mind the required information for solving a problem, for instance when installing a new OS... but if I know that my brains has all the ingredients necessary to resolve the problem, then it even becomes fun, deep thinking is relaxing. Concerning software, it is sad to notice how many developers just seem not to care so much about clean uninstalls. Often remain Registry trash when not files and folders. I believe good sense is uninstalling (at least "heavy" applications) with an uninstaller such as 'Revo Uninstaller' for instance. The 'It depends' section reveals obviously the most problematic approaches. - Anti-virus, I'd agree (as 80% of IT professionals as to what I've read) that it is more of a business than of a reliable protection. It's like those commercials that vaunt the quality of a diet product, and then ad that healthy food and regular sports activity is recommended: it's the latter that helps! In the same way, general security issues involve more of god sense computing practice than an application that misses some of the worst, and hits false-positives too often) - Registry, indeed is delicate. Backup backup backup, whatever tou intend to repair or tweak! - Updates, when those for security and/or enhancement. Security: always; Enhancement: think twice! We've all seen keen applications become bloated with newer updates! Nice article, Rarst. Get's the reader to meditate on computing fundamentals.
  • Rarst #

    @Transcontinental I usually get nervous is stuff takes too long to figure out. Spending hours (or even days) on issue without results is frustrating. It is especially sad when software promoted as portable leaves trash around. :( Only thing you can do is manual cleanup in such cases. And this time credit goes to readers, I merely summed up comments. :)
  • Angelo R. #

    I find that anti-virus software is useful when people have no idea what's going on. I have numerous friends (and most of my family) who think the computer is some kind of magic box. They also think they can download whatever they want and install everything. They've been saved a few times by free anti-virus software. That being said, I also run a firewall which they have no access to and I'm thinking of setting up a home-server (windows) so that I can monitor updates and roll out necessary ones. To be honest, if you know what you're doing then anti-virus software is great. If you don't, or you know people who don't, you may as well recommend some to them. Even if they don't listen you can rest easy knowing you've at least suggested it.
  • Rarst #

    @Angelo I'd say anti-virus software, or more precisely background monitoring is mostly good for people who have no clue. That is pretty much only usable measure that requires interaction and that they can process. For users that know their stuff (or can be reliably forced to obey you :) measures like firewalls and limited permissions can be more reliable. Default block totally beats default permit as security measure.
  • Saurabh #

    "Don’t be nervous about stuff (by Rush) Computers are mostly predictable. Same sequence of actions is very likely to produce same result. Getting hyped up about something going wrong is a sure way to make things worse, not better. " I would like to extend the not being nervous stuff. One should keep things in perspective and realise that its only a computer. They should not be afraid of taking it apart or trying things out. Its the only way to learn and to know how to avoid mistakes. (with just one precaution: try to keep data backed up.) Risky statement I made there. It can quite easily be the best or worst advice someone ever had. About the registry: I agree that people should not mess up much even though it contradicts my earlier statement. :) . Thats because people mostly mess up with registry to improve performance and most of the times remain under the illusion that it really has.(placebo effect?) But as all of us know, the consequences can be dangerous.
  • Geek Squeaks’ of the Week (#59) « What's On My PC #

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  • Rarst #

    @Saurabh Taking stuff apart is very valid research method. I had taken a lot of things apart since childhood and that's how I got my initial PC hardware skills. On other hand I had destroyed quite a bit of stuff as well. :) I'd say it is okay to take stuff apart if you are confident it can be and supposed to be taken apart and put back together in meaningful and safe way. Safe is important with computers as with any electrical device. Some parts like PSU absolutely should not be messed with by inexperienced person.