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Posted on March 8th, 2011 by Steve Cassidy

A letter on behalf of the world’s PC fixers

Hazard signsI was going to contribute to Stewart Mitchell’s request for horror stories about computer repair people; then I was completely diverted by a panic phone call from an old friend, which helped me to realise that I was far more of a repairer than a customer of repairers.

That 72 hours of raw-edged panic was quite enough for me to focus on the sins of those who come and ask for help, which can be every bit as difficult as the sins of the fixers. So pardon me while I abuse the Pro blogs to let my friend know how I felt about her approach to the whole sorry matter.

Dear Mildred (name changed to protect the innocent here),

It was delightful to hear about your holiday in Kuala Lumpur, for 20 minutes, before you got around to mentioning that you had brought back a DVD burned for you by a charismatic local photographer and thrown it in that laptop you obtained from me six months or more ago.  It was sadly not surprising to hear that once that DVD had been introduced to the laptop, you had laid yourself wide open to every hacker and script kiddie on the planet. The parts I did find surprising then came so thick and fast that I was barely able to assemble a coherent reply, so let’s unpack all your assumptions and deal with them item by item, now that facts can take precedence over emotional blackmail.

- No, it doesn’t matter how you imagine viruses work: they will not be amenable to persuasion, they will do what they like. Responses like “that seems a bit far-fetched” won’t get your laptop fixed, or keep the hackers away. After the initial, invisible infection has granted the underworld open access to your PC, they are unlikely to steal your personal data – you’re not rich enough – but they will sell off access to your machine, for a relative pittance, to much less accomplished hackers. It’s their lesser efforts you can see, and they’re just evidence of the basic high-quality infection.

- No, you can’t sue AVG. You put a physical piece of storage in your DVD drive and clicked on various dialog boxes, some of which you neither understood, nor can now remember, because you wanted to get at the content on the disk. Once you do that, it’s game over.

- No, I am not responsible for everything that befalls something I once owned. It is now your laptop and your responsibility. Curiously, I am not sitting around at home doing nothing waiting for machines to die, and there is no way that you can cajole, seduce or otherwise influence me to “just spend ten minutes on it”. There are two reasons for this. One is that it’s perfectly clear that if I do touch it, I will never hear the end of the matter for as long as I live. The other is that once you stuck that DVD in there and started saying “yes, OK” to every resulting dialog box, you sank the whole thing. It doesn’t take 10 minutes to sort that out; it requires a complete machine reload to properly guarantee the infection is history.

- No, there is no neat and handy way I’ve been keeping secret that allows you to retain your extensive collection of stolen software licences loaded on that laptop. It’s even possible (but unlikely) that one of those copies you downloaded from total strangers via BitTorrent was actually the source of infection, not the DVD from that far-off and well-known training school for global cybercrime supercriminals. But you don’t believe that possibility either, so that’s me told good and proper. I personally remember all those nights in the 90’s when your standard response to any creative suggestion was “that’s great, but don’t tell anyone else so they can’t steal your idea” – rampant hypocrisy always offends me, especially when the software you’ve stolen is used to maintain your creative business. Perhaps you wouldn’t be in this dire situation if you had actually paid for the things you use (and therefore could reinstall them), even paying for a decent image-based backup program would have saved your bacon. Just because I use one and recommend it to everyone doesn’t mean it must therefore be nerdy and incomprehensible so you shouldn’t touch it.

- Don’t worry. I don’t propose to identify the specific products you don’t have licences for, mainly because I think the whole business of what’s free and what’s not is now so murky and confused that I don’t think you are even doing anything special these days. It’s not something I will involve myself in, though, which is in part why I am more tilted towards the hardware business, than software, these days. I have gone about as far as I can here to make it clear why your approach to the way your laptop drives your business, mixed with your approach to the way that people in the computer business sell things to you, adds up to a disaster waiting to happen. And I do disaster recovery, not disaster participation.

Love and kisses,


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150 Responses to “ A letter on behalf of the world’s PC fixers ”

  1. Simon Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I completely agree with Steve. I’ve fixed a friends laptop, and every few months I get exactly the same thing, “Can you take 10 minutes to look at it?”.

  2. PaulH Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Very good. In addition, how about gettind invited round for a drink/meal and then… Oh! While you are here…

    Or receiving a phone call and someone asks about how you are, blah, blah trying to mask the real reason they called… Oh! While we are speaking…

  3. Curious Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Please tell me that you abuse of PC Pro’s blogs wasn’t actually an abuse of an ex GF.

    It does have that tone to it.

  4. Richard Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:19 am

    The number of times I have been called in a similar fashion to help out when someone’s computer “is really really slow” is getting quite silly. However the most common cause so far has been someone surfing for porn using an antique version of IE or installing a ‘required codec’ or some such similar error of judgement. They all try to cover their tracks of course but it is pretty hard to completely eradicate such stuff unless you know what you are doing. However, it is hard to face a client or your parents-in-law and detail the unpleasant reasons why their computer is riddled with nasties… So far the only effective solution I have found is to make the user a basic user and create a separate admin account to make system changes, then make the password complicated enough to require them to go and look it up before they flippantly use it and telling them that if they mess it up this time, it really is their own fault and they will be providing babysitting services for me whenever I want for a year!

  5. Alex P Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Firstly, what is the name of the backup software you recommend, I am genuinely intrigued as I only tend to back up media folders.

    Secondly I could not empathise more, once family and friends learn you are even vaguely I.T. literate you will get lumbered with every one of their poor decisions which ends in disaster.

    You merrily format their PC, reinstall the OS, download every service pack, install anti-virus and anti-spyware, tell them not to run anything suspicous or click on links in spam emails. And what do you know? Six months down the line they’re on the phone asking for your help again! It takes hours not minutes to rectify these problems, especially when you have a slow broadband connection.

    Car owners will check their oil, water and air, but PC owners won’t even scan their hard drive once a month or install updates delivered to the PC automatically (for free).

  6. Craig Dunn Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:52 am

    What’s wrong with helping out a friend? Sounds like someone needs a holiday….. Should’ve kept that money you spent on a iPad Steve and headed off to the sun… See iPad2 discussion. Incidentally have you never asked a friend to help with your plumbing, electrics, vehicle, garden, moving house, holiday info, make up the numbers at fives, … that’s what friends are for. Unless you subscribe to Rich Hall’s theory that friends are just people you hang around with and tolerate…..

  7. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Interesting spot there, Curious (and the others actually), that there is a heavy overtone in these approaches that “computer people” are somehow outside the surrounding social contract, and don’t need payment either in kind, or cash. certainly there’s an undertone of flirting to the process but I can honestly answer your simple suggestion with a simple answer: no, Mildred and I don’t have that kind of history. The wider and stranger question about sexual politics and computer repair is one that would most likely turn the comment trail here into a bitter ping-pong match of anecdote swapping, so hopefully you will take my word for it that not only are there no benefits in prospect from the hard work: there never were an benefits in the past, either…

  8. Miles Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:57 am

    You would have though that if she’d gone to the trouble of downloading the dodgy software installs in the first place (and it is trouble unless you live next door to your exchange, or have cable, and even then….) she’d have kept the installs together with any patches/cracks so she could reinstall. After all, if it was bought software, you wouldn’t bin the installation files and serial number….. would you?

  9. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Wow, it’s the Character Jury and no mistake. For the record, Craig, I have no iPad – I always said I’d wait for V2 and now that it’s out I am waiting for v3, maybe v4. “Have I ever asked a friend for help” is a bit like “when did you stop beating your wife”.

  10. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:03 am

    @Miles… I believe this is where ex- status arrives. The installs are, shall we say, “not available”.

  11. Tom Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:07 am


    In addition to yours I, being a dog walker, also get ‘friends’ whose dog walking times seem to be affected by the health of their pcs.
    Maybe it’s just because they’ve got more time on their hands. Yeah, right…

  12. Cyteck Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Ignorance is bliss might be one excuse some computer users give when there laptop or desktop goes belly up. So if you do use bit torrent software such as limewire you deserve all you get in my opinion. I rescued a clients top notch new laptop which had 100% locked up only to discover she had installed limewire and as a result it had 22,000+ trojan horse infected files located in a hidden system folder. It took me 24hrs of skilled work to rebuild her machine without any loss of her precious data. As it to say the end cost of the job was not cheap.

  13. Kimputer Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:18 am

    @Alex P, I have a feeling that the backup mentioned is one of Acronis’ product. If not, then I am right now :)

  14. Alex P Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Craig, I think most of us are happy to help out occasionally. But sometimes people don’t help themselves.

    If I was asking a friend to help with plumbing etc. I’d be happy to throw them some money for their time.

    Personally I accept payment in bottles of wine.

  15. Richard Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:54 am

    @Alex P
    Alex, re backup software; to be honest if you know enough to fix friends computers then I would have expected you to be au fait with image backup products. Do you read the magazine?

  16. WilliamW Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:55 am

    1. The word to watch out for is ‘just’, as in “William, I was wondering if you could just..” or “Why can’t I just…”

    2. We let a holiday house. It has a computer for all to use. It runs puppy linux from a CDROM, with instructions pinned to the wall.
    Restrictive, but problem free.

    3. If your router permits it, block limewire etc.

  17. Richard Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    @Cyteck “It took me 24hrs of skilled work to rebuild her machine without any loss of her precious data.”
    Back in the very very early days of PCs when 5mb was a decently sized hard drive, I met a guy who recovered from accidentally deleting all his files by rebuilding the FAT by hand, now that’s skilled! These days there isn’t that much skill involved, and I should know as I’ve lost count of the number of PCs I’ve recovered. You were very lucky if the client was rich enough to pay you for each of the 24 hours you worked ;-)

  18. Alex P Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    No need to get snarky Richard, I merely asked a question. Doesn’t really matter if I read the magazine or not.

  19. John Williams Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I must have remarkable friends. They all know I work with computers and build my own, and yet they are all reluctant to ask me to help. Usually I find out by accident that they have a problem. Perhaps I messed up somebodies computer somewhere in the past and word has spread but nobody wants to tell me! :-)

  20. JohnAHind Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Argg! When will techies ever learn! It is not declining to give your professional services for free that annoys, or even delivering unpalatable advice. It is the total lack of basic social skills or simple human empathy with which we do it!

  21. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    @Alex P: I split my backups between Acronis and Paragon, mostly. of course since I test software and hardware it tends to be a bit of a revolving door – mostly I tell people to use Acronis.

    @Curious: In the spirit of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski, let me very clearly state – no, Mildred is not an ex.

    @John: Having read your efforts here over a few months now, I can see you know of what you speak. I think my point here is that the lack of empathy isn’t about us dealing with them: it’s them, dealing with us. Faced with an inanimat ething they can’t bat eyelashes at, shout at, or otherwise influence in a social way, they transfer all their negative reactions to the people best placed to help them.

  22. Nick Palmer Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Regrettably, I find that “lack of basic social skills or simple human emapthy” is frequently code for “is reluctant to spend his whole weekend up to his elbows in the malware petrie dish that is my computer and give me free stuff as well”.

  23. Richard Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    @Alex P Sorry didn’t mean to come across as “snarky”, I was just surprised that’s all that you had to ask if you fix other people’s PCs – Image backup tools fall into the ‘bread and butter’/arse saving category for most PC fixers.

  24. Vik Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I got calls from a ‘mate’ every few months to say hello and to catch up, apparently. Guaranteed 1 or 2 days later will get another call to see if I can help with a few PC issues.

  25. PandaXP Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Reading between the lines here, it would seem you supplied your friend with a Windows machine without disabling Autoplay. Tut tut…

  26. Chris Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Hi agree with everything that has been commented on here, I will help friends and family, I will happily visit to sort out problems for them, HOWEVER, for me to provide further help I insist on installing logmein, I do not want to be always “popping” round to fix something that could be done remotely, if they refuse, then they can pay the local repair shop to have the machine fixed.

  27. CMD Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Should have installed Linux

  28. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    @Chris – do you get them to pay for the enduring LogMeIn licence? it’s something like $70 these days.@pandaXP: it’s been too long for me to be sure but I generally leave it off, because VMWare Player encourages you to do so.

  29. wes Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I don’t mind helping out a friend or even my wifes friends however when my wifes friends auntie has a problem it’s going a little far…

    And there is the question of oh how much do you want for the 10 hours of your life you just wasted because i’m gonna mess it up as soon as you walk out of here….

  30. Chris Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Steve, I use the free version, gives me enough control, and I can see the users desktop, the times its saved me a pointless visit..

  31. John T Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I’m not an IT professional like I suspect most of the people here are, but, I have an interest in it and I always build and OC my own systems, (as well as for some family members) so I’m lumbered with the ‘go to’ tag for most people I know. I have to say, I do recognise the frustrations spelled out here!

    The worst offender for me was my father, who for some God-only-knows reason felt it necessary to start deleting random files and folders on his PC – even when I expressly kept telling him not to. (”You’ve still got over 200GB of free space on your hard drive, why do you need to delete a folder you don’t understand to save another 6MB? Why?”)

    It’s no lie to say I probably totally reformatted and reinstalled XP/Vista/7 on his machines close to a dozen times over a 3 year period, (not mentioning all the other ‘minor’ fixes).

    It’s very hard to say no to a parent, even after the umpteenth time…

    It got to a quite heated point where I finally created a folder with his name on it, (to put all his personal files and media in) and said if he EVER deleted anything that wasn’t in said folder then I’m done with it. Touch wood, it’s been over a year now and no problems… [crosses fingers]

    I also think the main problem with the ‘plumbing, electrics, vehicle, garden, moving house [etc]‘ analogies are that people actually RECOGNISE those things to be work – whereas ‘just’ sitting down in front of a PC, (usually while they chat to you or watch TV in another room) doesn’t seem to register – even if it’s for hours on end.

    Spending a half-hour humping furniture about seems to generate far more genuine gratitude than three or four hours buggering about in front of a screen…

  32. Incognitii Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Tech Support Cheat Sheet

  33. moosepig Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    @CMD that is correct.

  34. Sergio Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    As one of the guys pointed out…I don’t charge money…just goods or wine bottles…in one of the latest call from a friend, after this guy installed Avast (I like that product), all the new and updated software which used the network couldn’t establish network connections. Skype was working until an update was installed…then it stopped working. Same with IE… took me a while figure out what was wrong… an “IT expert” disabled all the Symantec services after the trial ended, and that was blocking the connections…of course, the uninstall didn’t work and I had to guide this guy to uninstall it using the alternative “norton uninstaller”…. considering that I did it on the phone, and 3000 mi. away, and he was running Vista…it wasn’t easy!

  35. Munin Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    No kidding, there. That’s one of the reasons I do my best to stay away from supporting family or friends IT-wise, and why I set up a locked-down user account for my mother-in-law when she had to learn how to use a computer.

    My sympathies, sir, and good luck with this user in the future. They sound like just the sort of entitled, selfish pain in the rear who makes us real IT folk reach for the bottle.

  36. Coma Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Charge a blanket $50 for any services and you’ll get far less flippant requests. It’s your own fault.

  37. PC Tech Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    Amusing (and all too true) commentary, Steve.

    Having fixed others computers without charge for years, I got fed up and started charging for my services, although I still do pro bono repairs for my closest friends and family.

  38. Ducky Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    I tend to find having the number of the local PC Repair shop is handy.
    When someone asks you something you don’t want to do, you just say that the PC Repair shop is better suited to fixing that problem.
    Generally they get the point, they take it to the shop who gets business out of it and you don’t have to deal with it.
    Win win!

  39. Matt Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    My favorite was dealing with severely malware-ridden laptop for a co-worker: it had gone “missing” in her 12-year-old son’s room for a week and now wouldn’t boot. Thankfully, I didn’t have to explain to the kid that IE + pr0z0rs = bad…

  40. Chestaro Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    I honestly find that trading for favors amongst those who can grant them is an amiable solution for quick fixes. For referrals, the referrer owes me one. I always negotiate something out of the deal though, even if it’s nothing more than a good meal. Family gets the free work, but they usually at least cook and I have to live with them :)

  41. Carl Marks Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Would you be as quick to help a mate with the plumbing if you knew that the reason he was having an issue with it was because he’d been indiscriminately swinging a sledgehammer at the wall? Willfully stupid behavior and inability to own up to said stupidity is the part that rankles here.

    It’s hard to have empathy for someone who engages in risky activity (downloading cracked software, for example), and then gets burned by it. Poetic justice, that.

  42. Alphex Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Eh, just install Ubuntu or something on their computer, relabel the desktop icons to “Internet” and “Mail” and tell them if they want Windows back, they should learn to install it themselves. Works for a lot of people.
    Last person I did that to hasn’t had a problem with their computer since.

  43. Dominique Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Every time friends would ask me for help with the computer, I always offer to install Ubuntu on their systems. Now they know better than to come to me. :-)

  44. Bob Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Wow, nice job Steve! I’ve spent years acquiring the knowledge that I have now and; since I still don’t know everything, I’ve a long ways to go, never to finish. It amazes me that people will not take care of their computer as they should and then when issues eventually arise, they want it fixed for “free.” How ’bout that construction friend… “Roof blew off in the storm last night… would you come over and fix it for me for free? Should only take an hour.” Never mind the fact that everyone knows that time equals money but it seems that that equation is lost in their discussion with you when its their computer on the line. I’ve spent both my own money and my own time learning what I know… others need to realize that fact and quit expecting to get something for nothing all the time. A gift card for a dinner or a movie would be nice and that’s not too much. Beats getting nothing for something!

  45. John Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Being a geek, you must learn one lesson. If the person who needs help is a hottie, guarantee trim before doing anything. How many times have I been a sucker.

  46. Paul Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Ah, so your old friend calls you up for help with something that they are clearly pretty clueless about and you sniff at them for them not really knowing what they’re doing?

    I bet next time you move house and they have a van and you have a convertible, they don’t write an blog post about your pathetic nature as a house-owner and inability to think ahead about how you’d fit that freezer in the tiny trunk of your car.

    Computers aren’t meant to be specialist super-whizzy amazing things any more, they’re meant to be generic appliances – that’s why all of us in the industry have made so much money selling them to people who barely even need them. And in the same way that people needed to learn that they can’t wash their children in the dishwasher, it’ll take time to educate people as to what they should and shouldn’t do with a computer, just significantly longer due to the additional complexity. And, as such, we need to cope with the idea that we’re giving tools to people who can’t quite deal with them yet and deliver the appropriate support.

  47. Erewhon Says:
    March 8th, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    People do not value free. Put a price on your advice or remediation activities, in the same way any other tradesmen charges for callout and repair, and people will respect you for the work.

  48. Derek Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 12:12 am

    @John – I can say from experience that Steve has excellent social skills. Late last century when I asked him to do some ‘fill-in’ consulting for me with a client who had networking requirements outside my skill set it took him until the 3rd sentence to call me a ‘f*&^&*^g idiot’ for taking them on in the first place :-)

    What made it worse was he was right.

  49. Everyman Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 12:24 am

    I get how you feel on one hand, but on the other hand I feel your frustration is just the result of saying yes often. This rant sounds like the straw that broke your back.

    Just say no or show me the money.

  50. Mike Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 12:33 am

    Someone asked if the author ever got some help from a friend with his plumbing. I somehow doubt that he would call a friend over for a little help with a pipe, and actually expect that friend to drain 2′ of raw sewage from his basement, replace all of the out-of-code bathroom plumbing, and restore all the damaged sheetrock, flooring, and furniture for free.

  51. dalaketh Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I like the article and agree with all of the points made. I have to help family members wherever I go. I have found a few things to help over the years. First I install a remote desktop client similar to what Chris does. Instead of LogMeIn I use TeamViewer as the personal version is free and gives you total control. I have also found that a good copy of linux installed on a CD/USB drive and a paper with instructions can save a lot of time.

  52. nib Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 12:55 am

    These days I can claim to be ‘out of touch with Windows’ because I’ve run nothing but Linux for a few years, and that gets me off the “can you just take a look” hook – but for a long time I would typically get one or two friends or relations machines A WEEK dumped on me to fix. And even when I’d spent many hours getting a nice patched up and AV ready build all set up for them AND put a disk image of it on a second partition, it’d come back a few weeks later. “Errrr…where’s the big file in the directory named D:\DoNotDelete?” I’d ask. “Oh I ran out of space” (for pirated games) they’d answer “…so I deleted it”. I will (and do) ask friends for help (an hour or two’s help) – but its amazing how many people expect you to spend much more than that, the equivalent of thousands of dollars of your time on their machines – and don’t even offer you a bottle of wine.

  53. 5Z Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:08 am

    she darn deserves it…. as another one who spent endless hours fixing idiots laptops,servers etc I sometimes find it refreshing tha at least some of the s…t these nice people generated falls right on top of their thick,woodenheads….

  54. miramarhacker Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Ive come to the point that if(when) a friend asks for help, i will either charge my normal rate to ‘fix’ windows or i will install an appropriate linux flavor for free…

  55. Keith Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:24 am

    @Chris Check out Team Viewer they have a Free version for non commercial use and its easier to walk someone through the download over the phone or email them a link to the download. I’ve found it to be a lot easier than trying to get them to install logmein. My work has purchased a licensed copy and it has saved my company a lot of money in time and travel and more than paid for itself in less than a month.

    I usually tell friends and family that I will work on the computer but that I’m really busy and can only work on it in my spare time. If they can live without it for a few weeks I’ll see what I can do. If they need it quicker than that they’ll need to take it to a shop. That way they don’t monopolize all my free time and if they really need the help they take me up on the offer.

  56. Mike Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Some people are clueless and need the help. A close relative’s a few weeks ago asked me to backup the computer. They had done a tremendous favor for me so I was happy to oblige. Lets just say dropped laptop 2 years ago .. screen smashed … somehow the HDD still works … 5 years of data … only copies of this data on the HDD of the smashed laptop.

    Fortunately the HDD never crashed and was able to get everything copied. I gave them a lesson on backing up so this situation won’t repeat itself.

    I’m aware of how “used” I’ve been the whole time but I’ve usually been given something free in return. The days of free sandwiches in return are now over. You have to barter big time for my services.

  57. Jonas Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:33 am

    I don’t mind helping people, I do it for fun. Unfortunately it’s usually very similar problems so it gets boring. At least I don’t have to spend too much time away from my own computers.

    I prefer they call me, so I get it sorted rather than some kid who just wipes it an makes a clean OS install. It’s just not always the only solution. That’s just giving up.


  58. pt Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:39 am

    I love windows users I always sell them more ram or a faster CPU if they complain their computer is becoming slow (most like from Viruses and Spyware).

  59. xv1942 Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:45 am

    Since I only run Linux I solve the problem by telling friends and family I don’t know anything about Windows, which is mostly true after about ten years of Linux.

  60. demopublican Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:56 am

    “It is now your laptop and your responsibility”

    Apple users do not apply. You have no responsibility and it it not your laptop under the Apple ecosystem.

  61. SudoBash Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:31 am

    I put most people on Linux, problem solved…

  62. Eric Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:35 am

    @Incognitii – you stole my idea! But that’s ok, I found another strip that kind of reflects the feelings evoked by Steve’s article.

  63. SysAdmin Steve Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:42 am

    I think the comic “The Oatmeal’ covered this topic:

  64. Allan Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:56 am

    I’m with Steve about installing LogMeIn to cut down on the instances of “just pop over for dinner and by the way fix the PC please”. An alternative to LogMeIn is Teamviewer, which is great because it works under Linux to support Windows machines. This way, I can stay in my Puppy Linux to do remote fixes. (Apparently, Teamviewer supports Mac as well but I haven’t tried that.) Oh, I just found out that there’s a LogMeIn Linux beta, but I haven’t tried that yet either.

  65. Daniel Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 3:32 am

    You sound bitter and quick with mean-spirited quips. If this blog post is a true example of how you treat and think of your ‘friends’ then I’m not surprised at all by their low quality.

    People of worth tend to be smart enough to avoid abusive relationships.

    My non-computer geek friends don’t abuse me, they’re smart enough to follow my advice and I’m always happy to help them out. And their computers don’t suffer from the kinds of problems you seem to be plagued with.

    What you put out there *always* comes back around to affect your own experience in the world.

  66. wikiBuddha Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 3:37 am

    Just install Linux on anyone’s machine that acts like the subject in the email.

  67. Cholo Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Charge everybody who is not directly related to your bloodline. It severely decreases the amount of times you see the same issues.

  68. Mike Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 3:49 am

    I love the fact that the majority of my friends are from the IS program, CS program, or were competent techs that worked with me at my college help desk, or the level two call center I worked at.

  69. Jay Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:40 am

    @Craig – There are givers and there are takers. Generally the takers are more plentiful. If I need plumbing work done and I’m not competent to do it, I call a friend in the industry, then pay him his full fees. That way, I support my friends while getting the work I need done and no one feels like they’ve been taken advantage of. Most people take the view, “Oh, my friend’s in the IT business, so he can help me for free.” IMHO, far better to pay your way for everything so no one’s feelings get hurt. If it’s a really good friend, I usually comp them, but then again, my really good friends always offer to pay. It’s not that we keep track of who did what for whom. I just find it cleaner that way. If someone asks for my advice at a dinner party, I tell them that I’m not here to consult and perhaps it would be better if they contacted me during work hours. Recently a neighbor asked me “Can’t I just click on something and fix this?” My reply was, if you can, then please do so. Otherwise, feel free to bring it over and quoted my rates. This neighbor has never done anything for me and I’m not all about the money (I often don’t charge for minor repairs and heavily discount major ones), but my time is my most precious commodity, and it’s not like they’re offering to mow the lawn while I solve their problems.

    Just my $.02

  70. madmadrasi Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Fully agree – this January was the worst ‘got 10 mins?’ time of my life – 14 PCs (d/tops n laps) total – and all same. Ppl were crazy enough to use BT w/out a firewall. And they expect me to keep ‘10 mins’ free every 4 months or so.

    My worst gripe? Pirated Antivirus :-(

    PS: 3 more ‘got 10 mins’ in hand; makes me want to throw up.

  71. Jay Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:55 am

    A couple other points. It’s amazing how many people want to be friend when they find out I’m in the business.

    WilliamW – Live Linux Distro CDs like Puppy Linux are awesome. I’ve yet to see a virus infect a CD-R that’s already been burned. Along that lines, if you want to provide your users with a more familiar O/S, I’d suggest looking at DeepFreeze (or other “Sandbox” progrmas). It’s nice to be able to allow people full access to the system, especially since any changes to the O/S and programs are reset once the power is cycled. You can setup “unfrozen” zones (like “My Documents”) to store data/preferences, etc…and when you need to perform updates, etc.. you simply unthaw the system, install your updates, refreeze it and reboot.

    Finally, I’m recommending cloud computing and webmail for most of my clients and friends. Nice to be able to work off any browser or any OS. Portable flash drive apps are nice, too, but I find them a bit slow.

  72. JoeT Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:01 am

    After many years of being burned by “friends” who ask for help fixing their computers, and then them being angry that it gets re-infected within a few weeks, I now have a new response. I cheerily offer to (1) help them buy a Mac, (2) install Ubuntu, or (3) get them the phone number of a local company who will clean up their problems for a small fee, usually on the order of $400+. Needless to say, the pleas for support have dwindled substantially.

  73. Vijay Prozak Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:07 am

    I get the “Hey, I know you’re a computer guy, can’t you just…” a lot.

    My response now is standard. “Sure, let’s trade. You need a fixed computer, and I need someone to buy groceries/pick up the kids/murder the mother-in-law. While you go do that, I’ll be here fixing this mess you created while browsing Slavic anal porn.”

    Works every time. By “works” I mean half the time they “suddenly” remember the disaster re-install disk in a lonely closet, or stunned, agree to what I propose, or flake out with a hasty excuse.

    Either way, I’m off the hook for 1-4 hours minimum of free repairs just for being too silly of a person to get cynical about the motivations of others.

  74. Robert Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:13 am

    I’ve gotten the call from a friend at 2am screaming that it’s an emergency. The ‘emergency’ was that his computer crashed and he couldn’t play his video game…

  75. Stosh Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:13 am

    First thing I do when I get roped into fixing someone’s machine? Nuke their browser cache. Dude, I just don’t wanna *know*…

  76. Aaron Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:49 am

    Try converting one of a failed set of dynamic disks back to a basic disk as to get windows to boot off it.

    Hint, Get out the hex editor.

    Filesystems these days have grown massively in complexity, this makes rebuilding an NTFS filesystem and its required journal, infeasible.

  77. Hartz Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:05 am

    Done my fair share of freebie jobs in my time, now i just refuse to do it. It always ends up being too much hassle – even when they throw in a bottle of jack.

  78. ps2chiper Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:23 am

    You people could stop using windows altogether. Ubuntu is about the same as OSX and is free for everyone. I’ve been using Ubuntu for over 3 years and not had one virus or serious problem. Remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, that basically sums up Windows users. Everyone hates windows but refuse to use another OS. I just don’t understand it?

  79. Adam Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:33 am

    I had the same problem with my in-laws. Sometimes they would call every 6 months, but at one point it was about every 3 weeks or less. They only used their computers for facebook/email/youtube/geneology so I said, “If you want me to keep fixing your computer for free, I will require that you let me switch from windows xp to linux. You can still do everything you could before with the same software (they used firefox at the time). I installed it on their desktop, then the 2 laptops I gave them, and now I *might* get a yearly call to setup a new device.

  80. Graeme Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 7:27 am

    My answer these days is that I use Linux now and do not know Windows any more.

    Of course that does mean I end up doing the odd Linux install, but those tend to be one-offs and often does just take 10 minutes.

  81. Adrian Lee Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Hi Steven, great article. I think all of us have been in this situations before. Nowadays, if I can solve their problems over the phone, I’ll ask them if they want me to send a tech over. Cuts to the chase and let’s me get on with life, or get new business.

  82. Alan B Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 8:18 am


    Should have installed Linux yeah, except she maybe had to use the sort of software you need to run a business.

  83. Tarquin F'Tang Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 9:39 am

    I take it ‘Mildred’ isn’t your friend any more.

    She’s probably also quietly grateful you turned it round so that it was your fault, and not hers.

  84. Andrew Sinclair Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Hi, fellow Steven. Like several other responders, I have dropped using Windows and use Linux exclusively. When “friends” try to get me to fix their Windows (and Macintosh!) systems, I plead ignorance. I politely point them to a shop here in town who specializes in computer wet work, saying that they are the experts, not me. The advantage is that my statements of ignorance have the ring of truth, because the statements are true. I have fewer but better “friends” because of this.

  85. Malag Doval Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 10:17 am

    I sympathise with Steve. I’d like to think that if people just did two simple things with their computers a lot of problems could be avoided:

    1) Read the prompt that appears, and if you don’t understand what it is saying then call someone that does – I can’t speak for every tech, but personally I would rather spend 15 seconds on the phone than hours on end fixing something easily avoided.

    2) Stop doing naughty stuff on your computer; this goes for software or video piracy, or sticking your browser in to the nether regions of the internet.

    The problem is very complex and I admit that this is not the total solution, just a part of it that will avoid a lot of frustration for everyone.

  86. Ledow Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I offer help to those who help themselves. You had antivirus loaded, the latest software, a good firewall and you don’t click on things without reading them as I’ve recommended? Yeah, I can give you an hour of my time to have a quick look at your machine. It’s a favour, though, so don’t expect miracles or for me to do it to *your* schedule.

    Otherwise, the first five minutes is free and if I suspect that you broke one of the golden rules, then that might consist only of “You clicked Yes, didn’t you?” or “Why did you uninstall AVG?”. I won’t get anything else done in those five minutes and everything after that will be chargeable at my standard hourly rate. Maybe minus a small discount.

    Similarly, my dad repairs friend’s cars. But if you were stupid enough to over-rev it, were racing it down the motorway when you crashed, ran it for days without oil or water, etc. then he’s not going to perform miracles for you, or do it for free, and it will cost you dear. If you just had a little problem, though, through general wear and tear, yeah, he’ll do it for you and probably wouldn’t charge you for parts even.

    But if you’ve created the problem quite against all advice, then the “favour” he’s doing then is to repair it at your insistence (and your expense) where anyone else would tell you to scrap it and buy another (at greater expense) rather than do the work.

    I don’t get why IT gets more of this than other professions. My brother is a teacher but you don’t get friends saying “Oh, would you mind just taking little Johnnie through his GCSE’s and I’ll buy you a glass of wine tonight”.

    I’m a professional. Yeah, I’ll *look* at the machine as a favour to you in order to offer a professional opinion, the same way my dad will guess at what could be wrong with a car and how much it will cost, but if you want me to do the *work*, then you either need to pay me (somehow – in equivalent kind will do), or have some sort of favour owing.

    And, as a professional, I won’t touch anything that smells of copyright infringement in case *I* then get blamed for installing that dodgy version of Windows / Office when you get caught.

    Best way to stop people asking? Say “Sure, let me just check what my hourly rate needs to be now…”

  87. b Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 10:43 am

    How about you pick the one person you know that constantly bugs you for help and destroy their machine in some super-crazy, super-hightech way, bad enough so that they just feel compelled to spread the word far and wide to “never again ask Steve for help” ? Meanwhile, helped my mom trade her w98 machine and get a mac mini 5 years ago, and whatever the problems now takes two minutes tops with screensharing for any further knowledge she needs.

  88. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Threatening people with Ubuntu just drives the requester towards progressively more ignorant people who will do what they want – and I doubt Mildred can use the specific site design tools she likes, inside that OS. Remember folks, in this case this was *business* support for someone who has mixed up home & business all together on a single machine. When it comes to the various personal comments… rather than get drawn in to whatever that’s about, I would like to look at the underlying question, which is why it is *only in computing* that the Social Contract can be broken so comprehensively in this way. Is it because we let it be broken?

  89. Alan B Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Once again, to all the people saying ‘install Ubuntu’:


    This lady obviously has a suite of proprietary software that she needs to use (and has pirated) and I doubt any of it exists on Linux.

  90. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 11:21 am

    that’s Ok Alan, if you do almost any search on almost any tech topic these days you will find many helpful answers telling you that you should have started someplace else or been born to different parents or something equally useful…

  91. Adam Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Well, it’s either a business machine or a home machine. If this is a serious business, the business machine has *only* paid for software, tons of security and backup options setup, and the machine restricted to only business use. If you pirate your software, I will laugh when your work ends up on being stolen and sold to someone else, or your machine used as a botnet node, or you lose everything. You can’t afford to pay for the software, learn how to use a free or lower cost alternative. People tell me, “oh I NEED to use photoshop.” That equals to, “I don’t want to learn how to click a couple different buttons”. Unlike what you may know, photoshop is not the only image app out there. And you never know, for what you do, something *might* do it better and easier. But you don’t know unless you look and try. Just because people learned all these apps in college doesn’t mean they are the end-all. Like comparing office to openoffice to libreoffice to the other 50 office clones out there. Especially if it is your business, you can set what standard you want to use.

  92. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Adam: it depends on how you want people to behave. If they are going to find it impossible to come up to your standards, then (if you’re right) they will suffer, because your requirements won’t have the effect you think they’ll have (aside from giving you a quieter life). I also don’t understand how you go from your observation in the middle of the comment, to that last sentence – they seem to contradict one another.

  93. Juice Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Having computer skills is the modern equivalent of owning a truck when you belong to a large church.

  94. Lee Bailey Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I always wear this t-shirt when at family parties

  95. Greg Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Well said Steve.
    Personally I would have been a bit more forceful,
    (25 years fixing computer systems has me that way) but hey, Steve you have done a service to us all, But I fear you are preaching to the converted. Really what we need is a revolution :) and standard “IDIOT FEE” for such situations like your photo taking acquaintance. Or maybe better still, tee shirts with your inspired letter printed on the back, and only when such acquaintances can rattle off the entire letter (by heart), in public and nude, maybe then we should offer to fix their PC – For above mentioned “Idiot Fee” … Keep IT real …..

  96. ari Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I did some work as a computer technician after being the “can you fix this for me” nerd in the family for many years. After that experience I couldn’t bear spending all my time fixing broken WinXP machines so I switched to Mac and use a Linux machine as a media box.
    The joy, OH, the JOY!
    My computers require less maintenance (the Macs haven’t needed any proper maintenance, the Linux machine can require some enjoyable tinkering when updating and upgrading), and with Vista and Win7 I can legitimately say that I don’t know how to fix them.

    Most of my family and closest friends have also switched to Mac, and the problems they ask me to solve can generally be fixed in less than 10 minutes. Seriously. Not the usual ten minutes that actually take a few hours…

    I drank the Kool Aid, and the Kool Aid was good…

  97. Sourav Chakraborty Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I could not empathise more, once family and friends learn you are even vaguely I.T. literate you will get lumbered with every one of their poor decisions which ends in disaster.
    You merrily format their PC, reinstall the OS, download every service pack, install anti-virus and anti-spyware, tell them not to run anything suspicous or click on links in spam emails. And what do you know? Six months down the line they’re on the phone asking for your help again! It takes hours not minutes to rectify these problems, especially when you have a slow broadband connection.
    Car owners will check their oil, water and air, but PC owners won’t even scan their hard drive once a month or install updates delivered to the PC automatically (for free).

  98. ari Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    … the problem with helping people is not that I don’t enjoy fixing computers as such, it’s more that when the fix breaks their porno codec and their stolen programs some people blame me and imply that it’s somehow a part of my fixing their computer to spend a few extra hours installing and cracking their stuff (which I don’t do). So, ungratefulness, not listening when I explain what WILL happen due to the fix (after I’ve done a basic diagnosis) and stuff like that.

    There are exceptions. A friend of mine for whom I gladly do work for free decided to give me films (proper DVDs, not pirated crap) as a thank you for switching drives in his machine, re-installing the OS (which is not very demanding) and helping him transfer his files and setting up the most necessary (and legal) programs. Time mostly spent drinking tea and chatting with a dear friend, with some tasks that a non-techie finds intimidating.

    And in general, helping people on Mac has been more thankful and less stressful.

  99. Overworked Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Try bartering. If someone asks you to look at their PC, ask them to clean your home at a hour per hour basis.

  100. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    @ari: I know what you mean about Mac people being more gracious, though I can also point you to some spine-tinglingly awful little reptiles in that group too. The porn aspect of the whole relationship between user and repairer is one so deep I was hoping we could skim over it. ..

  101. Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I think that there are two types of people commenting here. The first is the same type as “Mildred” who think you are being unreasonable. And the second type is people like you, and me, who have spent literally hours cleaning some one’s PC because they used high speed internet without any sort of AV, firewall, or malware protection. 33,000+ issues and 6 hours later I fixed it.

  102. Jay Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I like the idea of “limited” accounts. I’m the only one with admin access in the domain I manage. Everyone else has limited user access with additional restrictions imposed by group policy. This means I install all software, but with remote access and application deployment, I save tons of time compared to the issues I’d face if everyone in the domain had admin. Of course, not everyone can afford a domain, let alone a full time admin, and even limited accounts can get infected so I’ve adopted another tact for my smaller clients. Something I’ve had great success with is sandbox software, like “DeepFreeze”, by Faronics. By freezing your system, viruses and malware are no longer an issue. Updated or not, working AV or not, if the system gets infected, reboot and any changes or infections are gone. You can setup “unfrozen” zones or an unfrozen partition to store data/settings/bookmarks/etc and if there is new software or updates to load, simply unthaw the system, make your changes, refreeze and restart. This way, you can give users full admin privileges and it doesn’t really matter. Any changes are temporary unless the system is thawed prior to making those changes. I leave instructions for the client regarding how to unthaw the system and load updates. Hopefully, they do it, but if not, well, they can pay me next time to sit there while they download and install. I look at it like changing oil in your car. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, then you have a couple of choices: 1) Find someone to do it for you for free. 2) Pay someone to do it for you. 3) Choose not to perform maintenance and live with those consequences. I lay these choices out for people so that they know what options they have. Let’s face it people, we have skills and knowledge that, while in the public domain, most people either don’t want to deal with or are unable to comprehend. What seems like “common sense” to us is rocket science to them. Communication is the key. I used to hold in all this angst, but it’s not worth it. Far better to let people know where they stand and what the rules of the game are. Makes for a much better and less stressful life.

  103. highlandham Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    This’story’ obviously refers to the Windows OS.
    When using Linux this ‘disaster’ would never happen. All software one needs is liget. …..and FREE

  104. Someone Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Everyone who recommends getting an OS asides from Windows really should re-evaluate that suggestion.

    It takes no extra permission to delete your documents regardless of which OS you run.

    Sure, some platforms have fewer viruses *AT THE MOMENT* but when this changes, you KNOW buffer overflows, glitches will be found for those platforms. Even locked down consoles that have a hard time to run usercode have been cracked.

  105. GregH Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    The one I often get at work or when helping friends is what my co-worker and I call “ever since’d”. It goes like this: “Ever since you worked on my computer” this or that is missing, not working, whatever. Many fail to understand that cleaning up their long-ago hacked machine means the crapware they downloaded and installed is long gone.

  106. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    One of my Facebook buddies made an early and important observation: so much of this problem is really about the strangeness of the sense of ownership. On the one hand, laptop users tend to want to be master of their own machine: on the other hand, they are the ones who should have the stabiliser wheels fitted. Once it’s gone wrong, they don’t want to own the problem.

  107. Andy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I have no problem helping family with their computers so long as they listen to me. The first time you make a mistake I’ll explain why it was a bad idea and correct it without complaint. By the 5th time you’ve uninstalled the AV I gave you so you could install this other “great product” that turns out to be scamware it’s going to take me a little longer to get around to fixing your crippled machine.

    For everyone saying that it’s hypocritical of Steve to be fed up with being asked for free computer help while he surely asks friends to help him move: How likely do you think it is that he is in the habit of moving with that help, shoving the furniture out his door, and then calling those friends back repeatedly to get it moved back into the right room?

  108. JohnAHind Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 4:50 pm There is nothing different between the situation of computer experts and anyone else who has a professional expertise useful to the general public. The difference we are observing here is about the way (many) computer people handle people.

    Try an experiment: if you have any doctors or lawyers in your circle of friends try asking them for free professional services on the strength of your friendship. I’ll bet (a) you do not get any free services; and (b) you’ll still remain friends because they’ll handle the situation with some grace and sensitivity.

    What they probably will not do is deliver a 72-hour intemperately phrased lecture on your moral and intellectual shortcomings, refuse to help with your problem and then rehearse the whole situation on a public blog!

  109. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    ah the famous recursive Mr Hind strikes again. Your bald assertions don’t stand up, I’m afraid: there *is* something different, and what’s more, the difference lies in the one-sidedness, which you seem only too keen to keep up yourself. Doctors and lawyers are approached with much more innate respect than computer people; I used to have a guy in one of my teams who had been a GP, and switched to computing – you could see people’s change in attitude when they flipped topics with him, and they were talking TO THE SAME PERSON IN THE SAME CONVERSATION! That’s not him displaying some appaling lack of manners. As for your guess-dressed-up-as-flame about the 72 hours: you’re as wrong as you are rude.

  110. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    (Incidentally, I find it cruelly amusing that those who comment here “emotionally” about how poor IT types are at handing the emotions of a help request, and how awful I must have been to that poor lady, are invariably the least considerate or open-minded of the contributors. Not, I suspect, that they will realise what this means…)

  111. eric Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    totally right , installed ubuntu on my mom’s (83 yo) laptop AND my 4 Yo daugther’s laptop and i never have any problems , best pat is that my geekette-to-be whants to do shell like dad (do you see me glowing with pride ?) , installing Windows on a DFUser is the best receipy for disaster

  112. Carrie Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I am constantly asked to help friends, family, friends of family and flat-out strangers. I specifically do not ask for help from other people for things like plumbing or other types of services as Craig Dunn mentions – I am very aware of not taking advantage – as I have had my fill of it. My best example – a friend (who also works at my company) called one SATURDAY morning. She did the normal thing and asked how I was. After telling her that my Grandma had passed away THAT MORNING and how upset I was about it – she commenced with the normal condolences for a couple of minutes then launched into the real reason for her call. “Um, I can’t get my laptop to connect to Citrix…” Needless to say, they aren’t a close friend anymore.

  113. Incognitii Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    @Steve Cassidy
    You mean they’re (self-professed) Christians? (The first to criticise, gossip, condemn, ungenerous. most hypocritical breed I’ve come across in my areas of encounter)

  114. Patrick Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    @Steve – Brilliant!!!

  115. ImagePope Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I disagree with previous posts. The lack of social skills is NOT on the techie’s part, it is on the part of the requestor. If the requestor said “hey I’m having computer trouble and need to take it into service, would you mind spending just 10 minutes giving me an assessment so I can talk to the guy at the shop intelligently?” or “hey, I’m having computer trouble, if I grill you a steak would you mind looking at it?” I dare say we’d have NO PROBLEM helping. The problem is they always say “come and look at my computer” like we are some bloody peasant. But regardless, the base issue is not addressed: they’ve done something stupid and you can’t fix stupid. And we know a big repair shop bill will leave a scar that will be a remembered next time. And maybe that’s one more computer that will never be a zombie node on the Internet ever again.

  116. Nicholas Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Any tech worth their salt wouldn’t get so bent by such requests, because they would be able to fix their friend’s computers in just a few minutes.

  117. Tom Nielsen Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks Steve, for your article and to the many responses posted here. It gives me joy (in most cases) and laughter in the scenarios, as I too, have incurred many of the same things. And Like many, have come to the conclusion to “charge” for services. But this doesn’t deal with Steve’s basic question of “why.” Let me explain. Many years ago, when the computer industry was young, and men were men, the cost of development and maintenance was high. Now as the years have progressed costs have steadily dropped from the “professional” support layer. When the microcomputer world “hit” the market, there was an even greater level of drop. Especially from the professional level. As the industry progressed through the 1980’s so did the cost drop. Even when machines sold for $3,500.00 to $5,000.00 the “support” was essentially free. The money made from hardware sales justified giving support away for free. This microprocessor development also caused a chasm in the user base, in that, user’s no longer had to be “technical” in order to have a computer. Contrasted with the typical user in the 70’s, who in many cases, were programmers and engineers. This chasm has “caused” the need for support at these lower levels. However, since machines are now typically less then $1,000.00 it is not possible to make a substantial living and “give” support away. People in those years got used to “free” support and have not made the change over. Especially with regard to the mass consumer mentality. I don’t know if they ever will. Some of the problem at the PC level is that People “get” free support from their relatives and their friends. But as you can see from the post here, the usual thing that follows is burn out from the supporter. Another part of what you wrestle with Steve, is the political liberal mindset that has infected a making a living mentality. That is, the particular notion that “money grows on trees” or “just print it” in Washington. This is why other industries have been affected as well. Such as corporate structures paying less for I.T., outsourcing and so forth. This has had far reaching effects, right down to the tech level in our “own” businesses. Many of the posts listed here indicate that they would prefer to not deal with problem at all. However, for you Steve, and others who are serious about staying in business, the problem remains. Personally, I began “charging” a good amount of money. However this has not change the mindset of consumers. Another solution, as indicated by you Steve, is to not let “them” take us to the cleaners. You can be firm and yet kind. Other then that “we must let them go.” And of course the obvious, there are other ways to make money other then the computer industry. ;)

  118. The Jorde Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I kid you not, I rebuilt a PC last week for a work colleague, only to be asked TWO DAYS later if a virus could still be on it after I erased and rebuilt Windows. Apparently the PC had got a virus before when he installed “some DVD software from a torrent site” but he hadn’t usewd that software since my rebuild, yet the virus was back. “Where is this software?” I asked, to discover it was on his “big external drive, with all my other downloads”. Other downloads indeed!

  119. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Incogniti: way, way way off topic.

  120. Pete Says:
    March 9th, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Haha, I’ve had this happen a million times – I flat out refuse to help anyone more than once unless they pay me for it nowadays. I’ll help fix the problem and show them how to avoid it, but if it happens again, they’re screwed – either pay me or go call another techie person or take it to a repair place.

  121. etherwhisp Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 3:43 am

    May I please copy and paste this to whoever asks me to “fix” their POS the next time they click on anything that a normal human being shouldn’t?

  122. Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 6:13 am

    @Mr.Hind I wouldn’t ask a doctor or lawyer friend to do an equivalent task. What Mildred asked of him would be like asking a lawyer to do a long term case for free because you are friends. Or a doctor to do a free surgery. Rebuilding a system is a large undertaking. BTW-I have doctor friends who do small things like say, yeah you should go get that mole checked out for free. Which to me is like asking a IT guy to if he thinks my system needs more ram. Bottom line is, if you are a friend of some one you should not try to take that much advantage of them, something I think people do with IT professionals more often than other professionals. BTW- I am just good at computers, not formally trained and I get more crap from people than I want. I was not joking in my first post, it took 6 hours.

  123. Plain Speaker Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I totally agree with Steve Cassisdy, Ledow, John T, and many others who have found that knowing how to fix computer problems is an easy way to lose “friends”.
    Family are even worse, as they expect that the hours it can take to sort out a dog’s mess are somehow part of what you do for nothing. The thought that it has taken you away from something that might actually pay money, never crosses their mind.
    Forget about the barter approach also, I’ve tried it, and had one success out of ten. Once you’ve done the work and sorted the problem you won’t see them for dust.
    I have been living in France for ten years, during which time I have lost count of the number of expats who bend my ear for free advice at just about any bar/restaurant/shop I go to. I am now perceived as being “rude” or “unfriendly”, when I suggest that they might like to ring me in business hours and discuss what sort of support contract they would like. The other specific problem is that many of these people can’t go to the local repair shop, (there are 2 in our town), because they don’t speak French!! One may ask, why are they here?
    After 25 years of doing network support in many different environments (Unix, Linux, Mac, PC Novell etc), the only way to do business is to nail down a contract with the people who want the help. If it is a “one off”, then they have to pay a fee up front, otherwise do not touch it. In my experience you will never see any payment and, if you are very lucky you might get offered a glass of wine!
    Quite why people think that being able to fix computer problems is a free service, is an interesting dilemma. I have tried suggesting to such people that you ask your garage to service your car as a favour and tell the garage owner that you might pop round and mow his lawn if you have the time. I think I know what the garage owner might say!

  124. Incognitii Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Steve – I was alluding to your comments re lack of consideration, & open-mindedness. IME the biggest complainers/worst ‘users’/abusers of IT/staff are the ‘Holier than Thou’ brigade

  125. Nick Mason Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Steve’s letter would be funny if it wasn’t true. I have one particular friend who gets into a mess on a regular basis and won’t listen or take advice. I fixed his PC twice, each time it took several hours due in large part because I was trying to save his data and pictures. He, of course had no backups!

    After the second attempt I created a restore image of the OS and basic software.

    When I was approached a third time I gave him two options. I would restore the image for free, no data but he could start again. Or, I’d spend most of my Sunday trying to save it while he played golf if he paid me.

    He was stunned, hurt and not a little angry. I pointed out that he was an idiot for not having any backups and that I was sick of saving him for free.

    After failing to find anyone else to do it he paid me and I made him sit and watch me do it. Why should I be the only one to suffer!

    He now has an external backup drive and an automated backup and recovery system and we are both very happy.

    As for the other people who think I provide free IT support I take a leaf from Sherlock Holmes and tell them it’s a three pint problem.

    I also tell them that unless they have backups I’m not interested in their self inflicted misery.

    The nerd has turned.

  126. Another Steve in IT Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 10:24 am

    @Steve Cassidy
    Wow – I bet you wish you hadn’t posted that article now! I actually thought it was quite funny, and agreed with your sentiment entirely. I get exactly the same requests for help – once is fine, and I’ll usually give half an hour to an hour to try to clean things up. More than that, or on the second request, I just politely say, “Well, I’ll have to charge you something for my time – this is my business after all” – it usually works quite well, and I either get paid (without any hard feelings) or they decide it isn’t that much of a problem after all! Once or twice I’ve had someone complain at this attitude (”how dare I earn a living!”), and I just turn it round and say somthing like, “Well, you’re a mechanic; I wouldn’t ask you to fix my car for free”. I don’t think there’s any argument you can make to that.

  127. Alewis Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Hit it right on the nail, Steve. 20years ago I was working in IT in the RSME Chatham (Army RE trade training school). “Helping out with a printer” was an absolute nightmare under DOS – for the younger generation, you didn’t install one driver, you installed a driver per application, none of which behaved in the same way, and trying to get landscape printing was a BITCH. But, friends would ask for help with their new PC, and I’d cringe when “printer” was mentioned. Then friends of friends would ask. And then lectures. Rarely would there be any offer of reciprocal payment (going rate being a “handbag” or a “crate”). Until the time I wanted a brick bar-b-q built, so asked a trainee brickie, whose PC I had spent several hours resuscitating, for no payment. At which point he quoted me a price for 30mins work…

    After that, there were no more freebies. There was a period of time when no one asked, because they were all going into town, and paying £20/hour in a local shop. I still had the last laugh.. the local high street was Amiga/Atari oriented, and it was me providing the limited PC support on offer!

    When I’m asked these days, its very simple. I dont mind having a look, then I quote them a price, and give them my card. Many will call one of the local shops, be quoted a higher price, and come back.

    To answer Steve’s question, it is simply perception. Most other work involves manual handling, which is subconsciously recognised as “work” and therefore effort, which requires reward. Or in other words, getting one’s hands dirty. Sitting at a computer doesn’t appear to take any effort, therefore is not ‘work’, and therefore doesn’t require reward.

    Its not quite a unique mindset, most people do not equate their paypack to time, until asked to spent longer on company business, so they do not equate their own time as having any value.

    The simple answer, learnt by experience, is that one makes a decision whether to say “yes”, “no”, or possibly quote a price, in response to any request, and perhaps depending on who is asking.

  128. Huggster Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Linux Mint 10 is a great distro. Its an Ubuntu spinoff. I would recommend it to anyone who wants just the basics.

  129. steve Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    First thing i always say now is that its because you’ve been looking at porn again haven’t you, very rare the ask a second time.

  130. Steve Cassidy Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    @another steve – I’m not sorry I wrote it at all: remember, *this* is what I do for a living!

  131. Phil Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    My Mother even accused me of ripping her off as 8 months after supplying her a PC of course at cost she sawe one in PC World for £50 more and it had a 500 in it and her one only had a 300. £50 extra for an extra 200 seemed a better deal. I pointed out that she didn’t need a 500GB and that at that time 300GB was the norm… Vowed never to supply friends and family again! Just send them to PC World!! (Can’t believe I said it!)

  132. Paul C Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Some years ago I met a friend of a friend. She asked me what I did for a living. I told her I was a computer programmer. Her reply:

    “Oh I do so admire people who work with their hands.”

  133. Joe Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    OP is totally correct that PC Repair is not seen in the same light as plumbing / electrician etc when it comes to ‘emergency callout’. The reality is that very few other consumer products have as much potential for different problems at the price point at which a bog standard store bought PC is at.

    This is some of the frustration for end users – Why would they pay £200 for a pc then pay anything more than £50+ top get it repaired? That is a quarter of the cost of a new one, surely it is a rip off???

    (You would have hoped that they might have learnt from the printer / printer ink lesson by now but hey, I guess not :D )

    I have come to the rather sad conclusion after having some 5 phone calls in a week from relatives / friends and friends of friends that I might have to start saying no for once.

    I like to help and go out of my way to do so whilst at the same time helping to educate them so as they do not end up in the same position again – It is becoming tiresome though to see the same basic cockups over and over again.

    It is also tragic that many people see it as a distinct grouping, you are either ‘tech’ or not… These same people then think that if you are ‘not very techy’ then there is no point even trying to understand what is happening / or to use google to look into the issue / or to even read on screen prompts.

    I think I might just tell them all to use system restore in future and keep me out the loop lol


  134. Jan Ives Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t do Windows, just Unix.”

    As others have mentioned, install Ubuntu for an easier life…

  135. Steve Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 12:31 am

    A girl I had met in passing two and a half years previous sent me a message on Facebook with the standard How are you can you fix this. First she included the comment that she had already taken it in to the Geek Squad and they couldn’t fix it but maybe I could take a look. Second, she just happened to post this on my wall on my birthday. A couple hours later she realized that and tacked on a quick Happy Birthday. I didn’t even bother to message her back.

  136. MSS Lasers Ltd Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I also spread the word about using Ubuntu to Windows users. As the advantages are obvious (to me, at least) it’s not so with the people I know who only knows Windows.

    Main problem, not enough time to familiarize with a new OS. Not curious enough about new OS — their work is hampered when they use Ubuntu.

    What else can I do? You tell me.

  137. Johnson Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    I have business cards that I had out to people with the details of the systems I work with and contact details. I also have personal cards with my email, mobile and the helpful statement “No, I will not fix your computer” in big letters in the middle. Yes, it’s blunt but sometimes you need to use 30pt type to get your point over.

    I used to be overly helpful, spending endless evenings trying to fix friends of family and friends of friends computers. It was a bit annoying and time consuming and given that I don’t drink wine nor cheap whiskey, very unrewarding. Then I got a phone call from someone who I hadn’t spoken to before, saying she needed my advice. I asked who she was and it turned out she was my parent’s dogsitter’s friend’s friend.

    Hence the card.

  138. Steve Jones Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 12:35 am

    It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one being taken advantage of. For many years now, a ‘friend’ has asked me to fix her PC, or her daughter’s laptop, whenever there was no space left on C: drive, or some other fault. I have literally spent six hours reinstalling Windows and setting up everything again, on numerous occasions, but I know that if I were to ask her to come and help dig my garden for even a few hours, or tidy up my house for a few hours, I would be met with an astonished look.
    It’s really hard to understand why so many people think that just because you are good with computers, you LIKE spending literally hours of your precious time, fixing their computers, especially when they refuse to learn any of what you’re doing.
    I think this is a very interesting psychological phenomena that would be very interesting to investigate in more detail, as clearly there are thousands of us guys (and I bet it’s 100% men who are treated like this) who are being asked to throw away a large amount of our precious time, doing something that is in no way enjoyable, by people who claim to be ‘friends’.

  139. hwertz Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 2:36 am

    Short and sweet, I tell friends to not use Windows. If they do anyway, I do not provide this type of support. Ubuntu? “I popped in the DVD, and there were some weird junk files in with the photos.” This is not fatigue of repairing computers, it’s Windows fatigue.

  140. Paul T Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    @John T – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, despite the fact my paid employment is to, in laymans terms, mess about with PCs all day :-)

    Also, the other thing is that people seem to think that you live, breathe, eat and sleep computers, and clearly have no life, friends, or kids to wrangle, therefore they seem to get strangely annoyed if I can’t/won’t help (whilst not being offered payment….)

  141. Paul C Says:
    March 13th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    When I was at uni long ago, the girlfriend of someone in my dorm turned up with a cassette recorder, asking if I could fix it. She thought that, as I was studying electronics, I would know how to get orange juice out of it. As I was not doing joint electronics and fruitery, I declined.
    When I graduated I spent a few years in the 80s doing minicomputer support. Users would walk in to the machine room and hit the reset button cos their terminal froze, causing groans from 20-or-so other users, and it was “my fault”. Eventually we combination-locked the door. Another support person padlocked his disk drives.
    We lost one user directory belonging to a guy called Junk. Can’t think why. :)
    We have to face the fact that computer technology is still in its infancy. Like old cars with starting handles, manual ignition advances, open tops, and acetylene lamps.
    The tablet trend removes the need for knowledge of many analogous complexities, such as the following, which have almost ceased to exist on tablets and phones:
    - network configuration
    - maintenance – backup, defrag
    - complex app/driver/OS install/upgrade
    - file systems
    - proficient use of keyboards
    - replacing faulty parts
    Tablets (and phones) thrive on custom apps honed for easy usage for specific purposes. If there is no app for something, the web browser suffices. A lot of user needs can be met this way. Many do not want any complexity beyond this. This surely must be the way forward.
    That leaves the real under-the-hood knowledge to serious computer professionals and enthusiasts (who use ‘real’ operating systems rather than phone/tablet operating systems).
    This is really just like what we did with other complex beasts such as cars, audio/video systems, and household appliances. The way it should be.
    We easily forget that it has taken cars the best part of a century to become ‘easy’ (and you still need training and licensing). (When was the last time you got under your car to change the oil, or even knew how/where to do it?) Computers have only had half that time (and the training, since the (quite recent) birth of the internet, has now become an essential part of childhood, just like we teach children to cross roads).
    Having deviated well away from the topic, let’s get back to it:
    1. The reason we get roped into fixing computers for friends and family is because they are clueless and have no idea of what they are asking so they do not have the imagination to foresee the complexity and level of effort required for the task. (Everyone used to have a friend who knew how to fix cars. That was probably similar in terms of unrealistic requests for help, but has almost died out.)
    2. Tablets will get us out of a lot of this mess, and will satisfy the needs of many users, mostly the ones who would be asking for help. So instead of saying ‘try Ubuntu’ we could say ‘try a tablet’. (If not quite yet, then in 1-2 years, when tablets mature a bit, and prices drop.) I think we will then look back and wonder why we EVER expected the non-tech-savvy to use full-blown computers.
    3. Yes it would be an interesting topic for a degree thesis, to look at the mismatch between the computer-savvy and the tech-ignorant in terms of their expectations and misunderstandings of each other. I am surprised this has never been done. Or if it has, how come we have never heard of it?

  142. Kevin Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    In my experience, the fuel for the sort of abusive relationship Steve talks about here is lack of control. The people who give me the most trouble both when it comes to tech support and development are control-freaks out of their comfort zone. They compensate for the fact that they don’t have a clue and need your help by being aggressive and unreasonable whilst simultaneously accusing their would-be rescuer of the same faults.

  143. charles Says:
    April 11th, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    everybody’s said almost everything i might say, so i’ll keep it short. i like the article. i’d just add that i keep the number of friends whose computers i fix very small, so that i can be happy about the fixes i do… i mean, i never need to use recovery tools anymore, and they’re so magical! ditto for diagnostic tools. and portable apps. being able to fix a computer completely using my 4 gb transformers flash drive makes my day. and it even looks cool.

  144. Paul Says:
    April 22nd, 2011 at 12:55 am

    My wife got so fed up with the calls for help she put the following message on my mobile.
    “I am sorry the helpline is currently closed, if you know the other mobile number please use it”.
    The other mobile number being her’s.

  145. Peter Says:
    April 24th, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    It’s something that always frustrated me about what I did. People trying to take advantage outside of work of the IT skill I have. A blanket NO sorts the problem out now. Only the woman who gave birth to me gets free support and the woman I live with and her father, that’s it.

  146. asdf Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    So many points i’d like to address….
    First of all, while Ubuntu is a top quality OS the idea that you can just direct any & every person with a PC/Laptop to install and use it is frankly ludicrous, it just isn’t ready for mainstream use.


    Second, there is a BIG difference between the authors situation with a business laptop, and your in-laws asking for help.
    I quite often get asked to sort out a computer for a friend/relative and I have an almost standard response…
    “bring it round and i’ll take a look” if it needs more than a lil tinker… I’ll give them the option of leaving it with me to sort in my own time, or I can charge and get it done sooner?
    Most dont mind waiting, some prefer to pay.
    Also, if somebody could fix my car or mend my pipes from the comfort of there own home with a brew in hand and a film on the screen, then I honestly would expect them to throw me a freebie.
    Conversely, I doubt anybody would expect me to come in and lay a network throughout the house for free, even though they know I am probably capable of doing it.
    Recently, my next door neighbour knocked and asked if I could look at his PC (stuck in a bluescreen reboot loop: Bad RAM)
    After a quick mooch located a bad RAM stick, got the PC booting where i dicovered a pirated XP install (even though there was a license) crapware heaven, including no-less-than 3 Antivirus’.
    Ther was nothing in it that needed saving so i recommended a simple reinstall, he asked how much I would charge, I said I wouldn’t charge anyhting as it is such a simple job, he replied “ah come on I wouldn’t landscape a garden for free, what do you normally charge”
    To which I replied… “I wouldn’t expect you to do the whole garden, but I’d like to think you would lop a branch or two for me without charging”
    Considering a fully updated XP SP3 can be fully automated and installed from USB-stick includig installing most needed app’s, I would feel bad charging for such a thing. (windows 7 installs even quicker than XP)

  147. Richard Guilcher Says:
    December 9th, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    As an advocate of recycling old pc’s for free, I used to spend hours or days installing WindowsXP and all it’s updates, security fixes and countless patches.
    Then add utilities, programs and essential apps. At least 2 days per machine!

    After I gave them away for free, I would be treated as a free repair service.

    I now use linux foresight on every machine I give away.
    I get no calls for backup.
    Windows = constact calls for assistance
    Linux= no calls for backup

    Winner= me!

  148. Niall Mulrine Says:
    December 29th, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Excellent letter. I was thinking I could print this out and have it as a disclaimer when people leave a computer in for repair!!! The one I love is “Will I loose Microsoft Word?” What do people expect? If they got something dodgy from someone down an alleyway, they down not expect it to work as well as something they pay good hard cash for in a major shop. Same applies to software. Don’t cheat and you will be less likely to get infected!!!

  149. Rogelio Says:
    May 23rd, 2013 at 7:29 pm

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  150. BobSchmit Says:
    February 18th, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Haha it would be hilarious if i didnt know what it was like to have similar happen to me, both ways.
    Hate that feeling as heart drops, and powerless to fix something.
    I used last time someone wanted me to take a look at something. I just didnt have the time so let them do it, and then didnt have to deal with the moaning :)


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