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Visiting or going with relatives home for the holidays or a special occasion? Give free technical support! Chances are, if you’re a regular reader here, you’re also the regular techie / girl of the family. Now that you are visiting the family for the holidays, take a moment to get into their computer (s), neat up their Mac, do a few updates and do some basic maintenance. They will be grateful for your help, and you will be grateful that some preventative maintenance now can reduce the number of calls and emails for tech support later in the year. We’re clearly focusing on the Mac and OS X here, but we’ve thrown in some Windows tips also at the bottom for good measure.
1: Install OS X system updates
Let’s face it, almost everyone postpones system updates. But they are important to install because they are new features, bug fixes and security enhancements so this should be the first thing you do.
- Go to the Apple menu and visit “Software Update”, install any remaining OS X updates
Sometimes this requires a restart, especially if it’s a full-fledged OS X update. If the computer hasn’t been updated for a long time, you may need to do this once or twice after the Mac restarts to install all available updates.
This can connect to tip # 2 too, depending on the version of OS X. If you can do it all through the App Store, perfect.
2: Update apps
Newer versions of OS X let you update all apps and system updates in one fell swoop using the aforementioned Software Update method, but earlier versions of Mac OS X require a separate upgrade. Either way, you want to update the Mac software, which is easiest to do from the App Store:
- Open the Mac App Store and go to the “Updates” tab
- Install any update by choosing “Update All” (unless there is an app in it, they have of course avoided these updates for compatibility reasons)
Apps outside of the App Store may need to be updated manually, but each app is different.
3: repair Up the web browser
Safari is great and it needs to be updated in the order above which will generally improve functionality and stability. With that said, if they have complaints about Safari, or if they need to use the Flash Player often, consider downloading Chrome. Chrome generally performs better with lots of tabs or windows open, but that’s especially true for Flash Player (which is built in and sandboxed separately).
- Update Safari (handled in the steps above)
- Optional, but recommended: Download the Chrome browser from Google or download the Firefox browser from Mozilla
Chrome and Firefox are both free and great web browsers. Sometimes installing an alternative browser is sufficient for technical support phone calls to end. If they have a Windows PC, consider installing Chrome and / or Firefox as essential.
4: Run Disk Utility
This is good general maintenance advice and can help prevent hard drive errors and problems. Chances are they never ran this, or maybe since the last time you ran it for them:
- Open Disk Utility, found in / Applications / Utilities / and choose the hard drive on the left
- Choose the “First Aid” tab and run both Verify Disk and Verify Disk Permissions
- If any errors are found (as shown in red text), run the correct “Repair” versions of each
Note that if you need to repair the startup disk, you can boot into recovery mode by holding down Option during system startup, then selecting the recovery partition and running Disk Utility again from there. You can read more about this process here.
Be warned that if Disk Utility cannot fix the disk problems, the disk itself may fail. If so, have a backupup from the computer up ASAP so that no one loses important files, images or documents.
MAYBE: Upgrade the Mac to OS X Mavericks
If the family Mac has an older version of OS X installed, consider upgrading to the latest version of OS X Mavericks.
- Download Mavericks for free from the App Store
We say “maybe” because you should only do this if you have a backupup from the hard drive and if you are sure they won’t lose any app compatibility as there is nothing more frustrating than losing access to some apps. This isn’t usually a problem with Lion and Mountain Lion users, but those hanging out in Snow Leopard can’t be there for nothing.
Some Tips for Windows PCs
Obviously, not everyone has a Mac, and there are still plenty of old Windows PCs chatting in everyone’s family at home. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a basic cleanup either, and it’s probably a lot more needed on a Windows PC anyway … so here’s some general advice for a family member’s computer running Windows 95 through Windows 8:
- Install Windows updates – hardly any novice user installs these, but they often improve performance and can close security holes, this is a must
- Download the Chrome web browser – much better than older versions of Internet Explorer and just better protected overall, do everyone a favor and grab the Chrome web browser for free and put it on that PC
- Defragment the hard drive – OS X only does this, but Windows doesn’t, which means you have to do it manually
- Recommend a Mac or iPad
As we all know Windows is really a different world, and with so many versions it is difficult to provide precise instructions for everyone, so keep it simple: install updates, make a more secure web browser, defrag to clean up the hard drive, and … advise them to jump into the wonderful world of Apple.
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