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Secrets of installing software safely, Part 1
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

Secrets of installing software safely, Part 1

Technofile for Aug. 2, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Imagine driving along and realizing your car is almost out of gas. You pull up to a gas station, fill up the gas tank, pay your money and drive off. As soon as you get a few blocks away, your car starts sputtering and gasping—something it never did before.

What's the problem? Should you blame General Motors or Toyota?

Of course not. You don't have to be a mechanic to know that your car probably got some bad gasoline, and if you've driven for a few years you might even make a guess that there was water in the gas. And you'd probably know that a can of gasoline additive such as Dry Gas would fix things.

How come we can't be as smart when it comes to our home computers? We buy a computer that runs fine, then we install a dozen oddball games or a couple of Internet chat programs and find that it no longer works right. And we rant and rage against Microsoft, right?

It's time for a little common sense. There are only three secrets to keeping your Windows 95 or 98 PC running smoothly when you install new software:

    1. Always have fresh backup copies of at least the Windows configuration files. Fresh backups of all your important files is a better idea, of course, but few users do that.
    2. Pay attention to the stuff you install. Install only one program at a time. Keep a log (on paper, not on the computer) of programs and dates. Don't let your kids install anything unless they fill out the log.
    3. Make sure you're able to get rid of a program completely if it causes a problem after you or your kids install it. This means removing all traces of the program and restoring the entire computer system to the state it was in before the errant software was installed.

Backups are a pain, but so is going to the dentist. There are times when you need to do both. Backing up everything is overkill, because you can restore many programs by reinstalling them from the original CDs or by getting replacements for shareware programs off the Internet. But you're playing with disaster if you don't have current backup copies of the files that tell Windows how to do everything.

Making those backup copies isn't hard. Next week I'll explain how to do it, step by step.

Keeping a log is easy. Just commandeer a notebook and keep it next to your PC. When you install anything, write down the name of the program along with any serial numbers or registration numbers you have to enter. Write down the time and date, too. Make a note of anything unusual that happens during the installation. (For example, Windows might show you a message that says a newer file is about to be overwritten by an older one. If you see that kind of message, make a note of it.)

The third secret—being able to get rid of a program completely—requires a combination of faith and planning. You need to have at least some trust in the way many programs uninstall themselves through the Add/Remove Programs entry in the Control Panel. It's your first line of defense when a recently installed program causes a problem.

But you also need to keep those backups handy when the official uninstall method doesn't work. I'll explain how to handle this next week.

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