by Mike McNamee Published 01/10/2009
The world of computing turned into a rather glum place over the past few weeks. Microsoft seem hellbent on finishing their demise, started by Vista, with an upgrade route to Windows 7 that guarantees at least some of the punters will lose all their data. Even when they get to W7, the wait will hardly be worth it, it looks all flash and no substance and is still awaiting some decent drivers to run 64-bit applications, the only real advantage that we have found so far.
If that was not enough PC Pro reported their attempts to buy a laptop from a variety of high-street outlets, posing as technically ignorant newcomers. The results are disturbingly amusing, and mimic an exercise we did with camera shops when I was editor of Digital Photographer. We could not report what we found for fear of litigation - oh happy days, when only a few of us had even heard of a pixel!
If all this was not enough, Sky News set up a sting operation to expose the dodgy dealings of computer repair shops. They fitted up a laptop with a loose RAM board and a bunch of spy ware to operate a keystroke recorder and to operate the laptop's camera. This was taken to six repair shops with a request to diagnose the problem. They seemed to find some particular dodgy outfits (why are London technical shops seemingly always inhabited by geezers and illegal aliens?). The laptop contained a bunch of bikini shots (marked 'private' and supposedly the owner's partner), a bogus text file of passwords (never ever ever do that at home kids!) and a realistic bunch of private files.
The results were alarming. Five of the six attempted to massively over charge, some trying to provide a new motherboard. Others downloaded the private shots to their own collection of girly pictures. One scumbag went as far as trying to access the Natwest bank account using the 'passwords' thoughtfully provided. This turkey was too thick to twig that the laptop might be 'fitted up', although one outfit seems to have cottoned on and soldered their own 'fault' into the computer as they thought a rival repairer was trying to embarrass them (takes one to know one!). Reading through the various forums it seems that similar results have been obtained in other parts of the world.
Where does the solution lie? You could buy an Apple, they go wrong less often and are more likely to be repaired in a high-reputation Apple Store! You might also check where your laptop is going to go for diagnosis, PC World, for example are likely to farm it out to the lowest-jbidding locals. What is it about computers? Repair shops pop up like mushrooms only to disappear by nightfall. These people seem to think that because they can drop in a new RAM board and boot a machine in safe mode that they are computer technicians. Experience proves otherwise as many of our members will confirm. Having a backup before your computer fails is vital if you will need to send it away to be fixed (and we mean FIXED!). Your important documents should be encrypted (and backed up) and the really serious stuff, like passwords, should not be there at all! Faced with a broken machine you might consider wiping the data before you let it out of your hands but if it the computer is not working that option is not available. One option, in that instance, is to supervise the removal of the OS disk and have a new disk and install to test and repair the machine. This may all seem a little paranoid but not after you have read the Sky News report! Google for it and scare yourself to death!
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