Bill Husted’s Techno Buddy: Rip-off service contracts to safe mode restarts: things that go wrong with computers

Q: I want to get your advice about a service I paid for. I signed a three-year contract for almost $400 for technical support for my computer. Was I fooled? I have about two years and some months to go on the deal.

Don Samis

A: I’ve edited Don’s long and excellent email to shorten it. I also removed the name of the company he used. I did that because I believe — but cannot prove — it’s a downright shoddy operation. Like I said, I can’t prove that so it would be unfair to name the company. But I can assure you that company has drawn a huge amount of unfavorable comments on the Internet from customers who paid a great deal of money for service that didn’t satisfy them.

I’m using Don’s email because it’s easy for any of us to end up in that same leaky boat. When you need help with a computer and search the Web to find that help, you’ll run across both ethical services and downright crooks. If you pick the wrong one, you may be pressured to sign up for a long service contract. It’s tempting to agree just to get fast help for the problem. I think that’s a bad idea. At the very least don’t make that kind of a buying decision on the spot.

I also believe long-term service contracts like Don’s — even from good firms — are generally a bad buy. Instead it is smarter to start with the company that made your computer. Even if you end up paying for the help, you know who you are dealing with. If you can’t get satisfactory help from the company, then I suggest a local repair shop.

Q: My daughter has a Dell using Vista. When she logged off the other night everything was fine. When she logged on the next day her computer said “Preparing to configure Windows. Please do not shut computer off.” Well, that has gone on for days. She finally tried shutting it down and turning it back on — no change. She’s a college student and needs the computer for almost everything she does. Any suggestions?

Mary Carnes

A: Most colleges furnish computer support for students. So that’s the place to start. In many, if not most cases, the help is expert and free. But let’s talk briefly about the problem itself. There are times, as a computer is downloading and installing the latest updates from Microsoft, that it gets stuck in that update cycle. Instead of completing the update, the computer will endlessly display the “preparing to configure” message. Try this to get out of that loop. Hold down the power button to force the machine to turn off. Then start the computer in Safe Mode. If you don’t know how to do that, use a working computer and go to the Windows help menu. Type in “safe mode” and follow the directions. That alone may get you out of the loop. Try a normal shutdown and then start the machine again. If all is well, stop here. If not, restart it in Safe Mode. Temporarily turn off any anti-virus program you have loaded. Then click Start, Accessories and System Restore. Use the program’s calendar to pick a day when the machine was working normally and follow the directions to take it back to that point.

Q: I have Norton 360 and am wondering about whether I can use the CCleaner program that you recommended? I worry about creating a conflict.

Steve Goldenberg

A: You should be able to run CCleaner with no problems. I need to add that any program — good ones and bad — can at time create conflicts. But I’ve found CCleaner to be especially well behaved.

Bill Husted, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution technology writer, writes on computers and consumer technology subjects. He cannot answer every question, but may choose those of general interest for publication. Email:

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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