I recently received a phone call concerning a PC problem and I thought that relating the experience to you might be of benefit. I will of course not identify the person. The call was from someone (Mr. X) whose business directly utilizes his PC. I mean by this that his work output came from the PC - not merely that he used his PC for accounting or word processing in support of his business. If your PC is critical to your work, you need to take steps to ensure the reliability and availability of the system.
Mr. X had believed that his PC was running more slowly than usual. He decided to install Windows XP on the computer, and the installation failed. The PC now would not boot or run at all. Microsoft was unable to help him, so he called me for some advice.
I recommended that he get the system restore CDs that were shipped with his system and to restore the PC to the way it was shipped, including regressing back to Windows 98. He would then have to reinstall his applications. He asked me if this would cause him to lose all his data, to which I replied "Probably". He then indicated that he had no data backup. I offered to come out and rescue his data, but he declined and the call ended at that point.
What was wrong with this picture?
First of all, PCs slowing down is common these days, and is often due to all the garbage that gets picked up from viruses, spyware, and other programs that are resident in the PC, usually from browsing the Internet. Cleaning these out and restoring the PC performance is a common service I perform. It was certainly not necessary to install Windows XP to restore performance - after all, the PC did run OK with Windows 98 previously.
I never recommend upgrading to Windows XP. Microsoft does NOT guarantee that XP will run on any and all PC hardware, and has a website loaded with exceptions. So, as Mr. X found out, the upgrade may not install at all. Even if it does, you will spend time and money on it, and I think that you would be better off buying a new PC. I recommend replacing business PCs every 3 years. Also, Microsoft provides a utility to check whether your PC will support XP; I am not sure if Mr. X ran this or not.
Another reason for buying a new PC every few years is that you have a fairly recent technology PC (your old PC) as a backup PC. PCs on a network can be synchronized so that you can switch quickly to the backup PC in case the primary one fails. This also provides one type of backup (a business needs more than one type of backup, by the way).
The next problem was that Mr. X did not have a good data backup strategy, or in fact any backup at all. It is important to do regular backups, but it is almost mandatory before doing any system related function such as installing a new OS.
If you use PCs in your business, you need to spend some effort putting in place good strategies for backup, reliability, and availability of the system. Ask yourself what the impact to your business would be if a failure occurred.
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport / Oak Island area. You can visit his website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org).