Do you have problems? Do you go to bed at night worrying about the speed of your central processor, or whether you have insufficient memory at this time? Well, so do we. And here’s what to do about it.

Let’s face it: Our most common reader question is why isn’t the blankety-blank box doing

what it’s supposed to and where can I get a bigger hammer to fix it? The answer, if not quite blowing in the wind, is in fact “out there.”

Easiest and cheapest fix

The program won’t start. Or you can’t open some file. Or you’ve made a mistake and would like it to go away. Maybe some program has corrupted your system. Fortunately, hidden deep inside every copy of Windows XP is a time machine. It’s called System Restore. It will take you back to a golden age — before there were taxes and atonal music.

Click on Start, then All Programs, Accessories, System Toolsand finally System Restore. The System Restore screen will offer you theopportunity to choose the date you want to go back to. Don’t go too far back oryou may become disoriented. Pick a date just before the point when you thinkthe problem started and go there. You won’t lose any files you saved. Works forus.

Pay as you go

Sometimes you need professional help. Luckily for you, it’s available. On the downside, it’s not free. Think of it as paying a mechanic to fix your car. Here are some places to go:

PlumChoice (www.plumchoice.com) is, well, a plum choice. It charges US$23 for every 15 minutes. We admit it’s not cheap, but as they say down in the trenches, “You get what you pay for.” (Actually, what they say down in the trenches, when it’s printable, is, “Remember: This equipment was supplied by the low bidder.” But that’s another story.)

PlumChoice will remove spyware, fix e-mail and software problems, printer problems, install home and office networks, remove viruses and even handle the notorious “Windows blue screen of death.” It often goes beyond just fixing the problem and teaches you how to do it yourself if it happens again.

PlumChoice provides a checklist of what to do to protect your computer from spyware and similar intrusions, and also suggests what kind of protective software to buy. A note on this: Every spyware removal program will tend to find different spies; there is no perfect protection software.

PlumChoice will fix problems in either PCs or Macs, but it often needs to take remote control of your computer to do it. This makes some people nervous. You can do a couple of things to make yourself feel at ease.

For one, you can watch the screen while the technicians are manipulating your computer. If you feel they are prying, you can stop the process with a mouse click.

For another, you can use a program like Folder Lock, which we wrote about last week. You can find it at www.newsoftwares.net. It locks files and folders with password control. Frankly, even though paranoids sometimes really do have enemies, we wouldn’t get too worried about this one.

PlumChoice uses remote control software from Citrix. You may wonder why it uses remote control at all, and the answer is simple: It is very difficult to tell what’s wrong with a computer from a customer’s description. In fact, it’s often impossible. The person calling rarely knows how or where to check the “device manager” to see if the settings are correct, and hardly ever knows how to find or change the system “BIOS.” Ignorance may be bliss, but it wastes a lot of time.

Then there is Tech24 (www.tech24inc.com). Tech24 handles Windows problems only, and covers a big range of those, for both software and hardware. It charges US$30 for the first half-hour.

A free service is offered at www.computing.net. This is kind of an overall user group, covering Windows, Mac and Linux problems. You can submit or answer questions submitted by other users. Kind of a techie pot-luck dinner.

The Web site is divided into five sections, one of which is for “novices.” This in turn is divided into sections for buying a new computer, the Internet and digital music — a tough area for novices. The other main sections are “forums,” which are like user groups, “drivers” and “howtos,” like how to install Linux on a partition.

You can get live repair at www.liverepair.com. It charges US$12.50 per “incident” or US$99 for a whole year’s worth of questions. It also uses remote control software to get right in there and operate on your computer’s secret parts. (The scars will never show.) LiveRepair deals only with Windows, versions 95 and higher, and specializes primarily in Microsoft Office products.

The freaks at www.supportfreaks.com have gone to the islands or taken up some other line of work, but they still maintain a free forum where you can submit your questions and get some answers. Just click on “freebies” on the Web site.

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