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How to manage someone else's PC

(MoneyWatch) Few of us are IT experts, but we're often asked to act like one. Perhaps you own a small business and are responsible for a handful of employee computers, or maybe you simply need to maintain computers for less tech-savvy relatives.

No matter the reason, there are a few simple solutions for "locking down" computers and keeping them running in tip-top shape. Here are some, courtesy of MakeUseOf's "7 Ways to Ensure Your Loved Ones' PCs Will Never Need Fixing."

Make everyone a "standard user." Microsoft has been trying to discourage the use of administrative rights for years, and the reality is that granting every user administrative status (the old Windows XP-era default) is asking for trouble. If you configure PCs so that everyone is a standard user (except for youself, of course -- someone has to be an administrator), you'll limit the potential damage malware can do. Standard users can't install new software. On the downside, you'll be on call for common tasks that require administrative privileges.

Use remote access software. Often, it's impossible to troubleshoot PCs without actually seeing what's happening, so a phone chat just doesn't cut it. And a visit to the errant PC is likely to be inconvenient. The solution? By remotely controlling the computer, you can diagnose the problem and fix it from your desk. Windows comes with Remote Desktop, but it is all but impossible to configure that program for PCs not on the same network (i.e., in the same home or office). Better solutions: LogMeIn, TeamViewer or Join.Me.

Restore Windows at every boot. If you give a computer to someone who isn't especially tech-savvy, it won't be long before that PC is corrupted by malware, redundant browser toolbars and all manner of digital junk. One solution is to make sure that everyone with access to the PC is a standard user; another is to follow the same strategy as kiosk computers. Most kiosks are immune to PC troubles because the entire operating system is replaced from an "image" each day, when the PC is started. You can do the same thing. Using a free utility like Steadier State, you can configure the PC to return to a known good state each and every time it boots up.

Go Chrome. Not everyone needs a Windows PC (or a Mac for that matter -- in any case, despite popular wisdom, Macs have just as many technical issues as their more common alternatives). This certainly won't fly in an office, but if you know someone who uses a PC mainly for e-mail and Web surfing -- like a parent, for example -- get them a Google Chromebook. Since it all happens in a Web browser with no native desktop applications whatsoever, it's easier to use, is less susceptible to malware and will generate fewer support calls.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Madzia Bryll

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