It's the New Year! A fresh start, a new beginning, time to sweep away the mistakes of the past to bring on the new you of the future. At this time many of us make all kinds of resolutions, such as to quit smoking, lose weight and head to the gym more (ahem), and / or spend less and save more (double ahem).

One other major category of New Year's Resolutions is to help others, and to achieve this, I'm providing 10 resolutions every computer user should make to help reduce the chances of wanting to bash one's computer with a sledgehammer (admit you've thought of doing that at least ONCE).

By making these resolutions and sticking to them, you should experience less hassle using your computer and accessing the Internet, perform fewer mistakes that result in praying you have made recent backups of your files, and hopefully reduce the chances your computer slows down, has pop-up advertisements randomly appear, or experiences other symptoms of spyware and malware attacks.

10) I will read all dialog and warning boxes when they appear.

For example, If I am prompted that continuing what I am doing will cause me to delete a file (or all files on my computer!), I will actually take a couple of seconds to ponder if I really want to do so. Then, and only then, will I click "OK" (or "Cancel", "Cancel", "Cancel").

(Be sure to read resolution #5, as a malware attack may cause dialog boxes or warnings to randomly appear that aren't what they seem!)

9) I will save my files often.

Many software programs, like the Microsoft Office suite, have Autosave features that make backups of what I am doing every few minutes in case something unthinkable happens. However, relying on Autosave is a risky game, as what if it doesn't work or still misses recent changes to a spreadsheet, document, e-mail, etc.?

I will save my files often so as not to be too frustrated when software or the operating system crashes (it will happen). Better yet, I will save copies of files as I am editing them in case I need to go back to previous edits.

(Uber-geeks rely on something that automatically manages this called version control software ; you don't have to go this far; just save copies of your important work often.)

8) I will make backups of my files more than once a year.

I will make multiple backups because the following can happen and corrupt my files:

7) I will describe my problems clearly when asking for help.

If I need to ask people for computer help, I will make it as easy as possible for others to help me, as many doing so are volunteers and only have a limited amount of time. I will provide at least the following information:

  • Operating system I am running (not just Windows or Mac, but which version, such as Windows XP or Windows 7)
  • Exact error or warning messages that may appear, plus when and where they show up
  • Software program and version that caused the error (if applicable)
  • Have I installed any software recently?
  • Have I installed any hardware recently?
  • Web page or service causing the error (if applicable)

6) I will think twice before posting photos on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking service.

This is a biggie. Just because I think my photos of a wild keg party are only going out to friends doesn't mean that others cannot get copies of my pictures. And do I want these photos being seen by:

  • Extended family
  • Law enforcement
  • Lawyers of opposing party in a lawsuit
  • Potential business partners or clients
  • Potential job interviewers
  • School admissions officers

These photos may stay available for searching virtually forever. What I do in my 20s can have serious consequences when in my 30s, 40s, and later in life.

5) I will keep my software and operating system up-to-date.

I will update my operating system, web browsers, antivirus software, plug-ins, and other software regularly. Although doing so can be a hassle, it is still less of a hassle than dealing with a virus or other malware attack and possibly losing all of my files. It is also easier than having to deal with my credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank accounts, etc. getting spread across the Internet.

4) I won't install everything I see and then wonder why my computer is running slow.

Although the Internet is packed with untold amounts of software, web browser toolbars, screensavers, etc., I won't install everything I find. Doing so might slow down my computer or parts of it, like my web browser, or make it unstable.

3) I will not believe everything I read via electronic mail.

Although human beings want to be trusting, I have to realize that the world does contain scammers and miscreants; thus, I cannot believe everything I read via electronic mail. Some examples of things I must think twice before believing:

  • I have millions of dollars waiting for me from a prince / corporate entity / long-lost family member.
  • I have won the e-mail lottery.
  • My Facebook / Twitter account has been hacked and I need to click a link to reset a password*
  • I need to click a link to access my bank account web site and re-enter personal information that their computers lost.

Note that in some cases, accounts have been hacked and legitimate e-mail has been sent warning users of the hacking. If I am concerned, I will visit the site's home page directly in my web browser and not click a link inside an e-mail message. Then I can contact the site administrator to see if it was really them sending out the warning e-mail.

2) I will understand the risk of security questions.

Although security questions are used by websites to help us re-obtain or reset forgotten passwords, these are also an opening for hackers to gain access to our account. And it has been done before, even to vice-presidential candidates. If I have a system to securely store passwords (hopefully encrypted), I will treat security question answers just like passwords and not type personal information that can be easily guessed or found out over the Internet.

1) I will try out other web browsers.

I am not limited to the web browser that came with my computer. There are other options on the Internet such as Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera, and I might want to consider trying these and other free alternatives. Switching to another browser might make my web surfing safer, and/or it might introduce new features that make surfing the web more useful and fun.

Although 10 resolutions sound like a lot, are these actually harder than your other resolutions? Keeping an operating system and software up-to-date entails much less physical effort than working out at the gym. Taking the time to back up files should require much less sacrifice than not snatching a piece of cake at the coffee shop. And speaking of sacrifices, which requires more - cutting back to get out of debt, or taking a few seconds to save backups of my files more often? Still, sticking to these resolutions may take some work, but doing so can make using your computer safer, easier, and a whole lot less frustrating. So perhaps you can use that sledgehammer not on your computer but to bash a credit card, helping keep you from over-spending, another common resolution :)

Copyright 2010 Andrew Malek.

Author's Bio: 

Andrew Malek owns the MalekTips computer help website. MalekTips offers advice on getting the most out of your computer and other technology such as web browser tricks, advice on how to stay safe when online, and digital photography tips.