A virus might have been preferable.

I try not to be the “tech support guy” for my family’s computer issues.  I encourage self-sufficiency – and if that doesn’t work, I encourage asking my sister.

It’s hard to do that when you’re being fed, though, and this is how I wound up, this Thanksgiving, trying to figure out why Vista kept claiming that my father had installed a new video card.

That turned out to be the least of his problems.

He has an Acer desktop, about a year old, and somewhere along the line it got in a bad way.  It’s not like it was full of viruses or spyware or anything – I think that any self-respecting piece of malware would have looked at this machine, said “look, man, you’ve got enough problems” and refused to install itself out of pure decency – but it proved that it doesn’t take a virus to really mess you up.

The nice thing about Acers, normally – we have two Acer laptops, by the way – is that they’re very much no-frills machines.  They don’t tend to come with a ton of bundled software.  I suspect, therefore, that the multiple conflicting security suites installed were the result of him falling for the “PC tune-up” service sales pitch at Best Buy.

It had two different anti-spyware programs, two different firewalls, and one of those “free for 90 days!” antivirus programs.

I’m leaving brand names out here deliberately because I used to work on antivirus software and I wouldn’t want to be seen as partisan.

Internet Explorer, when I launched it, had three seperate third-party toolbars installed, all of which opened their respective home pages in different tabs.

Watching this thing boot was an education – one company’s firewall complained because the other company’s anti-spyware was trying to update itself automatically, the antivirus program loaded, complained that his subscription had expired, that his virus definitions were nine months out of date, and then started a full-system virus scan anyway, at the same time as yet another package started trying to optimize the hard drive and what seemed like every application on the system started trying to do self-updates.

Should I mention at this point that my parents have a 256kbps – that’s not a typo – DSL line?

It was the single most effectively gridlocked PC that I’ve ever seen.

It took well over an hour to get enough stuff uninstalled to find out another little drain on its performance.

Running Vista with 1GB of memory isn’t recommended, but it can be made to work.

Running Vista with 1GB of memory on a system with integrated graphics that are set to reserve 256MB of that 1GB for their own use is REALLY not recommended.  While I won’t blame Acer for the software issues, this I WILL lay at their feet with a “guys, what were you thinking?”

Fortunately, there was a BIOS setting that allowed me to set the onboard video to only reserve 64MB.  With that extra bit of RAM freed up and all the shovelware scourged off his machine, he has something resembling a useful computer again.

Still, I think I’ll be getting him some more RAM for Christmas.

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