In the past couple of months, Kelly has had 2 aunts report that their computers had died.  In the first instance, the aunt had just installed Norton 360; in the second instance, the aunt had just installed the latest version of McAfee.

The Norton 360 victim couldn't boot Windows at all.  After waiting hours (on a fast computer) for the program to install, the computer was restarted, but it failed to boot.  There was a corrupt system file and it wouldn't even try to load Windows.  The McAfee victim could get into Windows, but pretty much nothing worked anymore.

With the boot failure, I ended up having the computer brought up here to Cincinnati from Tennessee so that I could fix it.  Because Kelly was traveling to TN for a wedding, that worked out fine.  And a subsequent trip got the computer back down.  I had to use the Windows XP Home Edition reinstallation disk to replace the corrupt file using the recovery console.  That was the first time I had ever done that.  Fun, let me tell ya.

With the McAfee issue, I sent the following email.

Anti-virus software is often times worse than actually getting a virus.  Anti-virus software slows you down and causes you trouble every moment you use your computer, whereas a virus doesn't hurt you until you get it.  Essentially, I view anti-virus software as "Life Insurance for the Computer."  You pay and pay and pay, and maybe one day it will save your computer from a virus.

So, I don't run anti-virus software myself, nor do I run it on any of our personal computers.  There are some things you can do to protect yourself that are a lot less painful though.  The concept I advocate most is running as what's called a "limited user."  This will involve going into the Control Panel, then into the User Accounts section.  From there, you can create a new account and specify that you don't want to make it an administrator account.  Once you have the account created, log off and log back in with that account.  Running as a non-admin account, you won't be able to install any software or make any other drastic changes to your computer.  If you do need to install or uninstall software, or do something else where you get an "Access Denied" message, you can log off and log back on as the other account that is and administrator.

By doing this, and using the non-admin account for your general computing, if you happen to get hit with a virus, the virus will almost always be stopped in its tracks, because it won't be able to install itself.

However, I must put the disclaimer out there... if you run as non-admin, you can still get some viruses and other mal-ware.  But you can also get this stuff running anti-virus sometimes.  As I recently heard someone from Microsoft say, "there are people out there whose sole purpose in life is to break our stuff!"  In other words, there is no silver bullet; there is no guarantee.  But running as non-admin is what I do, and what I have Kelly do.  No matter what though, you need to be conscious about what you download and what you install.  Pay attention to dialog boxes that pop up and also, back up your files to CD or something regularly.

For more information on running as a non-admin, go read Aaron Margosis' "Non-Admin" WebLog.