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Hi everyone! Leo Notenboom for askleo.com. It’s interesting – over the years that I’ve been doing Ask Leo! you might expect I see what I’ll call “patterns’ in the questions and the comments that I get every day. Today I want to talk about a couple of those patterns, because I find them kind of interesting.
So, let’s say that a key on your keyboard stops working. What do you think is wrong? What comes to mind? For a surprising number of folks, what comes to mind is some kind of software misconfiguration. They’re looking for a setting that they may have tweaked in Windows or some kind of corruption, perhaps, in the registry that may cause their keyboard to misbehave.
Now, could it be that? Sure. It’s absolutely possible. I mean many different things can go wrong. Is it likely? Probably not. What’s more likely, in a case that I just described where a couple of keys on your keyboard stop working or maybe stop giving you the keys of the characters that you expect, is that the keyboard itself is broken. That the keys, perhaps, that you’re pressing have something physically wrong with them, or that the keyboard itself has somehow been damaged.
It can happen. Now, as it turns out, it’s fairly simple to perform a quick test to find out if it is, in fact, the keyboard. Find another one; borrow if you need to. Plug in a USB keyboard to your computer, be it a desktop or even a laptop, and see if it exhibits the same behavior. If it does, well then, yes, you have, in fact, a software problem. Something’s going on with Windows or a setting or whatever.
But if it’s not, well you’ve just identified the fact that that original keyboard that was displaying the problem, there’s something wrong with it. There’s probably a hardware failure. Something that many people don’t think of. Let’s face it. We’re used to hearing about software failures and bugs and misconfigurations and all that kind of stuff. It’s actually pretty easy to overlook or not count the fact that hardware can fail even come to mind.
But the problem, of course, is that there’s no hidden Windows setting; there’s no magical configuration change; there’s no thing you can do with the software that will fix a hardware problem. If there’s a motherboard problem, you need to fix the motherboard. If there’s a keyboard problem, you need to fix the keyboard.
The software, doing something to the software, there’s no tool, there’s no setting, there’s no nothing that you can run that’s going to cause software change to fix hardware. That’s just the way of the world. And unfortunately, like I said, hardware is not the first thing that comes to people’s minds.
Now I totally, totally get that it’s not always easy to tell. The line can be very, very blurry between hardware and software. But I chose that keyboard example on purpose, because it is in fact the most common example I see.
I regularly hear from folks who are having some kind of a problem with their keyboard, and they’re looking for a way to fix it in software when, in fact, the problem that they really experiencing is a hardware problem. A simple test with a replacement or auxiliary keyboard will tell them that it’s not the thing that they think of.
They come to me looking for, like I said, a registry setting or maybe a utility they can run or some kind of configuration change they can make. Sometimes I get it; sometimes in fact it can be that – language settings for example, on keyboards can cause odd behavior, but when keys fundamentally don’t work, it’s probably the hardware, and yet, it’s not what people are thinking of.
I find that an interesting pattern, and it applies to more than just keyboards, although keyboards are, at least from what I’m seeing, the most common. Keyboards, mice, video displays, they all have this same fundamental characteristic of a) their hardware can break and b) it’s relatively easy to tell by simply getting, borrowing if you have to, a replacement piece of hardware to see if it behaves the same way.
So, hardware can break. Imagine that! All of that is based on what I’ll call just jumping to conclusions. People jump to a conclusion that there’s a software setting that they can change to fix a broken keyboard, for example.
Another conclusion that I see people jumping to frequently is malware. Their computer misbehaves somehow, be it something small and simple, like maybe, in fact, a keystroke that isn’t behaving correctly, a broken keyboard key to all sorts of odd behavior in an application or their email or whatever, and the first thing that comes to mind is malware, and it’s not uncommon for me to get a fairly lengthy question outlining the details of the specific problem that someone is having and to have that then all get wrapped up with the question, “Am I infected?”
“Probably not” is the common response. Probably, there’s something else going on; probably, there’s something simple or simpler than malware causing the problems you’re seeing. Can malware do it? Absolutely. Malware can, in fact, cause a whole raft of different problems. It really can. Malware can be kind of nasty that way. It’s one of the ways that, one of the reasons, I should say, we really don’t like malware, is because it can do so many different things once it’s on your computer.
But, just because malware can do anything, doesn’t necessarily imply that when anything happens, it’s because of malware. More often than not, the problems we experience are earlier, hardware problems (they happen), misconfigurations or misunderstandings of how the software is actually working.
Nine times out of ten the software’s actually working exactly the way it was designed. We just don’t quite understand or perhaps made a mistype of a command or just did something that we don’t understand or didn’t expect and see some results that suddenly cause us to go, “Oh my gosh! Something’s wrong; am I infected?” Probably not.
To quote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic.” Absolutely, keep security in mind. It is important; it really is. And if you’re not sure what I mean by “security” check out my article on Internet Security or check out my book on ways to stay safe on the internet.
They cover important topics for keeping your computer safe, your data safe, your accounts safe, when you’re connected to and using the internet but don’t assume that everything is a security related issue. More often than not, it isn’t. More often than not, the issue that you’re facing is way more mundane and boring.
And believe me when it comes to malware, the things that malware can do, finding out that it’s something that is way more boring than malware is a really, really good thing because boring is often much easier to treat, much easier to fix, much easier to learn about than dealing with a malware infection.
So, are you prone to jumping to conclusions? What’s the conclusion you jump to? Do you know people that jump to conclusions that basically always assume the worst when they encounter a problem on their computer? What do you tell them? How do you educate them to, maybe, take a step back?
Don’t panic. I’d love to hear those stories. I really would. I think we can all learn from understanding what kinds of things scare people. What kind of assumptions people end up making and then what the reality of those kinds of situations turns out to be.
As always, if you’re watching this anywhere but on Ask Leo! go here, go to this URL. I’ll have this video and my moderated comments will be there. I’d love to hear your story, What kinds of things do you hear about? What kinds of things do you experience, and what kinds of things do you tell people when they’re jumping to the wrong conclusion? Anyway, that’s it for this week. I’ll see you again next week. Thanks for watching. Take care, everyone!