If you search the Internet on a regular basis, you might have Google (http://www.google.com) set as one of your Favorites or as your browser’s home page.  You have undoubtedly gotten very used to the simple interface, the way the page loads very quickly because of the lack of graphic images, and the utilitarian aspect of simply performing a search.  (See http://www.msn.com or http://www.yahoo.com for opposite experiences.)

However, don’t think there is something wrong with your computer when you go to Google’s home page and only see the logo, the search box, and two buttons.  That is what Google has decided should appear – until you move your mouse.  This “fade-in” effect was first introduced as an experiment back in October 2009.  It was slowly rolled out as a test and was modified during some rather violent (and often virulent) feedback.  The earliest versions did not include the search buttons, which elicited no end of scathing retorts.  Now the test has been concluded and the change has been made permanent.  It appears to be the same in all web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari).

So, no, there is nothing wrong with your PC.  It doesn’t have a virus, you aren’t being affected by malware, and your broadband connection doesn’t have a problem.  It is none of those things.  It is simply the largest search engine on the planet giving you something you did not ask for, something most people do not want, something no one needs.

What do you think?  Let me know!

A major office supply store has been promoting technical support services – often at a discount.  All of their offerings are directed to PC or laptop owners, and the discounts only apply to a machine that you bring into the store.

Well, if you think you have a virus on your PC and are willing to get under the desk, unplug everything, schlep the PC to the store, and hand it over to a stranger, you are a very hardy and an incredibly self-sufficient individual.  After all, once the work is done, you have to bring the PC back home, crawl down under the desk, and hook everything back up.  All that effort was worth the money you saved with the discount, right?

But what happens when one of your frequently used programs stops behaving the way you expect it to?  And what happens when you get an error message from your printer?  Those things didn’t happen before you brought your PC to the store – they only happened after you brought it home.

So you call the store and complain, “Hey, this program doesn’t work right any more, and I can’t print anything because of this error message.”  The likely response you will get form the store’s technical support representative is, “Bring the PC in, along with the printer and the cables, so that we can see what’s going on.”  I am not certain how you are going to respond to that – if at all.  But for the store, that’s easy, isn’t it?

Instead of trying to be so self-sufficient (just to save a few bucks), you should have contacted a reliable computer consultant so that you could have avoided the headaches associated with an incident like this.  You should be looking for a company that offers an affordable service plan that makes sure your anti-virus software is always up-to-date, and that a system scan is run on a regular basis.

Most top-notch computer consulting firms can establish a remote session to determine exactly what actions to take to eradicate any malware on your PC.  If you didn’t have access to the Internet, you should make certain the computer consultant is located nearby.

In either case, your problem would have been solved without your having to take everything apart and bring it to some other location.  Now that’s what I consider easy tech support!

A customer who uses AOL for both personal and business-related e-mail recently called me with a problem.  He had encountered the following error message when starting AOL on one of the accounts:

“An error occurred while loading a file.  AOL will attempt to restore the file.”

All he could do at that point was click OK.  Afterward, he connected to AOL, but when he looked at the list of e-mails, all he could see were the envelopes – everything else was blank!  To make matters worse, he was able to open these e-mails, but that was ridiculously dangerous without knowing who had sent them.

This customer was using the latest version of AOL on Windows Vista.  I searched in the usual places, and read every discussion thread to make sure I understood what the problem was.  However, nothing seemed to indicate what actions would be appropriate, especially when this customer could use a different screen name and have full functionality (meaning he could see who the e-mails were from).  That fact alone ruled out uninstalling and re-installing the AOL software.

It took some time, but I was able to uncover a solution that worked.  First, I backed up the Personal Filing Cabinet (PFC).  Next, I compressed the PFC.
Note that each of these processes requires you to be signed out of AOL.

To backup the contents of your PFC:

  1. Click the Mail menu and select Mail Settings.
  2. Click the Manage Saved Mail drop-down menu and select Backup.
  3. Click the Backup Now button.
  4. When the task is finished, click the Save button.

To compress the PFC:

  1. Click the Mail menu and select Mail Settings.
  2. Click the Manage Saved Mail drop-down menu and this time select Compact.
  3. Click the Compact Now button, and then click the OK button.
  4. When the task is finished, click the Save button.

After both of these tasks were completed, we checked his mail.  Amazingly enough, all of the information was displayed for all of his e-mail!

Despite what the text of the error message indicated, the AOL software did not restore any file, nor did it attempt to do the correct thing.  It is clear the program detected a problem – perhaps the PFC was too big for AOL to handle properly, or had some slight form of corruption – but who ever coded this section of the program simply issued the wrong error message.  (Alternatively, it could be the correct error message, but the AOL software failed to perform the task correctly.)

I do not think that the AOL programming staff is going to correct this situation.  Despite the dozens of threads that I found in various Internet searches, I am not certain if they are aware of this problem.  Nonetheless, my customer is very pleased that I was able to solve his AOL e-mail problem.

I hope this blog post helps anyone else who encounters this error message.  Let me know!