Providing onsite technical support can be very challenging. Not only are you responsible for investigating and solving issues with a customer’s computer and/or network, but you have the added burden of dealing with their additional needs. Questions about usage habits, using various pieces of software, and other miscellaneous topics tend to stream out during a support call.
So, how do you keep your time on site down without sacrificing the quality of your service? You could make up an excuse that you need parts and make an appointment for a later date, or you could pack a virtual toolbox of software that can help you get the job done right.
To assemble our toolkit, we decided to ask Phil Horton, a member of the Gnomies community who provides onsite support for systems in a variety of different situations. He was kind enough to pass along five software options that he takes with him in the field. Here they are.
Ultimate Boot CD has one of the most self-explanatory names out of any support tool currently on the market. Simply put, it is a boot CD/DVD that has a bundle of tools to help you fix virtually any non-hardware issue with a modern PC.
“This is the best utility that I’ve ever come across,” Phil said, “it takes you away from the infected operating system and gives you full control over what files you can add, delete, or change.”
With this tool, you can combat malware in an environment where it can’t fight back because the operating system it depends on isn’t running. You can also change and repair partitions, run diagnostics, and combine a multitude of different free tools into a single OS-independent bootable platform.
Sometimes, you need to bring out the big guns to fight malicious software that threatens your system’s security and stability.Malwarebytes Anti-Malware runs on every Windows operating system since Windows 2000, and boasts a track record of seven years and over 100 million downloads.
Malwarebytes is kept updated with the latest threats as they come to light. The UI is simple and easy to follow, and the free version is great for home users. Updating to a PRO license gives you the ability to run scans from the command line, password protect key program settings, and utilize a more powerful set of tools to get the job done with as little fuss as possible.
What’s more interesting is how Malwarebytes is capable of running and removing malware while Windows is in safe mode. As Phil pointed out, “Safe mode will disable most malware upon launch, as it only loads critical services and drivers.”
SUPERAntiSpyware is a popular option for technicians in the know. “No one scanner will remove everything,” Phil advised, “so a second opinion is crucial. In my experience, this application excels in removing the little guys that most scanners overlook, like popups and annoying rogue applications.”
Just as an experienced carpenter wouldn’t rely on a single tool to get large jobs done, you shouldn’t rely on a single program to do the same.
In the world of malicious software, few chunks of code make security experts cringe quite like rootkits. These little buggers dig deep into your system and are extremely difficult to remove.
“Rootkits are a growing problem and they’ve proven difficult to remove as they attach to critical system files and make themselves unknown to the user.” Phil continued, “This utility is very useful if you know how to use it properly.”
Indeed, even the best programs out there can miss some of the mess a particularly nasty rootkit leaves behind. Of the options out there, GMER is certainly one of the best.
Not many people know that Windows has its own built-in tool that onsite technicians can utilize to make their customers’ lives easier. By searching for “msconfig” in the Start menu on Windows Vista/7 (or Run on Windows XP), you can access this feature and control what programs and services automatically start with Windows.
“This is a handy way to disable bloatware and less-severe malware to help speed the machine up while you’re working on it.” Phil continued, “You can quickly free up resources by disabling non-Windows services and anything you might not recognize or use under ‘Startups.'”
Microsoft has made great strides towards overcoming a long-standing perception that Windows is not secure. While it may not actually be more or less secure than any other major operating system, it is certainly the largest target. Microsoft has to go to great lengths to keep its operating system secure without compromising its inherent ability to run on virtually any hardware, support tens of thousands of programs, and still give the user the ability to customize key components of their experience.
But wait! That’s not all. As a bonus tip, there’s:
Bonus Tip: SpinRite
Steve Gibson is one of the most well-known security experts out there. In addition to hosting some of the most popular security podcasts on the Web, he’s also responsible for an array of simple (yet effective) tools that can help improve system security, extend the life of its hard drive, and more.
One of the most well-known tools among technicians is SpinRite. At $80, it certainly isn’t the cheapest hard disk diagnostic and repair utility, but it is possibly the best. It works as a boot disk that scans the disk at the platter level, detecting flaws and testing every sector of the drive through repetitive and persistent processes. Even drives that have data loss may be restored using this utility, which will attempt to read each bit over and over until it has the data right. Sometimes this takes minutes, but it could also take weeks.
When I asked Phil whether or not he would recommend SpinRite, he responded, “Absolutely. It is an excellent way to deal with hard drive issues. Just about anything from GRC (Gibson Research Corporation) is great.”