I wrote this not because of something that happened at work, but because I heard something that happened at the company I previously worked at. Over 1.5 years of absolutely zero OS and/or application issues, but just over one week of my resignation, I’ve heard of two boxes which have gotten unnecessarily reformatted. Worse still, the HQ has reverted to using stupid IE as the default browser… but what the heck, the boss’ daughter is “in charge” of IT stuff there, so I’ll just smile from a distance 🙂 All the best! But anyway, this writeup will just stick to the topic of formatting, or should I say, unnecessary formatting to solve common (Windows-centric) computing problems.
Being in the frontline of tech support and implementation over years (roughly 6 years of real work, plus around 10 more as an “advanced” user), there’s nothing that pisses me off more when perfectly recoverable PCs (generally, I’m talking about Windows machines here) are formatted because the person in charge of IT or whatever the department that handles them boxes are just incompetent at doing systematic troubleshooting and recovery.
To make it worse, in more than 80% of the case, a format is absolutely unnecessary. It’s not that there won’t be occassions when formatting is required. However, many noob, wait, strike that… incompetent, lazy sysadmins view formatting as an easy way out of typical Windows problems like spyware and/or trojan infections. The thing is, it’s really not that hard to solve these problems. Here’s a brief guide:
- Disconnect the affected PC from the network and/or internet access.
- Go through the list of startup items using msconfig.
- Note any “strange” entries in there. If you have to ask what’s strange and what’s not, you’re most probably new to this. But the fact that you are still reading this shows that you’re interested to improve yourself. The answer is to look it up, Google is a good place to start.
- While Googling for those items, you’d most likely find out which are trojans or spyware files.
- For trojans or viruses, you would also find removal tools for said trojans or viruses. Usually from the good folks at AVG, Symantec and Trend Micro, among others.
- For spyware and/or other malware, you have tools like Spybot or Ad-Aware to handle such problems. Also remember to download their latest definition files or detection rules, or whatever your chosen anti-spyware app calls those thingies.
If you can’t figure out how to do all the necessary searches or updates; here’s some tips:
- Use another machine to do it.
- If you don’t have a spare machine, use a Live CD Linux distro like Slax or Knoppix to do the job.
As an asides, you do know that you should run virus/spyware removal tools under safe mode for best effect, right? If you are not equipped, either physically or technically to do the steps above, then probably systems administration is not really something you’re destined to do. I’d seriously consider a change of career path if I was in your shoes. You really need to have the passion and patience to scientifically dissect a problematic box and identify the symptoms of its “disease”.
Formatting a PC merely because of a spyware and/or virus problem is like burning a house with the occupants inside, just because somebody there has a fever and you’re afraid that the disease might spread throughout the country. It’s overkill and it’s ridiculous.
So, the next time you’re considering formatting a PC just because it has a spyware and/or virus problem, please think about the data that you might lose in the process. Sure, you might think you have backed up every single file of considerable importance, but somehow, someway, you’re bound to forget something. Furthermore, if the PC you’re using is shared with someone else, eg. your spouse, kids, co-workers or friends, they might have valuable data that you will destroy through the formatting process.
Think of the data!