How-To Geek

What You Said: Your Three Rules For Computer Newbies


Earlier this week we asked you to share your three golden rules that all computer newbies should follow; now we’re back to highlight the rules and advice you dispensed.

If we had to boil down all 250+ comments into a composite set of rules, they would look a lot like:

  1. Backup/Encrypt Your Data
  2. When In Doubt, Google It.
  3. Reboot First, Pester for Tech Support Next.

In addition to that, there were tons of little gems hidden through the three-rule sets you guys shared:

Require a password for login, even on the standard account. Have someone help you to place restrictions on this account so that nothing can use the cached credentials of the logged in user to take malicious actions inside your machine, and use an even stronger password on the built-in Administrator account. You can always right-click and use the ‘run as’ in the context menu if you need to install something. Might be annoying but just think how frustrating it’d be to someone trying to hijack your system. – Joel


Internet safety: If it pops up, don’t click on it. If something sounds too good to be true, it is. Before you believe anything you read, look it up. Search engines are your friends, stuff you just happen to read on the internet should be treated as lies until you have verified it with more than one reputable source. – Infmom


Don’t be intimidated! Don’t be afraid to turn the computer on. Don’t be afraid to click on anything. And don’t be afraid to experiment. We can go into backups and saving data later (that too is important). But for a new user, I just want them to be comfortable using the darn thing. Therefore, this is #1. – Anonymous


There’s an old adage/joke from the earlier days of computing that the three rules of computer were back up your work, back up your work and back up your work. A bit over stated but still true. – Frank Kaplan

The entire comment thread would make for an excellent newbie read, frankly, as the repetition of key points (secure your user accounts, backup your files, stop clicking everything that pops up in your browser, etc.) might help these important rules stick. Hit up the full comment thread here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/27/12

Comments (17)

  1. Doc

    NO. WAY. I’ve been a computer tech for 20+ years (more than 15 of it a paid professional), and having a good, up-to-date antivirus (Norton 2006 is NOT up to date, no matter what your definitions file says!) is #1, #2, #3, AND #4, with ANYTHING ELSE a distant 10th. Period.

  2. MichaelW

    Do not send the “sky is falling” emails that you receive to everyone in your contacts list.

  3. Binaryphile

    Joel’s comment about running as a less-privileged user than Administrator is a good one…there’s a great program called SuRun that makes it really easy to run as a regular user and only “level-up” when you need it (it’s page is in German, but there’s an English translation link). It even works on XP.

    Just don’t forget to keep a regular administrator account around in case you need it.

  4. thegeekkid

    @Doc, I disagree. I also have quite a bit of experience, and I have found that there is NO antivirus that replaces good old common sense. (I do agree with you however about Norton… Norton and McAfee should be out of business!)

  5. UltimatePSV

    @Doc, I would say Microsoft Security Essentials is a great option because it updates automatically and you don’t have to buy upgrades.

  6. nixdagibts

    “Don’t subscribe anywhere untill I’m home!”
    ^ Best advice you can give

  7. Anonymous

    This advice was for “newbies” – someone who has never used a computer before. Maybe that’s your parents? Maybe that’s someone you know. Point is (according to the title), what advice would you give him/her?

    I still think my advice to get comfortable should be #1. The objective should be to have the newbie be comfortable just turning it on. Be comfortable in a non-networked environment before they move on. Once your newbie feels confident, then and only then is it time to introduce him/her to the Internet where a whole new set of rules and advice may exist.

  8. Dylan

    #1 tip for all computer newbies: When creating an email address, look to the future because “xXsexynikkiXx” or “10inchdave” does not look good when applying for jobs.

  9. Arston

    That’s not an advice for computer newbies, but for children…

  10. Matt Gilbert

    Best thing for a newbie, wipe the drive clean of Windows and install Linux. Read read read read documentation, learn, absorb, enjoy having a virus and malware free OS that doesn’t need constant updating and hand holding.

  11. WhytteDragun

    I’m a Linux fan too, Matt, but asking a computer newb to use it is like having someone who just got their first car pilot the space shuttle. Sure, they’ll be able to get it to do a couple things, but they’re never going to get it into orbit.
    Let then get used to the basics on a windows (or *shudder* Mac) machine, then ease them into Linux once they can check their email without someone holding their hand.

  12. Doug cross

    Some days, with some people the three answers I’d like to give are: 1) Don’t touch the computer. 2) Don’t touch the computer. 3) If you touch the computer, I’ll break your fingers.

  13. Starfyre7

    @Doug cross I agree with you. I have had to repair my brother’s computer 3 times since last November (reinstall Windows, reinstall programs, discover that backups were disabled or deleted, etc.). If someone does not know how to use the computer then they should be supervised when using it (or at the very least have the internet disabled).

    @Whytte Dragun I think that Linux with its new Unity GUI and HUD Linux is as easy to use (or easier) as Windows. In addition, it is safer: the user can’t install anything except through the software center (or is told that) and Linux is basically virus free.

  14. Kevalin

    @Doug cross: That gave me a laugh. Fortunately, I never have to tell my mom that, as she trends to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to emails.

    My dad, on the other hand…

  15. Larry

    I think “drag and drop” is the first thing anyone should learn – how to use a mouse. Most ‘newb’s have never touched a mouse before and get frustrated fast. FIRST STEP: Two solid weeks of playing solitaire all night long before learning anything else!!! – it’s important to consider dexterity as well – is your newbie older with possible arthritis or other issues that may make using a mouse lots harder – get them a “trackball” to try out

  16. Bud Vitoff

    Anonymous is right, but didn’t go far enough into the basics that we all deal with automatically now. If a newbie is first exposed to Windows, then he should read “Windows for Dummies” and practice with the mouse. He should learn that:

    The mouse isn’t effective on the way down, but on the way up (I know, “drag” comes later) so that if you realize that you’ve clicked down on the wrong button, keep it down and slide away into a margin or clear area before you let go, and you’ll have done no harm.

    Control/P means press and HOLD DOWN the control key while you click the “P”; to say nothing of the marvelous conveniences of Control/A to select all, Control/Shift after a previous selection to select contiguous items, and Control/click to toggle a single item.

    A right-click will generally give you a menu. And what is a menu, anyway?

    And that’s just part of Mouse 101. which includes the difference between “select” and “choose”, and other stuff.

    There are a “few” other concepts that we have to get across as well. Yes, Anonymous & Larry (above) and I aren’t offering Golden Rules, but you said we were dealing with newbies, and we couldn’t see any sense in trying to teach calculus to kindergarteners.

  17. Raandy

    Why do people try and push Security Essentials as a good security product. When I first started using a computer I bought Windows Live One Care which is/was the paid version of Security Essentials. Although I didn’t know any better at the time I was warned to get a different AV. I didn’t listen and I paid for it. Microsoft may know it’s business about computer software and certain hardware products but when it comes to Security Software, they IMO are not too good. Look at the top 10’s in AV’s or Security Suites and I’m not talking about the pages put out by the owners of Security Software. Read some of the independent reviews. You’ll find that Essentials is not even mentioned.

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